James Anderson voiced England’s frustrations after an unresponsive Trent Bridge track ensured slow progress for the home bowlers in the first Investec Test against India.
The Nottingham venue has been a happy hunting ground for the hosts in recent years, with Anderson enjoying more success than anyone but, as feared, the 2014 pitch was slow, low and largely joyless.
Having won the toss and chosen to bat, India reached stumps on 259-4, opener Murali Vijay having batted through the day for a near flawless 122 not out.
It was a day of toil for the England attack, though Stuart Broad impressed with his control and Anderson snared two wickets to extend his record career haul at the ground to 51.
But that could not mask his, or his team-mate’s, unhappiness at the recent trend for English wickets to be sapped of their traditional assistance for the seamers.
Asked if the pitch represented either a good wicket or one that was likely to help the home side win, Anderson answered bluntly: “Probably not, on both counts.”
Invited to elaborate, the Lancashire bowler added: “It was frustrating really. The pitch is what it is.
“I don’t make the pitch, so there’s not a lot I can do about it. We’re probably as frustrated as everyone else is watching.
“But there’s not a lot we can do about it at this stage, we have to stick at it and try and winkle out six wickets (on Thursday) if we can.”
Anderson then agreed that England were “amazing hosts” when it was put to him that they were failing to make the most of home advantage.
Nottinghamshire groundsman Steve Birks performed something of a mea culpa when he offered his own thoughts on his surface.
He refuted suggestions that docile pitches were the result of any orders from above, as has been mooted in some quarters, and instead suggested natural atmospheric factors had stymied his efforts.
“Our only instruction is to produce a good cricket wicket and, with hindsight, we may have left a bit more grass on it,” he said.
“But this is the first day of a five-day Test and, while I don’t expect spin to come into it, we hope it might quicken up a bit.
“We wanted to produce a pitch with pace, bounce and carry which hasn’t happened unfortunately. There’s quite a lot of moisture underneath but it’s a hard surface on top which is why it’s lacking pace.”
Vijay shared half-century stands with Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane and finally his captain Dhoni (50no), who helped to put on an unbroken 81.
Vijay grabbed the impetus for the tourists with a rush of early boundaries off Anderson on his way past 50 in only 68 balls – but thereafter he was in no hurry.
It was soon clear wicket-taking options were limited by the lack of life in a surface groundsman Steve Birks later admitted he had hoped would be much quicker.
England conceded 106-1 before lunch, in 30 overs, as Vijay coasted past his half-century with 11 fours. His first three boundaries came from successive deliveries in Anderson’s first over of the match.
Anderson had his 50th Test victim at this ground when Shikhar Dhawan pushed forward and edged to the diving Matt Prior.
Cook had plenty to ponder therefore as he ran through five bowling changes, and all his options, in vain search for a second wicket as Vijay and Pujara closed out the morning in a partnership of 73.
The afternoon began very differently.
Cook switched Anderson to the pavilion end and set inventive fields to try to make something happen.
It very soon did, Anderson finding a modicum of inswing with a slower ball as Pujara mistimed a drive and was very well caught by Ian Bell, diving one-handed to his right at a short and very straight mid-on.
Broad’s second spell either side of lunch read 6-4-5-1, his wicket coming after Cook brought a second slip in from the off-side ring to the new batsman and Virat Kohli compliantly followed a touch of movement off the pitch to be neatly caught by Bell.
England had to wait until after tea for the next, and last reward, for their efforts.
Rahane escaped one chance in Cook’s direction at silly point, looping but falling short, as Plunkett went round the wicket again; then, without addition three balls later, an attempted pull somehow toe-ended straight into the England captain’s midriff to end a stand of 71.
Scorecard: Page 26.