Ben Stokes' comeback and Adil Rashid's role: talking points from England's tougher day

play
#PoliteEnquiries: How long before Kohli is Rashid's bunny? (5:45)

George Dobell and Melinda Farrell answer your questions on Rashid, reviews and the unfortunate signs of ageing (5:45)

England's bowlers were given a far tougher workout on the opening day at Trent Bridge than was the case a week ago at Lord's. A hard-fought, entertaining day of Test cricket threw up a number of talking points about their performance

The toss

A glance at the close of play scorecard might well lead to the conclusion that Joe Root erred in electing to bowl first. And it's true, leaving his side the prospect of batting fourth against a top-class spinner in R Ashwin may come back to haunt him. Virat Kohli would have batted first anyway.

But there was some logic in the decision. There was just a little green in the surface and, with a little cloud and a pretty strong crosswind, England must have fancied they would find some movement.

Indeed they did. At times the ball jagged around alarmingly off the seam but, whereas at Edgbaston and Lord's England's seamers were wonderfully probing with the lines and lengths they bowled, here they were just a little short and just a little wide. Statistics showed they bowled 41 back-of-a-good-length deliveries in the first 15 overs compared to 25 at Lord's. They also bowled six short balls in that period here whereas they didn't bowl any at Lord's.

India deserve some credit, too. Having now had more opportunity to acclimatise to the conditions - they really didn't give themselves much of a chance to go into this series in top form with their brief warm-up schedule - their openers were a little more compact and a little more composed.

The selection

One of the great truisms of the game is that players' reputations often improve when they are out of the side. So here Sam Curran, somewhat controversially omitted so Ben Stokes could be brought back, was soon being talked about as a vital missing ingredient. And it's true England's seam attack - containing, as it does, four right-arm seamers of remarkably similar pace (there was just 1.6mph difference between the quickest average speed of the attack, Stuart Broad - at 83.4 - and the slowest - Chris Woakes, at 81.8) - might have posed different questions with a left-arm angle.

Stokes didn't look anywhere near his best, either. He started with a couple of very stiff looking long-hops and, after his first spell of seven overs cost 27, saw his second - of just two overs - cost 18 more. Gradually he began to find a bit more rhythm and produced some vast inswing, but this wasn't the day after he had wanted after his recent experiences.

But would Curran have made much difference? We will never know. He would, almost certainly, have gained movement but, on this slow surface, it is hard to say whether he would have done it with enough pace to trouble the batsmen.

It's probably wrong to frame the debate as simply Stokes v Curran, too. Perhaps, had this Test not been at Trent Bridge and had he not produced that spell at Lord's, the spotlight might have fallen on Broad. Jos Buttler will need some runs here, too.

play
1:19

Harmison: India would be the happier team at stumps

Steve Harmison praises India's patient approach with the bat on the first day at Trent Bridge

Did Adil Rashid have a good day?

Yes. Any day that includes the wicket of Kohli must be considered good. Having set Kohli up - that may be a generous interpretation; he later modestly said that natural variation had been the significant ingredient - with a succession of deliveries that went straight on, he tempted the batsman into the drive with a slightly slower one that turned enough to take the edge. It may prove a key moment in the game and, natural variation or not, Rashid has quite a record against Kohli: this was the sixth time he has dismissed him in international cricket and the fourth in Tests.

But there was another side to it. With a couple of his seamers - notably the rusty Stokes, who conceded 45 from his first nine overs - below their best, Rashid was brought into the attack with Root needing some control. And that's just not his strength. His first spell, in the second session, saw him conceded 29 from five overs, and Root was - as so often - obliged to turn back to his three leading seamers (Anderson, Broad and Woakes) to drag back the scoring rate. By stumps, Rashid had conceded 46 from his nine overs.

So can Rashid survive in Test cricket? England's modus operandi in the field is generally to bowl as dry as possible and frustrate the batsmen. Rashid, without doubt, releases some of the pressure built by his seam colleagues. But that method hasn't helped England win many games away from home in recent times and with Rashid being encouraged to bowl with the same mentality he has in limited-overs cricket - to think wickets instead of economy - perhaps he can add something different to the attack.

It seems he may soon be playing more red-ball cricket, too. There is a thawing in relationships between Rashid and Yorkshire and a real possibility of him signing a new contract with the club in the coming days which would including the commitment to play Championship cricket.

The surface

In 2014, these teams played out a hideously dull draw on a pitch so slow and lifeless that only 29 wickets fell in total and it was deemed "poor" by ICC match referee, David Boon.

This surface isn't anywhere near as bad as that. It offered seam movement and, in due course, may well assist both reverse-swing (the pitch is in the middle of a huge, dry square full of used pitches) and spin. Had England utilised the new ball a bit better, it might have produced another low first innings total. It was still a pretty entertaining day.

But it is a bit slower than is ideal. And there is a danger that, as the match progresses, the life will be crushed out of it by the heavy roller. We could be in for an attritional encounter. But India have Ashwin and he just might be able to unlock such a surface.

play
1:06

India left the ball better than they have done - Woakes

England allrounder Chris Woakes admits that despite the movement on offer, England struggled to create chances against the patient Indian batting line-up at Trent Bridge

The slips

Here we saw the best and worst of England's much-debated cordon. The one-handed catch by Alastair Cook to dismiss Ajinkya Rahane was as brilliant as it was surprising. Cook's catching has been hit and miss in recent times - he has taken 70% of chances since the start of 2016 - but here he stuck out his left hand to take a sharp chance.

Left-handed catches from right-handed batsmen are quite unusual at first slip as they might normally be taken by the keeper. And it may be, upon reflection, that England decide Cook should have been a little closer to Jonny Bairstow. But if he can take chances like this, it allows England to spread their cordon just a little wider.

The other side of the story came in the shape of Keaton Jennings. He missed what was, by Test cricket's standards, an unusually straightforward chance at third slip off Broad when Hardik Pandya, who had scored 14, saw one balloon off his glove then shoulder and loop towards Jennings. Maybe the lack of pace on the ball surprised Jennings, but he really did make a fearful hash of the chance. Indeed, the fact the drop produced an 'Oh-my-Broad' face very similar to the bowler's reaction when Stokes held on to that ridiculous catch here to dismiss Adam Voges in 2015 says it all. It just this time Broad couldn't believe it for all the wrong reasons. Anderson and Jos Buttler ensured it was not to prove too costly a miss, but it was a moment that showed how far England have to go before they feel they have settled on a reliable slip cordon.