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In the first Test, newcomer Tom Hartley dominates India as England secures an unexpected victory.
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In the first Test, newcomer Tom Hartley dominates India as England secures an unexpected victory.

Around 500 England fans in Hyderabad experienced a near state of bliss on Sunday. While 6,000 miles away at the Gabba, Australia suffered a loss to West Indies, the England team led by Ben Stokes achieved a remarkable comeback victory in the first Test against India. This was another historic moment for the fans to celebrate.

Unfortunately, this was not the desired outcome. India had never lost a home match with a lead of 190 runs, making England’s chances of winning the first match in this five-game series slim. Their attack was also considered weak for playing in the subcontinent. However, recent history has shown that belief can be a strong force, and this team plays with a determined spirit under the leadership of Stokes.

It certainly coursed through the veins of Ollie Pope in this match, the vice‑captain’s epic 196 turning 163 for five in the third innings into 420 all out, setting the hosts a target of 231 to win. And it was clearly to be found in Tom Hartley, the left-armer’s stellar figures of seven for 62 – the first seven-wicket haul by an England spinner on debut since Jim Laker in 1948 – inflicting just India’s fourth defeat on home soil in 11 years.

The outcome was uncertain until 5:30pm in the local time zone, when the final over of the extra half-hour was played. Mohammed Siraj confidently moved down the pitch to face Hartley’s delivery, but missed, and Ben Foakes quickly removed the bails. India ended their innings with a total of 202 runs, falling just 29 runs short of their target. The surprising shot by Siraj mirrored the unexpected loss for his team. It is possible that he lacked faith in his defensive skills, or perhaps he was looking forward to a day off on the golf course.

Stokes usually had a significant impact during the day, including an impressive throw from wide mid-on to run out Ravindra Jadeja and force his teammate, an all-rounder, to leave the field with a hamstring injury. However, his greatest contribution may have been guiding Hartley, who remarkably became the third spinner under Stokes’ guidance to start his Test career with a five-wicket haul, after Will Jacks and Rehan Ahmed last winter.

Return to the beginning of the evening and India appeared to have significantly diminished Hartley’s confidence, as Yashasvi Jaiswal hit a six on his first ball in Test cricket, initiating a barrage of runs. However, despite this initial setback, Hartley, standing at 6ft 4in, rebounded in the second round, adjusting his speed and length and allowing the pitch to do its job. He also proved his batting abilities with important scores of 23 and 34.

England’s captain, Ben Stokes, runs out India’s Ravindra Jadeja in a crucial moment on the fourth day.

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This was an exhilarating day of Test cricket, one that evokes strong emotions and showcases the power of the format, similar to Kraigg Brathwaite’s performance in Brisbane. For a brief period, there were two matches that captured our attention, with the Barmy Army trumpeter concluding the first match by playing Rally ‘Round the West Indies, a beloved anthem by David Rudder.

Out in the middle, having helped Pope to add 104 runs before lunch in a stand of 80, Hartley was twirling away to the tune of a precious three wickets. Pope was involved here also, those cat-like reflexes under the helmet snaring Jaiswal (15) and Shubman Gill (0) in the space of three balls before Rohit Sharma, primus inter pares in the absence of Virat Kohli, and dropped on five in Mark Wood’s opening over, was trapped for 39 lbw.

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During the tea break, India had a strong start with a score of 95 for three. However, they suffered a collapse of four wickets for only 24 runs in the final session. Hartley dismissed Axar Patel for 17, caught and bowled, while Joe Root got the in-form KL Rahul lbw for 22. Despite battling through a knee problem, England’s most experienced spinner Jack Leach managed to take a wicket, that of Shreyas Iyer who was caught at slip.

India, who were at a score of 119 for seven, faced another setback when Ravichandran Ashwin and KS Bharat formed a partnership of 56 runs, potentially setting up a comeback or at least extending the match to a fifth day. However, Hartley bowled a fantastic delivery to dismiss Bharat and secured his fifth wicket, and two stumpings were made to effectively end India’s chances. Foakes, who had supported Pope in their batting recovery on the third day, was a constant danger during the intense and exciting finale.

Stokes and Brendon McCullum have led the team to some unforgettable victories, but this recent performance stands out as the best. The 190-run turnaround is the third-largest deficit England has ever overcome. This is even more impressive considering their previous two comebacks were at Headingley in 1981 and during the 1894-95 Ashes. With Stokes leading a relatively inexperienced bowling attack, it is difficult to argue against this being their greatest feat.

India will undoubtedly feel the sting of disappointment, both from their missed opportunities with the bat in the first innings and the dropped catch by Patel when Pope was on 110. They will also be concerned about Jadeja’s fitness and the unexpected struggles of their once dominant bowling attack.

This is quite remarkable, considering where England stood at the end of day two.

Source: theguardian.com