NAGPUR: Those who had continued to doubt England’s facility for turning up when really required were silenced emphatically on Sunday. Equally muted at the Jamtha stadium here was the bunch of session-by-session local turncoats, who had spent three days oscillating between hope and despair before it was decided with finality – on the fourth day – that a won match and saved series was beyond India.
At close of play England had a lead of 165 with seven wickets remaining, three sessions away from completing the formality of an epochal victory on Indian soil. Undertaking their second innings following a crawling, clueless first hour from India, England overcame a series of shocking dismissals before Jonathan Trott (66*) and Ian Bell (24*) - by means of an invaluable fourth-wicket partnership of 67 - careered them closer to a position where defeat was ruled out .
But it's still not all over. Since the pitch is still unresponsive to any kind of bowling, India’s last remaining hope is for England to cave under the pressure of anticipation on the last morning and allow them one last tilt at a target for a series-equaling win. It is to this very prospective target that Trott and Bell added brisk increments of immense value in the concluding session on Sunday, after extended phases of listless cricket had threatened to bore the life out of the contest.
Not that England would have minded that, their only concern was preventing an India victory and winning the series. The home team’s approach, however, was inexplicably laggard. Resuming 33 behind and eight-down in the morning, India consumed 62 precious minutes for 29 runs through R. Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha, finally declaring four behind on 326/9. It may well be this lost hour that India come to rue if – and a very big ‘if’ at that – they are able to dismiss England in time and gun for a target on Monday, the last day of the series that cause the earth to move beneath BCCI's feet.
Beginning their second essay four runs ahead, the visitors were intent on killing time, and were doing so commendably before a series of shockers pegged them back. First was the howler that ICC Umpire of the Year Kumar Dharamasena handed Cook – the batsman’s second poor call of the match. The England captain had ground out 93 deliveries for 13 when he was declared caught behind off Ashwin – the ball nowhere near the outside edge although bat hitting ground did generate a sound.
Then departed fellow opener Nick Compton. Denis’ grandson had been rather more assertive than usual in his 34 and held his own almost until tea. At the stroke of the interval he fell leg-before to Pragyan Ojha . The decision, as it stood, was a poor one by Rod Tucker, as the batsman had inside-edged on to the pads, but since the ball had ballooned up and was caught at slip, Compton would have been out anyway were DRS in place.
Pietersen’s wicket would have sent shivers up England’s spine and flutters of hope up India’s. The No.4 batsman’s low sharp chance was put down by Virender Sehwag at slip. Fortunately for India, the miss did not cost much. An over later Pietersen shouldered arms to a ball from Jadeja that did not turn and casually clipped the outside of off stump for the softest of dismissals. The visitors led by 98 then, seven wickets remaining and with almost 20 overs to go in the day. Another wicket at that juncture would have swung the pendulum India’s way. But new man Ian Bell had apparently come to the crease under firm instructions, which he would have likely whispered into the ears of Jonathan Trott.
England surge ahead
Trott had opened his account with a boundary against Ashwin. He followed it up with a cut and flick off Ojha and also biffed a four off a delivery that slipped from Jadeja's hand. The ball bounced several times before Trott skipped up to it and dispatched it mercilessly to the fence, much to the amusement of all on the field. He survived a huge appeal for caught behind against Ishant Sharma when he missed an attempted cut. MS Dhoni and the bowler went up spontaneously and loudly, but were denied by Dharamsena. In the paceman’s next over, Trott pinged a full delivery past mid-off for another boundary to reach 49 and then brought up a half-century with a single on the next ball.
He lived through another loud shout for leg-before against Ashwin – a inside edge saving him on this occasion – and was then warned by the bowler for backing up too far. Trott survived again when his leading edge fell just short of Ojha as he tried to work the bowler across the line. It was a heated final half hour of play, England adamant on not losing a wicket, India dying to get one. And they almost did. Ian Bell was undone by sharp turn from Ashwin and a genuine edge raced through the vacant slip – who had just been repositioned to gully – and to the boundary.
India added 29 in 13 overs when play began. Ashwin was content to decline singles and farm the strike. Ojha was unable to get the ball away. On two occasions word arrived from the dressing room, but nothing broke the standstill exercise that was being carried out in the middle. This was all very well for England, who would have gladly accepted a tedious draw as a favourable result.
They tried little to remove the batsmen from the crease and even when Monty Panesar bowled Ojha for his first wicket in almost 50 overs, celebrations were rather muted. India’s approach was inexplicable. They neither went for quick runs, nor an early declaration, the lack of planning perhaps symbolic of the overall state of Indian cricket.