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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 September 2018

Sam Curran fifty gives England fighting chance in Southampton Test after India pacers wreak havoc

England, who lead five-match series 2-1, recover from 86-6 to 246 all out on Day 1 of fourth Test

Sam Curran once again showed his temperament for a fight against India in a Test match setting. Getty Images
Sam Curran once again showed his temperament for a fight against India in a Test match setting. Getty Images

Sam Curran proved once again why is a cricket star in the making when he led an England fightback with the bat on the first day of the fourth Test against India at Southampton.

Curran scored 78, his second half-century in only his fourth Test, as England recovered from 86-6 at one stage to 246 all out on Thursday. The 20-year-old all-rounder received crucial support from Moeen Ali (40), with whom he struck an 81-run partnership for the seventh wicket, and Stuart Broad (17), with whom he shared a 63-run stand for ninth wicket.

In reply, India were 19-0 at stumps.

But it could have been a lot worse for the home team, who won the toss and elected to bat first. All their top-order batsmen struggled once again to come to terms with India's bowling attack in swinging and seaming conditions, with Seamers Jasprit Bumrah (3-46) and Ishant Sharma (2-26) making early inroads before Mohammed Shami (2-51) and Hardik Pandya (1-51) chipped in.

Off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin took the last wicket, that of Curran, to end with figures of 2-40.

So, while it was a good bowling performance and England's total is far from imposing, there will likely be some regret in the Indian dressing room that the hosts were allowed to rack up a 200-plus score.

Ishant Sharma was the pick of the bowlers for the Indian team on Day 1 at Southampton. Getty Images
Ishant Sharma was the pick of the bowlers for the Indian team on Day 1 at Southampton. Getty Images

Credit, though, must go to Curran for demonstrating to his fellow batsmen that if you stick around and get your eye in, there are runs to be scored. His feat is all the more impressive given that it comes only 12 days since he was told – three matches into his Test career and two after his man-of-the-match performance against these opponents at Edgbaston – that he must step aside to allow Ben Stokes' return at Trent Bridge.

The son of former Zimbabwe all-rounder, the late Kevin, and the younger brother of another England international, Tom, Curran was missed at Trent Bridge, where England were crushed by 203 runs.

Curran was recalled as a replacement for Ollie Pope, another 20-year-old player with plenty of potential but who underwhelmed in his first two Tests. Like Moeen, back for his first Test since being dropped in Christchurch five months ago, Curran wasted no time proving his worth in another hour of need.

There was one minor moment of fortune on 30, when he had reason to thank umpire's call for an lbw survival against Ashwin. But otherwise, his 109-ball half-century – brought up like his previous 50 with a six off Ashwin, slog-swept over midwicket this time – was unblemished.

England were in dire straits as India's pace attack swung the ball prodigiously before lunch.

Root was in the thick of it little more than half-an-hour after his understandable decision at the toss.

Keaton Jennings has appeared increasingly frazzled by his international experiences of late, and did not account for Bumrah finding previously unaccustomed inswing with the new ball.

The surprise element was some mitigation, but it was still not a pretty sight to see the left-hander staggering across the crease after leaving a ball that pitched on leg-stump and would have hit middle.

Root then had an lbw reprieve against Bumrah, thanks only to an overstep no-ball discovered via India's DRS. But it made precious little difference, because England's out-of-form captain was lbw for four instead to Ishant – taking an unwise review with him.

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Read more:

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Chitrabhanu Kadalayil: Kohli pays tribute and Buttler should never be dropped again

Graham Caygill: Problems to ponder for England despite leading India in Test series

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Jonny Bairstow was caught-behind on the back-foot defence to Bumrah, and then Alastair Cook's attempt to ride out the storm foundered in anti-climax when he contrived to guide a cut low to third slip off Pandya.

Stokes and Jos Buttler avoided further mishap in the morning session.

But Buttler went hard at an early-afternoon drive and edged Shami's outswing for Virat Kohli's second fine slip catch.

Stokes' 79-ball vigil ended when he failed to make the intended contact in forward-defence to Shami, from round the wicket, and became the third of England's five lbw victims.

Thankfully for the hosts, they had already hit their low point as Moeen and especially Curran took over.

Moeen eventually skied a slog-sweep at Ashwin to Bumrah in the leg-side ring, and Curran was last out when he was bowled by the off-spinner aiming a big hit in the same direction.

By then, though, they had reignited hope England can still remain competitive in this crucial match.

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