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AHMEDABAD: Winter is coming for England. It holds for them the cold promise of a reception as depressing as the four-nil rout they handed India in their backyard last year, but only time will tell if it’s gray and bitter or mild and sunny. For once again on Sunday the visiting side dithered between safety and disaster, its fate undecided on the fourth day as Alastair Cook and Matt Prior converted a battle for survival into a fanciful push towards dominance.
England were on 340/5 at close, a lead of 10. Would they congratulate themselves at seeing the match into a fifth day? Would India, who had mopped up half the side for 76 runs by tea, lament their descent into an old tendency of being poor finishers? Would an optimistic, last-day, 150-odd target – were England to perform the impossible with the bat – unsettle the hosts’, ahem, transitional line up?
The magnificent Cook
Cook’s impervious, unbeaten 168, which made him the first to score three centuries in his first three Tests as captain, stood out in its magnificence. With his side cracking open, at times to good bowling, at other times to specters only they could see, Cook raised the highest score by an England skipper in India and was ably supported by Prior. The England captain has already batted for over 500 minutes.
Cook finally took a backseat when Prior took over. Their partnership of 141 was dominated 84-53 by the wicketkeeper and it left Pragyan Ojha and the wicket-less R. Ashwin searching for answers over the last two sessions.The two have batted for 51 overs and the longer they stay on tomorrow the louder will alarms bells start to ring in the Indian camp.
For once the pacers outshone the spinners. Umesh Yadav and Zaheer Khan harnessed reverse swing for wickets, but even they failed to dislodge England’s stubborn resistance. India need quick wickets on the morrow. England are on the brink of real hope. A lot would depend on how the two sides approach the first session, although the hosts would still be firm favourites to wrap it up in time.
Gambhir departs, England resume
News trickled in of Gautam Gambhir leaving the team for New Delhi where his grandmother had died. It was not known whether Gambhir will play any more part in this Test match. England had ploughed away all last evening and resumed on 111, Cook and Compton fending off early dangers in the form of Zaheer Khan and R. Ashwin.
They were helped substantially by MS Dhoni, when he fluffed his second stumping chance of the match, having also reprieved Kevin Pietersen on Saturday. Compton advanced down the track to Ashwin and missed the ball, as did India’s unfortunate skipper. But the miss did not prove costly, because the batsman added just one to his score before Zaheer’s profound experience gained the breakthrough, in the seventh over of the morning.
The senior left-arm paceman kept Compton on his toes with varying angles from around the wicket, before switching to over and getting one to hold its line. Compton was rapped in line with leg, and given out – the first unequivocal leg-before decision of the match and India’s first success of the morning.
First innings hero Pragyan Ojha came on soon, joining Ashwin in the two-prong spin attack as England crossed 150, but it wasn’t until the left-armer had a change of ends that the second wicket fell, on the first ball of his new spell. Jonathan Trott, who had departed to the Ashwin-short leg combo in the first innings, succumbed this time on the off-side to Ojha, the delivery pitching just short of driving length and taking the edge.
Classy Cook, pathetic Pietersen
Disaster struck for England when Ojha removed Pietersen – or rather, when Pietersen removed himself – on the first ball of his next over when an ugly premeditation met with an equally hideous result. The England batsman moved too far across trying to sweep a full delivery and was bowled around his legs, making it the 25th time that he had been dismissed by a left-arm spinner in Tests.
With England’s supposedly best player of spin presenting such a sorry picture of capitulation, it was up to captain Cook to put up a brave front and carry on with the good work. He reached his 21st Test century with a brace off Yadav, the landmark consuming 182 balls of high-tensile concentration and containing 16 authoritative boundaries.
Lunch was taken with the visitors on 183/3, 148 runs behind with Cook and Bell – the purveyor of a horrific shot in the first essay – striving to convert a looming innings loss into a loss of slightly lesser proportions. But sheer pace and another umpiring lapse were to deter England after the break.
Post lunch: Yadav’s double-strike
Umesh Yadav rocked the visitors with a double-strike when he replaced the creaking Zaheer in the eighth over after resumption. Bell (22) was moving towards eradicating memories of his first innings mental lapse, when Yadav surprised him with pace and reverse swing. Bell was trapped back and hit on the pads, the appeal upheld, and in came Samit Patel only to face a reprisal of fate.
Patel had barely walked in when another Yadav reverse swinger cannoned into his pads. The ball would have just about shaved leg stick – it did shave Patel’s inside edge - but Tony Hill raised the wretched finger, sending the batsman back in exactly the same manner as the first innings, leg-before to Yadav, ball missing leg.
England were now half their side down, 130 runs away from an innings defeat, as Cook saw off Yadav’s hat-trick ball, spanked Ojha for four, accumulated, guided, saw helplessly the demise of more teammates from the other end – each of his runs arriving as a stark contrast to the desperate grappling of his fellow batsmen.
Aggressive Prior takes fight to India
India opted for the second new ball in the middle of the 83rd over, handing it over to Yadav and allowing Matt Prior to find his bearings. He was watchful against the spinners, assertive against Yadav – whom he dispatched for a couple of boundaries – and hit top gear when he used his feet to clip Ashwin for four over mid-wicket.
The 50 stand came up in good time as Prior crashed Ojha through backward point - Zaheer’s lethargy allowing the ball over the fence – and England were just 80 away from making India bat again. India strove hard for another wicket before tea. Prior’s edge off Ojha landed short of Sehwag at slip and although he was tested repeatedly by both spinners, he managed to hang on till the break, the partnership now worth an invaluable 65.
One ball from tea, Ojha padded at a ball that caught his glove before ballooning towards silly point, where substitute Ajinkya Rahane - on for Gambhir – turned in a valiant but fruitless dive. Tea was served with England on 264/5 in 100 overs, 66 away from an innings defeat. Cook 138, Prior 40, five wickets in hand and a session and a day to survive.
England gain the lead
Yuvraj finally got a bowl as Prior completed a good half-century with shots all around the wicket and England whittled away determinedly at the deficit. When Cook drove Zaheer for four to move to 147, he had made the highest score by an English skipper in India and in the next over he brought up his 150.
The 100 stand came up and then the team’s 300, until a rasping Prior cover drive off Ojha leveled the scores and the batsman celebrated it with another boundary biffed on the up. For the first time in this Test match, England were in the lead. They would like to keep it that way from here on.
Classy Cook turns it around for England
A mouth-watering last day looms in the Ahmedabad Test.Yahoo! Cricket – Sun 18 Nov, 2012 4:35 PM IST
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