Nagpur: During the first half of the second day of the fourth Test between India and England at the Vidarbha Cricket Stadium ground in Nagpur, one young man made a huge statement, playing as key role as England went well past the perceived par score to reach 330. Then, in the second half of the day, with India battling to avoid humiliation, two legends lost their middle stumps to the same paceman – James Anderson – as they stuttered to 87 for four.
After having reduced England to 139 for five at one stage on Thursday, India would have hoped to keep the total to 250 or thereabouts, even if Joe Root and Matt Prior had taken the score to 199 at stumps. Not to be. The total in front of India when they went out to bat midway through the second day was 330, a fairly big score considering the nature of the pitch. The order of the day, clearly, was for the Indian batsmen to dig in and play their part in what really is a battle of attrition.
Cut to the third ball of the Indian innings and Anderson swinging the ball in at pace. Virender Sehwag missed the line so completely that it knocked middle stump out of the ground. Not often will you see an inswinger go past the outside edge of the bat and still hit middle stump, but that’s what happened, and Sehwag was back in the hut for a duck.
The passage of play that followed, for 22 overs, was the only encouraging one in the Indian innings so far. Gautam Gambhir showed pluck and good attitude, and Cheteshwar Pujara was his usual unflappable self as the two kept the scoreboard moving, running a bit dangerously between the wickets at times but playing some nice strokes both sides of the wicket.
Then, Graeme Swann got one to rear a bit from the pitch. Replays proved that Pujara hadn’t got his bat to the ball and it had deflected off his forearm on to his pads and then to Ian Bell, who grabbed the ‘catch’ brilliantly diving to his right at forward short leg. But the decision was out. Pujara had to go for 26.
From 59 for 1, India were to soon sink to 71 for 4 as Anderson turned on the style. Anderson did exactly what Ishant Sharma had done, bowl wicket to wicket with a hint of movement, but he did it with a little more pace and with the pitch exhibiting variable bounce. Sachin Tendulkar (2) had his middle stump pegged back as he played outside and slightly over the delivery – his feet rooted to the crease. Gambhir (37) fell soon after, nicking an attempted drive behind the wicket as Anderson picked up his third.
Ravindra Jadeja, brought into the playing eleven on the back of two triple centuries in five Ranji Trophy games this season, was expected to walk out at No. 6, but instead it was Mahendra Singh Dhoni at the crease. And Dhoni (8*) will resume on the third morning with Virat Kohli (11*).
The first half of the day, meanwhile, was about two youngsters, one making his Test debut and the other playing his third Test, and first since April 2008. Joe Root and Piyush Chawla.
Root was the pivot around which the England lower order revolved. Root first put together 103 runs with Matt Prior, the duo negotiating the first hour without a worry as Dhoni swapped his bowlers with increasing frequency, each change achieving as little as the other.
Root and Prior batted sensibly, showing no signs of panic, even as the pitch behaved not too differently from the first day – not much purchase for the Indian spinners and scoring opportunities scarce. Dhoni finally threw the ball to R Ashwin, who had bowled just 13 overs on the first day and only one – just before the first drinks break – in the morning. Bowling round the wicket, Ashwin got a straighter one to go past Prior’s outside edge to hit off stump. Prior seemed to play for the turn that wasn’t there, and the great resistance had finally been broken with Prior waking back for 57.
Dhoni, surprisingly, took Ashwin out of the attack straightaway, and brought on Ishant again. Inexplicable on the face of it, but it was the sort of instinctive call that Dhoni is prone to making, and it came off, like it so often did when Dhoni’s success graph had shot through the roof. Ishant trapped Tim Bresnan (0) in front to reduce England to 242 for seven.
The momentum seemed to have swung India’s way. But once again, India let the opportunity to bowl England out for an under-par score slip, as Root found in Swann a partner who was willing to stand his ground while at the same time looking to score runs quickly.
Root’s batting was exemplary. It was the innings not of a 22-year-old debutant, but of a wizened old hand. He was solid in defence and authoritative when he found a loose delivery to score off. In total, he played 229 balls for his 73 and was finally dismissed when he played his first loose shot of the innings, stepping out and chipping the ball back to Chawla off the leading edge.
By then, Root had done the needful, playing a key role in taking the team score past 300. His dismissal made the score 302 for eight and Swann, stroking away freely at this stage, hit six fours and two sixes – the only ones of the innings – in an entertaining 91-ball 56 that only served to add salt to Indian wounds.
Chawla brought about the end quickly enough, first trapping Swann leg before when he missed a reverse paddle, and then getting Anderson (4) to fend to Cheteshwar Pujara at forward short leg.
India have a mountain to climb on day three. In what promises to be a low-scoring game on a deteriorating pitch, falling too far behind the England score would be akin to conceding the match. And Kohli, Dhoni and the tailenders will have to bring out their best back-to-the-wall batting to save the Test, and avert a 1-3 scoreline.