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AHMEDABAD: A comprehensive victory heralded India’s cricket season as they trounced England by nine wickets to take the lead in the four-Test series. Left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha was denied his maiden ten-for, but his nine scalps – including the two key ones of Alastair Cook and Matt Prior on the final morning – and Cheteshwar Pujara’s first innings double hundred were enough to see the hosts through.
On Monday, at Motera’s Sardar Patel Stadium, India shot out the remaining five English wickets for 66 runs minutes before lunch, and gunned down the paltry 77-run target in a blinding hurry through Virender Sehwag and Pujara, who was bumped up the order in Gautam Gambhir’s absence.
The Indian openers rained boundaries on the bowlers - Pujara swiveling a pull and scorching a cover drive off Graeme Swann; Sehwag punishing Samit Patel’s full-toss for six – as the target neared. Sehwag was caught at long-on trying to hit Swann out of the park, but that is about all the success England tasted. The win was gained inside of 16 overs on the back of a Virat Kohli single, as the sparse crowd erupted in celebration. Pujara finished unbeaten on 41 and was named Man of the Match for his first innings 206.
The second Test begins in Mumbai on November 23 and on evidence of the first match, England are unlikely to be the pushovers they were initially being made out to be. They perhaps erred in including Tim Bresnan in place of left-arm spinner Monty Panesar, and were undone by a rash of indiscreet shots in their first innings.
It was a big win for India. They won a good toss, had a decent opening partnership, posted a big score, took wickets with spin; even MS Dhoni - despite his several fumbles and byes conceded - set attacking fields; but perhaps the most heartening aspect for the home team will be the performance of its pace bowlers.
Zaheer Khan bowled exceptionally, proving the worth of his variations and experience in these conditions, while Umesh Yadav was genuinely quick and blessed with reverse swing. Off-spinner R. Ashwin had a poor match, but the Chennai lad is usually a slow starter, and is likely to warm up to the challenge as the series progresses.
If the batsmen had anybody to thank for making their job easier, it had to be the bowlers. On the last morning, Yadav, Ashwin and Zaheer split the last three wickets, after Ojha had removed the overnight batsmen.
Cook and Prior had remained unmoved all third day to give England a ten-run lead, but were able to sustain it for just nine overs and 16 more runs in the morning, before Prior gifted Ojha his eighth victim. Having battled for 91 , the batsman spooned a return catch to the leg-spinner, the delivery doing nothing except maybe sticking a shade before moving on from the surface. The wicket roused India from their morning stupor and all that stood between them and victory was the unshakeable Cook.
The England captain was on 176, his score swelling organically like a clump of cells in a nutrient medium, when he committed his first lapse in almost 10 hours at the crease. It was one that cost him his wicket. Ojha hurled out a marginally short delivery that stayed low. Cook - for once planted indecisively in no man’s land - was beaten as the ball grazed his pad on its way to the stumps.
England were effectively 35/7 then, and Ojha, with nine wickets for the match, was chasing his first ten-for like a hound after a trail of fresh blood. Dhoni summoned Umesh Yadav as the first change of the morning, hoping for his pace to scythe through the lower order.
Yadav obliged in his second over, coming in round the wicket to Stuart Broad, who perished to another caught-and-bowled. Yadav continued to harass Tim Bresnan for pace, rapping him repeatedly on the pads. Graeme Swann slog-swept Ojha for six, and R. Ashwin came on for the first time in the day, still searching for his first wicket in the match.
Finally, a wicket for Ashwin
The Chennai off-spinner struck in his second over, bowling Swann with a straight, full delivery as the batsman went for the switch hit. England were nine down, as James Anderson, whose drop of Pujara had cost his team exactly 200 runs, walked out to bat.
Zaheer ended England’s misery five minutes before the lunch break when Bresnan struck a juicy half-volley to Ajinkya Rahane, substituting for Gambhir, at cover. India needed 77 runs to go into the series lead, something they accomplished without breaking into a sweat, for the loss of a solitary wicket.