Duckett leads charge as India feel the force of Bazball

England

England 207 for 2 (Duckett 133*, Root 9*) trail India 445 (Rohit 131, Jadeja 112, Sarfaraz 62) by 238 runs

A sensational century by Ben Duckett, at 88 balls the third fastest against India in India, left the hosts shell-shocked after they once again left runs un-scored in their first innings of 445. There was none of the streakiness one might associate with a century scored at this pace. None of Duckett’s 19 fours and one six in his first 102 runs came off an edge. No bowler seemed to have an answer for his stroke-play: Duckett pounced on any width from the quicks, swept and reverse-swept the spinners to distraction, and then cashed in on the consequent shorter deliveries.

He scored 133 of the 207 England made for the loss of two wickets in just 35 overs on the second day. India had batted 45 overs in the first half of the day for the addition of just 119 runs to their overnight 326 for 5. The recurring theme of India losing wickets without a build-up or a discernible plan from England’s bowlers continued.

Not that plans or build-ups were working as Duckett demonstrated. India tried bowling the channel but Duckett stayed beside the line and crashed the quicks through the off side. Kuldeep Yadav tried his wristspin but Duckett swept and reverse-swept seven fours in his first four overs. R Ashwin, who got to his 500th Test wicket with the scalp of Zak Crawley, was allowed no time to celebrate as Duckett slog-swept a good length ball from the stumps and then followed it up by going back and pulling him.

The only time Duckett looked in any kind of trouble was in the first four overs when he was beaten five times. He had tried to hit a four off each of those balls, and wasn’t dissuaded from doing that the next time he saw width.

Ollie Pope, who scored the breathtaking 196 to steal the first Test away from India, and Crawley, who has been England’s best batter this series overall, were reduced to being mere spectators even though they batted with assuredness and comfort. Crawley scored just 15 in the first-wicket stand of 89, and Pope just 39 in the 93 added for the second wicket. However, there was still time enough for Pope to display the reverse Dilscoop that left jaws on the floor in the first Test.

It was the partnership with Crawley, though, that once again set India back. This was their fourth association of 50 or more in five innings this series. Between 2018 and 2023, all visiting openers put together had put together four stands of 50 or more. By the time Ashwin came onto bowl, Duckett and Crawley had raced so far ahead he started off with a negative line outside leg to Crawley. That ended up bringing his landmark wicket as the ball bounced from the rough to take the top edge on the sweep.

Now was the moment for India to try to build to another wicket. Pope is not that good a starter, and Kuldeep started by beating his bat on the outside edge. On 2 off 11, Pope, who might not have picked the earlier wrong’un, decided it wouldn’t matter which way it is turning if he gets to its pitch and biffs it over the infield. It heralded another wave of attack, which included the audacious slog-sweep off Ashwin for his first six.

Pope then played used the pace from Ravindra Jadeja to start picking boundaries behind the wicket: a paddle-sweep followed by the outrageous reverse Dilscoop. Then the reverse-sweep. Then the orthodox one from Duckett. The closest India came to getting a wicket during this phase when Bumrah hit Duckett’s toe with a yorker, but he had got the inside half of the cue on it just as the ball landed.

A particular cause for desperation for India was that they were playing their best possible attack at home, barring probably Mohammed Shami for Mohammed Siraj. And yet, England were bossing them without any trouble scoreboard pressure be damned.

India then decided to slow the game down. They did what England did with Mark Wood. A field for bouncers, and keep bowing them one after the other. Not only did it slow the runs down momentarily it also slowed down the over-rate. And then when Siraj bowled one on a length, it behaved like his wobble-seam ball with the new ball does. It took such a good ball with the old ball, and then a review, for India to get some relief. Pope was trapped on the crease, but England were already 182 for 2 in just 30 overs.

Even with stumps around the corner, the wicket failed to bring down Duckett’s disdain. He immediately reversed Jadeja for a flat six over what would have been point had he not switched his stance. In the last over, Ashwin came close to getting Duckett out when he defended for a change, but the offbreak had landed just outside leg.

The amount of work India are having to put to get their wickets will be a good reminder to them of how easily they gave their own away. After the run-out on day one, the centurion Jadeja patted a return catch to Joe Root in the early exchanges of the day, reminiscent of how Yashasvi Jaiswal got out in the first over on day two in Hyderabad.

Ashwin and debutant Dhruv Jurel then added 77 for the eighth wicket, but Ashwin too hit legspinner Rehan Ahmed straight to mid-on in a manner that left him with his hand on his head in a “what-did-I-just-do” kind of way. It is not like the spinners had built any dot-ball pressure on India as loose balls were readily available.

Three stands put together 358 of India’s 445 runs. One – for the last wicket – was responsible for 30 of the remaining 87. That, though, has been the story of the series for India’s inexperienced batting line-up.

Sidharth Monga is a senior writer at ESPNcricinfo

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