England slipped to a precarious 198 for seven on day one of the fifth and final Test against India at The Oval in London on Friday.
Host captain Joe Root’s decision to bat first yielded early value, as openers Keaton Jennings and Alastair Cook shared a steady 60-run alliance.
Jennings’ departure for an unfulfilling 23 continued a trend, though. The South African-born right-hander has gathered plenty of promising starts this series, but ultimately failed to deliver even a half-century.
Suggestions that he should be dropped will quieten, regardless, as England instead seek a successor for Cook at the top of the order.
The veteran left-hander, indeed, will retire from international competitions at the end of this match. He is within 100 runs of surpassing Sri Lanka’s Kumar Sangakkara as Test cricket’s fifth-highest run-scorer.
Characteristically cool, calm and collected across Friday’s vigil all but insisted he would edge very close to Sangakkara’s 12,400 tally. However, Cook remains 76 short of joining Indian duo Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid, South African Jacques Kallis and Australian Ricky Ponting in the elite top five.
Afforded a guard of honour at the start of play, Cook was eventually castled by fast bowler Jasprit Bumrah. The departure sparked a significant collapse, as the hosts floundered from a solid 133 for two.
Captain Joe Root and wicketkeeper-batsman Jonny Bairstow endured a duck each, as Bumrah and fellow seamer Ishant Sharma struck relatively shortly after the tea break.
All-rounder Ben Stokes was then spinner Ravindra Jadeja’s second victim of the day. The recalled Jadeja thoroughly justified selection ahead of fellow spinner Ravichandran Ashwin or all-rounder Hardik Pandya.
Promoted to third position in the batting order, the left-handed Moeen Ali stood firm, only to exit shortly after reaching a fighting half-century. He struck 50 from 170 deliveries to Cook’s 71 from 190. Both innings were appropriately patient in challenging circumstances.
The young Sam Curran, meanwhile, suffered the first duck of a burgeoning career. His dismissal effectively capped a telling Friday for Sharma, whose fine figures of three for 28 in 22 tight overs thoroughly exemplified his talent; he was publicly praised by South African fast bowler Dale Steyn earlier this week.
The unbeaten Jos Buttler and Adil Rashid will resume on Saturday, when the home side will target a substantial fightback, which must bring a total of at least 300. The Indians, with a second new ball a mere three overs old in hand, will want the home side reduced to substantially less.
The English boast an unassailable 3-1 series lead, having won at Lord’s, Edgbaston and the Rose Bowl, but lost at Trent Bridge.