Rohit Sharma, with a straight face, commented on the somewhat dry playing conditions after losing the toss. He expressed confidence in his team’s ability to handle the situation, as they have experience playing in similar conditions and possess the necessary skills to succeed. They are well aware of what to expect and what actions are required in this situation.
He was not kidding. Virat Kohli’s absence will possibly be felt in time but with England choosing to bat in Hyderabad India took to the field with exactly the guys who could do the job for them. Their three spinners included, of all those who have taken at least 10 Test wickets in the past two years, the players with the best and second-best bowling averages and numbers two, three and four when ranked on economy. Srikar Bharat was surely the right choice as wicketkeeper on a pitch that guaranteed a rigorous test of technique and he produced an impeccable performance to prove it. India also had two of the top 20 seamers ranked by wickets taken over the last two years, one of them, the magnificent Jasprit Bumrah, having played only five times in that period.
Out of the five individuals from England listed, only one, Ben Stokes, will not be bowling in this match. Of the four spinners from England, 27 of them have taken at least 10 Test wickets in the past two years, with the fourth and eighth lowest bowling averages. Additionally, two of the spinners have only played in one Test match. It appeared as though they were unsure of what to expect or what was needed from them, and they may or may not have had the necessary players to do the job. The selection seemed risky, and while Stokes may have started the day by winning a coin toss, his decision seems to have been less than successful.
Tom Hartley’s debut has brought attention to the 24-year-old’s current status, as a quick Google search of his name in the UK brings up a luxury car dealership in Derbyshire as the top result. This connection may go beyond just the name, as Hartley showed great comfort on the pitch, despite it being far from a typical road. As he faced a challenging start against India’s young opener Yashasvi Jaiswal, it’s likely that Shoaib Bashir, who was controversially unable to join the series in person and had to watch from England, may have been tempted to return to the Indian high commission and request a reconsideration of his visa.
Hartley’s initial contribution was entirely advantageous, scoring 23 runs off 24 deliveries to assist Stokes in improving England’s score from a worrisome 155 for seven to a more comfortable 246. He began by hitting Ravichandran Ashwin for four runs, continued with a similar treatment to Ravindra Jadeja, and finished with a six from a top-edged slog-sweep against Ashwin again. However, his composure vanished once he became the bowler, as seen when Jadeja dismissed him with a difficult delivery.
In this game, any no-balls are indicated by a loud and high-pitched alarm. Hartley triggered a few, but he may not have been aware of them due to the similar noise likely ringing in his head after his first delivery in a Test match was hit over midwicket and into the stands. These were ominous warning bells and India’s batsmen were well aware that it was their lucky day. Jaiswal hit another six with a slog-sweep just four balls later, followed by two boundaries in Hartley’s next over and two more in the following over.
Despite some successful deliveries, England used two of their challenges to try to boost his spirits. One of these challenges gave him the opportunity to watch multiple replays on the large screen of a delivery that skillfully spun past Sharma’s bat. However, after bowling nine overs, he ended the day with no points and having given up 63 runs. Towards the end of the day, Rehan Ahmed also bowled three overs and was met with similar results, conceding 22 runs.
In the most recent edition of Wisden Cricket Monthly, Hartley was interviewed about his thoughts on the upcoming series. He mentioned that in his experience in India, the pitches make it easy to bowl aggressively without needing to consider strategy or finesse. These words could prove harmful for him, as he may already be regretting them. This is especially true since his first day in Test cricket likely resulted in more discomfort for readers than actual turning of the ball.