Ben Stokes played a captain’s innings, steering his side towards what looked like a competitive total of 246 while wickets collapsed around him. But it was India who finished the day on top, after Yashasvi Jaiswal’s unbeaten 76 from 70 lifted the hosts into a dominant position of 119 for one.
England have questions to answer, and the close of play came at the right time for a respite for the least experienced member of the side, Tom Hartley. With bat in hand, he attacked with freedom and looked to put the pressure back on the opponents with a fluent, and useful, 23 from 24.
However, with the ball, the left-handed spinner was dealt a brutal welcome to Test cricket. His first ball in the format was belted for six, and he finished the day with no wickets and having seen his nine overs hit for 63 runs.
There had been a lot of talk about Bazball ahead of the series, but it was arguably India who played the more attacking innings, with Jaiswal taking the attack to the England bowlers, not letting them settle, while piling on the runs, in the manner more often seen employed by Brendon McCullum’s men.
The day started in promising fashion, England had won the crucial toss and raced to 55 without loss, but they then slid to 60 for three, and then another collapse following a brief resistance by Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow to 137-6.
Stokes was playing for the first time since having knee surgery in November, and there was none of the wincing that has accompanied his recent performances. He looked comfortable at the crease, making a stunning 70.
It was a traditional Stokes innings, he took his time to play himself in and then opened up. While he was dealt a stroke of luck when he was dropped by wicketkeeper Bharat on 44, he followed it up with a period of expansive play that included hitting Ravindra Jadeja for back-to-back sixes to reach his half-century.
During India’s reply in the final session of the day, Hartley was shown faith by the England set-up, but given a tough ask when he was asked to open the bowling, becoming the first spinner to do so on Test debut since 1921.
In his first over with the new ball, Jaiswal dispatched him for two sixes. His nine-over spell felt too long and there were some poor deliveries in a cruel awakening for England.
While India’s spin trio of Axar Patel, Ravichandran Ashwin and Jadeja took eight of England’s 10 wickets and looked threatening and difficult to play against, the visitors’ reply did not offer the same threat.
Jack Leach claimed the only wicket, when Rohit Sharma toed the ball into the air and straight to Stokes, but it did not spark the same collapse as the first breakthrough had in the previous innings.
Rehan Ahmed was not treated significantly differently to Hartley, his three overs went for 22. England chose to go with three spinners, and two especially inexperienced in the Lancashire spinner and 19-year-old Ahmed. Although Ben Duckett said after the close of play that he does not expect the pitch to get any better, it remains to be seen if England have enough spinning firepower to exploit the conditions.