Dom Sibley and Joe Root stabilise England in afternoon session
Dom Sibley’s determined half-century and Joe Root’s latest classy effort carried England to a tea score of 140 for two on the opening afternoon of the first Test against India.
The pair came together with 63 on the board in Chennai, a rash reverse sweep from Rory Burns and a five-ball duck for Dan Lawrence unpicking a promising start for the tourists just before lunch.
Together they stabilised the position by batting through the middle session, with Sibley resolute on a docile batting surface that had yet to offer any real spin, absorbing 186 deliveries for 53 not out, while Root followed up his prolific series against Sri Lanka by reaching 45no.
The England captain was celebrating becoming the 15th Englishman to play 100 Tests and looked in the mood to mark his milestone in fitting fashion.
Both sides were keen to make first use of what was widely expected to be the best batting conditions of the match, but it was Root who called correctly.
A minor miscalculation almost saw Burns fall at the start of the second over, stepping across his stumps and flicking fine around pad only for Rishabh Pant to let the half-chance slip. The wicketkeeper’s glovework is under near constant scrutiny in India and an early blemish, no matter how tough, will not have helped.
That proved a solitary scare in the opening 90 minutes, with England happy to sit in on a flat surface. The runs trickled rather than flowed, but Sibley was reassuringly secure after his struggles against spin in Sri Lanka.
He was firm in defence on the front foot and when the chance came to score he did – steering Ravichandran Ashwin to third man for four, pushing him through mid-wicket for another and later cutting a short one from Shahbaz Nadeem.
While he showed no inclination to go quickly – reaching lunch with just 26 to his name – Burns decided to make his move in the 24th over, flipping the bat and swishing in cavalier fashion in a bid to open up the field. Instead the ball looped off his front hand and straight to Pant. It was an aberration of a shot in conditions that reward patience and certainty.
With Jonny Bairstow back home in Yorkshire on a period of rest and Zak Crawley injured after slipping on a marble floor earlier this week, it fell to Lawrence to occupy the number three position.
It is one he has rarely filled at county level and proved too great an ask here, as a big slice of reverse swing from Jasprit Bumrah had the Essex prospect plumb lbw for nought.
Root contrived to involve himself in a run-out scare moments before lunch, underlining the growing unease, and would have been happy to reach the break without further damage at 67 for two.
The hard work continued with just 24 runs in the first hour of the afternoon’s play as India dried up the scoring options meticulously. Root was stuck for a while on 11, during which he had three dicey moments against Ishant Sharma. After chopping past his off stump, surviving an lbw shout and toe-ending one in front of slip he finally got moving again.
A gentle 10-over burst from Nadeem and Washington Sundar allowed England to top up their total with minimal risk, Root driving his first boundary after 55 deliveries then nailing a reverse sweep.
Sibley, meanwhile, picked his moments to meet the pitch of the ball, working around his front pad to pick gaps at mid-wicket and crunching one full-blooded sweep.
A single got him to a well-earned fifty, with Root catching up quickly as he lashed Ashwin for successive boundaries on either side of the wicket.
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