Ben Stokes hit a counter-attacking half-century in tricky conditions as England were spun out for 246 on the first day of the first Test against India.
While far from an imposing total it was higher than seven of England’s eight innings on their previous tour of the country in 2021, bolstered by a gutsy effort of 70 from the captain.
Stokes struck three sixes and six fours in his first appearance since undergoing knee surgery, balancing sound technique with blasts of raw power and was last man out midway through the evening session.
India’s trio of spinners shared eight of the 10 wickets, with familiar foes Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja taking three apiece and Axar Patel claiming two. Although there was nothing outrageous from the surface, the amount of movement was significant for a first day pitch and is only likely to head in one direction.
The skipper top scores with 70 as we make 246 in our first innings 🏏
Match Centre: https://t.co/s4XwqqpNlL
— England Cricket (@englandcricket) January 25, 2024
England, who gambled on three spinners of their own, will be hoping to take advantage in a similar way.
Stokes would have been mightily relieved to win the toss and bat first and, for 45 minutes at least, everything fell England’s way as Zak Crawley and Ben Duckett kicked off the tour with an opening stand of 55.
But their fortunes nosedived as soon as the hosts swapped out seam for spin, losing three wickets in 21 balls for the addition of just five runs.
The hosts devoted the first eight overs of the game to pace but despite a hint of swing for Mohammed Siraj and Jasprit Bumrah, Crawley and Duckett took their chance to get on top with a handful of boundaries.
Crawley produced a pair of beautifully balanced on-drives, with Duckett riding the odd play-and-miss as he attacked the off side. At 41 for nought, India skipper Rohit Sharma had seen enough and sent for spin.
Almost instantly, things began to happen. Duckett swept a couple of fours before he became the first wicket of the series, pushing forward with a straight bat and falling for 35 as Ashwin won a tight lbw.
Ollie Pope, playing his first innings since the second Ashes Test in June, followed close behind. He lasted 11 uncomfortable deliveries before nicking Jadeja tamely to slip for one. After six months on the shelf, the cobwebs were clear to see.
A big lbw shout against the newly-arrived Root came moments later but after a long delay DRS appeared to show a thin edge before impact with the pad.
England’s relief lasted just a matter of seconds with Crawley driving Ashwin low to mid-off. At 60 for three it was a tense time but Bairstow’s arrival at his former IPL home ground shifted the tone.
He led the way in his stand of 61 with Root, seeing England to 108 at lunch. There was a growing sense of calm as they resumed but Patel produced a cracker to dismiss Bairstow, spearing it in on a leg-stump line and ripping it into the top of off.
Bairstow (37) was nearly blameless but Root (29) took a share of the blame when a hard-handed sweep at Jadeja looped high to short fine-leg.
Ben Foakes nicked Patel behind for four on his return to the side, Rehan Ahmed was done by an off-cutter as Bumrah returned for a second spell and debutant Tom Hartley was cleaned up by Jadeja after a sparky knock that included a swatted six off Ashwin.
Stokes resumed after tea on 43 not out and made the most of the time he had left, leathering Jadeja for back-to-back sixes to reach his fifty and later dishing out some of the same treatment to Ashwin.
The innings subsided when he was bowled by a Bumrah yorker, beaten through the air as he made room outside leg.