The new old guard showed the way. Joe Root, gliding to his 11th Test century, and Moeen Ali, in his latest habitat as an England batsman at No5, soothed first-day nerves against India with a telling partnership of 179.
England now have two 100-Test veterans in their side, one at No1 (Alastair Cook) and another at No11 (Stuart Broad, batting there for the first time), but beyond them they look to Root and Moeen to guide them towards tranquil waters. They sit on the front row of the team photograph; they are now the experienced ones, who are supposed to exude calmness to the novices. And here they did, ensuring England were able to capitalise on Cook’s good fortune in winning the toss by finishing on 311 for four.
They joined forces straight after lunch, about 55 minutes before the US had a new president, with the tourists in danger of squandering the flattest surface they have encountered on tour. By then Root had already cruised to 35, mostly from silky drives against the spinners – and often against the spin. He had been in long enough to recognise there were first-innings runs out there. The surface was a far cry from the sandpits of Chittagong and Dhaka so a major score was essential.
Root delivered his century, his first in Asia, before he was out in slightly controversial circumstances caught and bowled by Umesh Yadav for 124. There was doubt and much debate over whether Yadav had sufficient control of the ball before embarking on an ill-advised celebration.
Virat Kohli, the India captain, hoped for reverse swing and there was a little, especially for Yadav, who induced an aerial straight drive from Root; he held the catch, started to throw the ball up, then to his horror he realised it was now out of his grasp. As the ball was falling to the ground he made a desperate attempt to appear nonchalant.
Root had started off for the pavilion but then hesitated and inevitably the umpires sought help from their colleague in the pavilion, Rod Tucker. The slow motion replays did Root no favours; the ball seemed to be in the bowler’s hands for ages. It was probably a decision best taken by those standing in the middle. Memories of Herschelle Gibbs “dropping” Steve Waugh – and the World Cup semi-final at Headingley in 1999 flooded back, but on this occasion the batsman had to go. Afterwards Root was only annoyed with himself.
Moeen, after a scare on nought when an edge off Ravi Ashwin almost carried to short leg, was at his felicitous best, which is when he provokes comparisons with David Gower and he was still there at the close on 99 not out with Ben Stokes unbeaten on 19.
In the morning the focus was on the new generation of England batsmen rather than the old sweats in the middle order. For a while Haseeb Hameed looked the more secure of the opening batsmen. Cook was dropped twice before he had reached two, hard chances but the sort caught by a team riding the crest of a wave.
Hameed looked composed and soon pushed a single to extra cover for his first Test run. Then there was a flirtatious cut over the slips followed by a better one past gully. Hameed is a cool customer but there was no ice in his veins. There followed several sweet cover drives, which must have impressed his captain. He looked composed, even when dropped at slip on 13: maybe he will be the one to outlast Cook.
Hameed’s umpiring capabilities may be faulty – for which he should not be held culpable at this stage of his career. Immediately after the drinks’ break Cook attempted to turn a delivery from Ravindra Jadeja on the leg side. He was given lbw by the umpire Chris Gaffaney and after a brief consultation with his partner Cook decided not to review. The replay revealed the ball to be missing his leg stump.
There was a little partnership between Hameed and Root when it was not always immediately obvious which one was on strike, which must reflect well on the debutant. When Hameed was given lbw pushing forward to Ashwin, bowling around the wicket, he displayed more confidence than judgment. Umpire Kumar Dharmasena’s decision was upheld.
Next came Ben Duckett, who demands constant attention. After brief reconnaissance he took three boundaries from an Ashwin over via two sweeps and a flat-batted cover drive. At the moment Duckett attacks better than he defends and just before lunch he was caught at slip off Ashwin and one could sense the analysts around the world making their notes. This dismissal was reminiscent of his first in Test cricket in Chittagong against Mehedi Hasan. An off break pitching on his leg stump turned and defeated him a little too easily. Duckett ensures his right leg is out of the way, which is important in the DRS era, but when defending on turning pitches he does not necessarily obey the dictum of getting as close to – or as far from – the pitch of the ball as possible.
After lunch Root and Moeen were busy, allowing only one maiden in the session, yet they also shunned risks. They ran well together while adding 107 in 31 overs. This was a breeze compared with batting in Dhaka, however awesome the recent records of the Indian spinners. The pair expanded their repertoire a little after tea. Root came down the pitch top hit Jadeja for a straight six, Moeen lofted Ashwin to the leg-side boundary three times, thus confirming the trustworthiness of the surface.