Scorecard | Day 1 | India vs England: Live Chat
MUMBAI: That spin would play a part, we knew already. That India would pile on the runs, this too we were told. But how many would have put their money on England playing out of their skins to stay competitive in conditions custom-made for their disaster.
How heartening it is to have one’s best batsmen pull a side out of trouble. It is precisely such a gladdening of the soul that the English camp would have experienced on Saturday. Having lost two quick wickets to spin after taking strike to India’s first innings 327, England battled to 178 without further disarray on a crumbling pitch, the deficit down to a manageable 149.
Leading lights Alastair Cook and Kevin Pietersen added 110 runs for the third wicket. Cook was 13 runs away from his second century of the series at close, while Pietersen’s attacking unbeaten 62 contained nine hits to the fence - as runs came easy in the post-tea session. There were several half-chances, however, and on numerous occasions the ball died inches from the fieldsman. But Cook and Pietersen soldiered on, seizing back the momentum in a dominating outing as India searched desperately for wickets.
Left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha got India two. But both off-spinners returned empty-handed. R. Ashwin and Harbhajan Singh bowled a total of 36 overs for 101 runs without taking a wicket. It can be safely ventured that the match stands evenly poised, a statement that would have sounded ridiculous when India extended their overnight 266-6 to 327 in the morning session.
Cheteshwar Pujara was finally out for the first time in the series - after having scored 382 in three innings – to off-spinner Graeme Swann, who came into his own and picked up three of the four wickets to fall on the morning. Swann finished with figures of 4/70. He later said that ball would start turning more and that the game would turn into an "intriguing match" by the fourth day - if it isn't that already!
India add precious runs
England finally found a way through Pujara. The unconquered double centurion of the last Test trooped down the pitch to a Swann drifter and missed the flight to be stumped by Matt Prior. But Pujara’s 135 was enough to guide India to 327, as England took India’s four remaining wickets for 61 runs in 25.1 overs.
The hosts resumed on 266 for 6 only to have Panesar take Ashwin out for 68: leg-before to a quick arm ball. This was Panesar’s fifth wicket of the innings. It was also the only one he got on the morning. Swann took over from here. Trott dropped Harbhajan at first slip, possibly obstructed for view by the ‘keeper Prior. Another edge of the same batsman screamed past Swann at second slip, depriving Monty of his sixth. The original Turbanator finally fell trapped in front to his England counterpart.
Zaheer clouted a brisk 11 before receiving a howler from Aleem Dar. The umpire judged him caught at short leg off a vicious turner when there appeared to be a wide gap between bat and ball. That left England to face four overs of spin before lunch, deliveries that were seen off safely by Captain Cook and Compton, the sidekick.
Survival is the key
Cook and Compton dug in for 31 overs, whittling away 66 runs from the deficit and crawling watchfully through the most of the second session. Compton seemed to be in a similar frame of mind as the one he was in during his stubborn second innings on debut, at Ahmedabad. Batting for time, he staved off India’s spin trio for 90 balls for his 29 before his resolve cracked.
Ojha and Ashwin did not initially find the precocious turn that Monty Panesar was getting, but as the session wore on they began to move it appreciably. Harbhajan had to wait 24 overs before getting a bowl, and for a while both off-spinners bowled in tandem.
It was Ojha who got the breakthrough, ending Compton’s patient vigil with a passive edge, which reached a gleeful Virender Sehwag at first slip. Trott lasted six balls, on the last of which he was trapped right back by Ojha, uncertain footwork catching the batsman dead in front of middle. Suddenly, England were two down, and it appeared to be the same old story for Cook, who had witnessed similar scenes of departing batsmen in the first Test.
Cook strikes Pujara
Cook looked comfortable in the middle. He used his feet to Ojha, once clearing the packed legside close-in field, at another time striking a painful blow to short leg Pujara – who was replaced by Ajinkya Rahane. Rahane was in the thick of action immediately, and came close to pulling off tough chances of the England captain as the ball hit the fielder’s boot.
England reached tea on 77/2 and followed it up with their most productive session through the captain and Pietersen. The two will seek to get their eye in again on Sunday morning, and chip away at the deficit. An unthinkable lead for England will set this match up very, very nicely. India, on the other hand, might end up paying a heavy price if they allow the visitors' tendency to implode to set in a sense of complacency.