India's difficult preparations ahead of the first Test continued as their big-name batting order stumbled against Charl Willoughby after watching Somerset pile up 425 for 3 at Taunton. Willoughby claimed 5 for 50, including four scalps in his opening spell, and was backed up by his team-mates as the visitors closed on 138 for 8 with the follow-on looming, although the hosts are unlikely to enforce it.
Heavy rain then frequent showers delayed play until mid-afternoon and Somerset batted on until shortly before the 100-over allocation of their first innings. It then took the home side less than 18 overs to take more wickets than the visitors managed in 96 as Willoughby, the former South Africa seamer, cut through a star-studded line-up. The home side bowled far better than the Indians, finding a hint of swing, but were aided by some poor shots and not just from players who have been on the sidelines.
The Indians began briskly as Gautam Gambhir, returning from the shoulder injury that kept him out of the West Indies tour, collected five confident boundaries. But he seemed in too much of a rush and fell chasing a delivery he could barely reach, edging it to the keeper. Abhinav Mukund, who is set to open the batting in the absence of Virender Sehwag, was more circumspect and didn't seem happy with his lbw decision which left India 51 for 2 and brought Sachin Tendulkar to the crease.
Tendulkar, as with Gambhir and Zaheer Khan, hasn't played a first-class game since the final Test against South Africa in early January - a gap of more than six months. It showed even from Tendulkar as he had more nervous moments reaching double figures than he would have in getting to a hundred. He survived a close shout for lbw against Alfonso Thomas, then slashed flat-footedly at a wide delivery, but also played a couple of elegant drives.
He was beginning to settle and had moved to 26 when he drove at 19-year-old Craig Meschede's fourth ball and edged through to Jos Buttler. It was Meschede's maiden first-class wicket and one he'll be able to regale stories about for years to come. He might be seeking out Tendulkar to sign the match ball.
By then, the Indians had already lost other senior batsmen. Rahul Dravid edged an uncharacteristically airy drive to second slip and Willoughby had his fourth wicket when Yuvraj Singh was trapped lbw for a duck. Willoughby's performance showed the value of a left-arm seamer which is a variation England are missing in their attack after the retirement of Ryan Sidebottom.
After Tendulkar's departure the slide continued as Wriddhiman Saha fell to Peter Trego without scoring. Following a brief recovery Zaheer Khan lost his middle stump when he played back to Thomas and Amit Mishra spooned to point to give Willoughby his five-wicket haul. Suresh Raina at least remained firm until the close but it wasn't a distinguished performance.
Earlier, the Indian bowlers had only managed to add one further scalp as Arul Suppiah was removed for a career-best 156. Zaheer and Sreesanth were both given another bowl, the former to try to find rhythm ahead of the Test and the latter to try and force his way into contention. It was Sreesanth who broke through when Suppiah, having passed his previous best of 151, edged to first slip where Dravid held a low catch.
However, the visitor's intensity was well down and they were happy to wait for Somerset's declaration. Mishra, back on the field after taking a blow on the finger yesterday, continued to have trouble with no-balls, taking his tally to 12 for the innings. There was was also some friendly part-time spin served up by Raina and Yuvraj.
Chris Jones, a 20-year-old batsman starting to force his way into the first eleven, took advantage to register a confident half-century from 69 balls and James Hildreth, the England Lions captain, eased his way to 30 off 28 balls include a huge six over long-on off Mishra. The presumption was that the Indians would also cash in on good batting conditions, but Andrew Strauss will have liked what he saw while standing at first slip.