England surrendered the initiative on day one of the fourth Test, bowled out for 205 as their methods against India’s spinners were once again found wanting in Ahmedabad.
The tourists gambled with their team selection, bolstering their batting order by recalling Dan Lawrence as a specialist number seven, but could not take advantage of winning the toss on the most reliable surface since the series opener.
Mohammed Siraj bowled skilfully to dismiss Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow but the other eight wickets fell to spin as Axar Patel and Ravichandran Ashwin continued their domination of the tourists.
While the last two Tests have seen the ball turn and spit elaborately from the start, the pitch looked trustworthy enough to build firm foundations on. But England’s top order flopped, leaving them 30 three and in a hole that they never quite emerged from.
Ben Stokes top-scored with 55, showing more control than his team-mates and tantalising flashes of power, while Lawrence partially justified the decision to draft him back into an unusual role by making 46.
But that aside it was a familiar story of misjudged shots, lbws and wasted opportunities. When Jack Leach was last man out in the 76th over, England knew they had spurned the chance of dictating terms on a pitch that is only likely to deteriorate.
With Jofra Archer (elbow) and Stuart Broad left out, Stokes was lined up to take a greater share of the bowling load after contributing just 15 overs in the previous three Tests.
A bad time, then, for him to come down with what the ECB described as “an upset stomach”. A sickness bug has been going through the camp in recent days and, although Stokes has come down with symptoms, they did not prevent him from taking the field.
But with a thinned out bowling roster, leaning heavily on a 38-year-old lone seamer in James Anderson and a freshly-recalled second spinner in Dom Bess, life could yet get very difficult in the field.