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NAGPUR: It’s clear which way the fourth Test – and with it the fate of several key protagonists – is headed. On the second day of what is undoubtedly a critical match for India, the home team found themselves teetering at the edge of ruin once again. After Joe Root and Graeme Swann set up England’s fighting total on the morning, James Anderson sent down two terrifying spells of fast bowling to floor the hosts when they batted.
At close, India were staring down the barrel on 87/4, 243 runs behind with the focus firmly on saving the match. What this implied was that an Indian win – and hence a series saved – was now almost in the realm of the unimaginable. For England, the situation portends great things, the glory of a series won – and how! – on the sub-continent. It’s
still not over and with three full days to go who knows if a pleasant twist awaits the local crowd, although banking on that would border on extreme optimism considering the sorry state of the batting.
From 59/1 to 71/4, the fall in the final session was precipitous, and it was largely due to Anderson’s fantastic display after the tea b
reak. The seamer bowled Virender Sehwag in the first over and returned to wreck Sachin Tendulkar’s stumps. He followed it up with Gautam Gambhir’s wicket to end a sorry day for India, which had begun with dogged half-centuries from Matt Prior and Root, and an aggressive one from Swann. Batting under the burden of 330 runs, the team faltered from the get-go.
James Anderson ensured the match would progress along the same lines of drudgery that had been traced when England batted by removing the dangerous Sehwag in the first over. It was a shocking dismissal, the opener playing well inside the line to a ball that came marginally in, beat the outside edge and rocked back middle stump. Suddenly, 330 looked huge as Gautam Gambhir and Cheteshwar Pujara set about facing the 14 overs to tea. They did so admirably, the leftie using his feet to cart Monty Panesar, Pujara looking to score freely, as they prevented England from another making another inroad.
Close calls and bad
A genuine edge of Gambhir off Tim Bresn
an skittered rapidly to the fence to bring up the team 50 and the southpaw had another brush with disaster when he barely made it home after responding to a tight Pujara call for a single. Gambhir may have had to go – irrespective of the dive – had Joe Root thrown more accurately from mid on. It took a stunner at short-leg to account for Pujara. As it turned out, there was no bat or glove involved, and the ‘edge’ was taken dazzlingly Ian Bell, who plunged desperately to his right, held on and then leapt in wild celebration. The young Saurashtra batsman was dejected at the decision, but the end of the 58-run partnership brought to the crease the man everybody wanted to see.
Anderson on fire
The maestro lasted 13 d
eliveries, playing and missing against Panesar before a loud cheer rattled across the stadium when he finally got off the mark with a cut. One more run was all he could manage. Anderson was introduced after lunch and a low, in-dipper snuck past the great man’s defense and into the stumps. This made Anderson the bowler to have dismissed Tendulkar the most times in Tests – nine. Swann was troubling Gambhir at the other end. An inside edge that popped off the pad was fluffed by Matt Prior behind the wicket, as the ball thudded into his chest. It was to Anderson that the southpaw fell, swishing outside off to one that moved away and edging to Prior. This was after the bowler had brought several deliveries into the batsman, only to fool him with one that went in the opposite direction.
Resuming on 199/5 England attained their primary objective of reaching 300 – and crossing it – as debutant Root and Prior completed important fifties, and Swann contributed a peppy half-cen
tury – his fifth in Tests – of his own. Leg-spinner Piyush Chawla marked his return with four wickets, three on the second day, as the visitors ended their first essay on 330 – a more than decent score on a wicket not easy t
It was the woefully-underbowled Ravichandran Ashwin who cracked open the 103-run partnership in his second over of the day. Prior was done in by what the commentators have now christened Ashwin’s ‘natural variation’ – a fancy name for a flighted, stock
ball delivered from around the wicket, which did not turn and took out the wicketkeeper-batsman’s off stump. Dhoni immediately replaced Ashwin with Ishant Sharma as new man Tim Bresnan walked in - a move that raised eyebrows only momentarily, before a fast, swinging delivery swayed into the all-rounder and rapped him flush in front of the wicket – for a golden duck. Seven wickets down, England were served well by Swann, who upped the scoring rate within minutes of being at the crease.
By lunch, he had added 35 with Root, with four rasping hits to the fence. He followed it with a heaved six against Jadeja after resumption – a strike that took the alliance to 51. At lunch, Root had faced exactly 200 balls for his 65, his sole moment of concern arriving when he had to dive headlong to beat Gautam Gambhir’s direct hit from cover. Isha
nt, meanwhile, continued to hit the good length spot, troubling batsmen with a persistent line on and around off stump. He rapped Root on the pads as the batsman went for the drive, but Kumar Dharamsena – for once – adjudged correctly that the ball would have missed off.
Chawla take four
The Son of Sheffield then swept Chawla hard to mid-wicket as the total reached 300, but it was intent again that caused his departure. Twenty-seven short of what would have been a marvelous debut hundred, Root tried to turn the spinner to the leg side and offered an easy return catch off the leading edge. The dismissal spurred Swann on. He smashed Ashwin and Chawla impudently down the ground and walloped the leg-spinner for another six over his head. Chawla had his man next ball, Swann’s attempted reverse sweep making no contact as a straighter one thudded into the pads. A sharp catch at short leg by Pujara of Anderson gave the 24-year-old his fourth wicket, ending England’s innings on a very respectable 330.