When you are kick starting an eagerly anticipated 5-Test series, dropping a catch off the very first over is the last thing that you would want. However, India let slip not one but as many as three chances even before the sixth over could be completed to allow England to begin their innings without much damage during the opening day of the first Test at the SCA Stadium in Rajkot.
On a surface which contained a noticeable grass cover in order to ensure that it could last for the entire duration of the match, England skipper Alastair Cook won a crucial toss and had no hesitation to take advantage of what might turn out to be the best batting conditions amongst all days. Alongside the experienced southpaw, 19-year old Haseeb Hameed walked out to open the proceedings for the visitors.
Considering the depth in the opposition batting lineup, India went in with five specialist bowlers including three spinners. Mohammed Shami‘s first delivery seamed away to beat the outside edge as Cook seemed pretty tentative. After leaving the next ball, the left-hander pushed at one in an uncharacteristic manner and the edge flew quickly to Ajinkya Rahane at gully.
However, the 28-year old grassed the chance despite managing to get both hands on it. While diving to his right, Rahane fumbled at the second attempt as well to offer Cook a reprieve. Usually a safe fielder at gully, even the middle-order batsman’s safe pair of hands could not cling on to the opportunity.
In the very next over, Umesh Yadav exploited the left-hander's hesitant footwork to bring Virat Kohli into play at second slip. Despite diving forward, the Indian captain was not able to hold on to the catch as Cook’s luck continued. It was never a straightforward chance by any means but those types of catches have been taken with some regularity at the international level.
Things soon turned to worse for the hosts as Murali Vijay dropped a sitter at first slip. This time, it was Hameed who was the beneficiary while Yadav found himself again at the receiving end of sustained shoddiness in the field. Even though both Yadav and Shami were giving it everything, neither had anything to show for their names as a result of the woeful catching technique of India’s slip cordon.
Catch the highlights off the dropped catches here (Video Courtesy: Hotstar)
Even though Rahane somewhat tried to redeem himself by pulling off a tricky catch to send back Ben Duckett, the damage had been done. England’s top-order managed to establish a platform for those below them to capitalize and rub salt into India’s wounds. After putting on 47 runs for the opening wicket alongside his skipper, Hameed showed maturity beyond his age to score a 82-ball 31.
Joe Root and Moeen Ali took control of the last couple of sessions to take the tourists to a dominant position of 311/4 at the end of day's play. While the right-hander became the first visiting batsman in more than 3 years to score a Test ton on Indian soil, the latter remained unbeaten on 99.
Meanwhile, the home side was left to rue what could have been a different day had they not messed up in the field. Although their ground fielding has grown in leaps and bounds over the last few years, India’s slip cordon has struggled to replace the likes of Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman. After all, saving a few runs here and there may help in showing off the fielder’s athleticism (at times maintaining the pressure as well) but dropping catches often comes back to haunt teams.