Ahmedabad: Two innings from England that bore no resemblance to each other left India on top, but working hard, after they bowled England out for just 191 in their first innings and enforced the follow on. Pragyan Ojha, consistently miserly but producing the aggressive delivery exactly often enough, picked up 5 for 45 and R Ashwin snapped up three wickets as England imploded against the sustained pressure of two skilful spinners operating in tandem.
For a team that had just collapsed to 191, England batted beautifully in the second dig. Nick Compton's approach against spin – Ojha bowled the second over of the innings – was markedly different, with judicious use of the feet matching a straight bat. Only when Ashwin packed the leg-side field did Compton improvise, reverse-sweeping well to pick up a boundary.
Alastair Cook, the man on whom so much depended, led from the front, playing the ball late and with soft hands. Cook waited till the last moment and worked the ball round the corner or opened the face of the bat to pick up comfortable ones and twos. India's spinners could hardly believe what was unfolding in front of them as England went into stumps on the third day at 111 for no loss. Cook, unbeaten on 74, was well supported by Compton (34*). Trailing by just 219, England will know that not losing wickets early on the fourth day could be vital to their chances of survival.
The last passage of play on the second day had shown just how frazzled England were against spin, and the story was no different on the third morning on Saturday (November 17). Kevin Pietersen could have been dismissed any number of times in different ways, but somehow dodged the bullet for 47 minutes. Eventually, though, he played a most inexplicable prod against Ojha, hanging his bat well inside the line of a ball delivered from round the stumps that pitched and straightened. With the middle stump out of the ground, Ojha whooped in delight.
Then came the brain-freeze of the match. Scarcely had the ball left Ojha's hand than Ian Bell was down the pitch, playing a pre-determined loft over mid-off. Not quite to the pitch of the ball, Bell only managed to balloon a catch to Sachin Tendulkar, who backpedalled from his fielding position to leave England in shreds at 69 for 5.
Cook, who had hung back on the back foot for the best part of his innings, and survived more than one close lbw shout, was easily the most comfortable of England's batsmen, and when he fell for 41, the follow on loomed large. Ashwin slowed a delivery up, giving the ball enough air to tempt Cook into the drive, and the late dip and turn beat the middle of the bat to take the outside edge. Sehwag held onto the catch and at 80 for 6, England were in danger of being routed.
Samit Patel, who has played spin enthusiastically and efficiently in the warm-up matches, looked to be positive and steadied the ship for a time. With the ball going a bit soft and getting scuffed up, Dhoni turned to Umesh Yadav, who had been ignored thus far, and was immediately rewarded with a wicket. Umesh, running in hard and bowling with more pace than any of England's seamers, got the ball to swing from the word go. Although lucky to win an lbw shout against Patel when the ball appeared to be heading down leg, Umesh had shown that there was a role for quick bowlers in the conditions.
Matt Prior and Tim Bresnan made full use of the softening ball's lack of bite for the spinners, settling into a 47-run eighth-wicket stand that kept embarrassment at bay. But it was only a matter of time before Ojha struck, extra bounce resulting in an edge off Bresnan's bat that Virat Kohli held close in.
Zaheer Khan then produced a high-class exhibition of controlled reverse swing, showing that Umesh's success was no fluke. While he might have had more wickets on another day, he managed just one, courtesy a second bit of largesse from Aleem Dar, when Stuart Broad was deemed to be in front of the stumps with the ball slipping down the leg-side. Zaheer's spell of 7-2-16-1 set things up nicely for Ojha to return and cap off a five-for, and he did just that, beating an inside-out drive from Prior (48).
All out for just 191, losing wickets in a fashion that could not be ascribed to the pitch, England seemed all set to grant Cheteshwar Pujara his wish of an early finish. That was until everything changed in the second innings.
Story first published on: Saturday, 17 November 2012 12:42 IST