It’s not just the covers that were doing the Hokey Cokey on the second day at Lord’s. In, out, in, out … the same applied to England’s slip cordon, freshly reconstituted for this Test after Dawid Malan’s own drops caused him to be dropped after the Edgbaston Test, but still every bit as erratic as this week’s weather.
Take the new incumbent, Jos Buttler – England’s one-day wicketkeeper, so a reasonably safe pair of hands, you might have thought. Not quite as safe as Chris Woakes clearly hoped, as he achieved the remarkable feat of dropping, then catching, consecutive batsmen in consecutive overs.
“Nope!” was James Anderson’s succinct response, when asked afterwards if he’d ever seen anything like it before.
All was just about well by the end of it all, especially with Virat Kohli among Woakes’ second-gasp victims. But as if England’s task of forcing victory had not been made sufficiently complicated by the rain, this was another self-harming display from their close catchers. Unlike at Edgbaston, however, India – and Kohli in particular – were unable to pay them pay for their profligacy.
“Get in the ****ing mitts!” Woakes was lip-read as having said after the second of his drops – a flying but fair chance as Hardik Pandya fenced high to Buttler’s right at second slip. Whether that was a specific request to re-arm Buttler with the keeper’s gauntlets or just an understandable expression of annoyance, only Woakes will know.
But, by God, he’d worked hard to earn the rewards that England’s cordon were once again squandering. Back in the side after injury, and back at a venue where he had hoovered up 14 wickets at 10 in two previous Tests, he put his winter woes in Australia behind him with the sort of ball-on-a-string spell of outswing that briefly threatened to outshine even Anderson, England’s pastmaster of such methods.
None of India’s batsmen could lay a bat on him – except, of course, when they did, and then it was in the lap of the gods as to whether the chance stuck or wriggled to safety.
“It was frustrating because, though we were forced to change the slip cordon, they’ve worked hard again this week, and we want to be taking as many chances as we can,” said Anderson, whose five-wicket haul (blessed with no missed chances) proved instrumental in restricting India to a paltry 107.
“It’s an area to improve but thankfully [Jos] made up for both mistakes straight away and credit to him for keeping his focus. Often your head can drop when you drop a catch, but he kept his cool and took the two he needed to.
“There’s nothing worse as a bowler when you’re working hard to create chances and they get dropped. But no-one means to drop a catch. We know they are working hard, more so in England when the ball is moving around, it can wobble a bit. But we’ll keep working on it to get that slip cordon nailed down so we don’t have to worry about it too much.”
Joe Root, England’s captain, was also guilty of gifting a let-off, to Ajinkya Rahane on 5, as he brought himself into fourth slip with Stuart Broad finding his groove from the Nursery End. Little wonder that, when Sam Curran joined the fray, he chose to bypass his fielders by curling a beauty through Dinesh Karthik’s flimsy defences.
“It’s a five-match series and it’s a long way to go,” said Rahane, India’s vice-captain, at the close of play. “In this series you can’t be too harsh on yourself as an individual and team. You back your ability and team is backing you and every individual. We have to go out there and give our best with each and every innings. We have to forget about this innings. Next innings, we have to go and bowl well, get them out and bat well again.”
His words would have applied equally to England’s Buttler-fingered fielders. But in the final analysis, those slips in the slips slipped out of the mind’s eye. In spite of everything that the weather has thrown at Lord’s over the past two days, and in spite of their fielders’ continued frailties, England have got their foot on the throat of this contest, and the series.