England crumbled to 112 all out in the first innings of the day/night third Test against India, dismissed for their lowest total in the country before the LED lights in Ahmedabad had even taken over.
Joe Root opted to face up first in uncertain batting conditions but saw his side utterly exposed by spinners Axar Patel and Ravichandran Ashwin, who strengthened the hold they had established during last week’s series-levelling victory in Chennai.
Five of the top six failed to make contact with the ball in defence, with Zak Crawley, Jonny Bairstow, Joe Root and Ben Stokes all lbw pushing forward and Ollie Pope clean bowled in a similar attempt.
Crawley was the only player to make an impression before going, hitting 10 stylish boundaries in an innings of 53 that would later be shown up as an oasis of calm in an otherwise desperate display. For almost two hours he batted with elegant authority and a worrying hint of what may yet be possible should the hosts find their rhythm.
While the previous Test saw plenty of debate around the fitness of the pitch, which took lavish turn from the first moment, England seemed spooked by the possibility of big spin rather than the reality. With Patel’s six for 38 and Ashwin’s three for 26 owing much to meticulous consistency and minor variations.
At the end of the second session, India were five without loss after Ben Stokes saw a claimed catch off Shubman Gill wiped out by the third umpire.
England’s controversial policy of rest and rotation brought four more changes to their playing XI, Crawley back from an unlucky wrist injury and Bairstow back from a break in Yorkshire as Rory Burns and Dan Lawrence dropped out of the top three. They also gambled on seam, with James Anderson and Jofra Archer rebalancing the attack in favour of pace as second spinner Dom Bess was overlooked.
Dom Sibley, the one constant in England’s top three, fell for a duck in the third over as Ishant Sharma had a happy start to his 100th Test appearance. After finding a little inswing and some inconsistent bounce in his first over, his second saw Sibley prodding tentatively to Rohit Sharma in the slips.
Crawley got England going in response, showing the full face of the bat to Jasprit Bumrah as the first scoring shot of the day pinged through mid-on for four. The sweet timing continued as he reeled off four more boundaries in quick succession, each one popping out of the middle.
Bairstow had no such joy, gone without score to the first ball of spin. He was attempting to do no more than cover his stumps but Patel coaxed one past the inside edge and into the front pad.
Crawley was unperturbed, putting together a lovely highlights reel of strokes as he raced along to a brisk half-century in a team total of just 66, getting there by stepping deep in his crease and cutting Patel to the ropes. The pitch was still doing enough to keep the bowlers interested, though, and Ashwin would not stay out of the game for long.
After seeing one tight DRS decision fall in Crawley’s favour, Ashwin dismissed Root thanks to another. He was lbw for 17, undone by the bowler’s persistent probing. That upped the burden on Crawley’s shoulders but he added just one more to his score before Patel sent one on with the arm, thumping the front pad as the opener played for turn.
From 81 for four at the interval, England’s innings went into full tail-spin as Ollie Pope and Stokes were gone in the first two overs after the restart. Pope lost track of his off stump as Ashwin zipped one past his outside edge from round the wicket and a crease-bound Stokes was lbw to Patel in subdued fashion.
Patel rattled through the lower order as he worked away on a relentless line and length, Jofra Archer, Jack Leach and Stuart Broad all dismissed to a variety of equally unsuccessful shots. Ben Foakes found a method to survive, lasting 58 balls for his 12 runs, before being comprehensively bowled on the cut.
Broad thought he had given England the start they needed when Gill edged him to slip, but TV official Chettichody Shamshuddin left them furious when he quickly decided the ball was grounded by Stokes.