Nagpur Test: India melt in twilight zone

Nagpur, Dec. 15 -- Home conditions had not counted for too much in the last two Tests. Although the pitch, the focus of all attention in the first three Tests, was relatively benign, India were again struggling. Skipper MS Dhoni was under tremendous pressure. A former selector had bluntly said he should have been sacked. As he walked out on Saturday with Virat Kohli, whose confidence had been dented, Dhoni knew it would be a big day.

And he also realised few would bet on India turning things around, such has been the approach of England. While James Anderson's swing bowling had been a major problem, rarely have India been forced to tackle two quality spinners at the same time.

Thus discipline was the watchword. The batsmen defended the good deliveries and even the not-so-great ones. There was simply no room for mistakes. What followed was a grim fightback which even England, despite making the right noises overnight, would not have expected. Although the late batting collapse would have changed the mood in both camps, Dhoni and Kohli have lifted the spirits in the dressing room.

Nervous

England skipper was spot on with field placements.

But Dhoni and Kohli were unwavering in their focus until late in the evening, when the youngster, having reached a splendid third Test century, looked a touch twitchy. It was perhaps fatigue or the pressure of reaching his century, he eventually fell leg before to off-spinner Graeme Swann, beaten by one that kept low and didn't turn much.

But the duo hardly played a false till the late collapse. There was a Monty Panesar over in the morning when the ball first kept low and another jumped after pitching. In between, one reached Kohli at normal height and he rocked back and cut through point for four.

Kohli was watchful and played straight, the best of his drives timed nicely in the arc between cover and wide mid-off. Dhoni waited for ones to be pitched up as the two inched ahead together.

The youngster, whose best in the series had been 20, pushed closer to the century first. There were a couple of tense calls for singles that did not materialise but Kohli eventually produced a brilliant drive through the off for four, jumping with joy and mouthing a few words in relief like the Kohli of old.

Sudden slump

Just when it appeared the visitors would stay down, things changed. After Kohli was beaten by Swann, Dhoni, unflappable until then, made a nervous dash after he had pushed Anderson to mid-off. He had to evade the bowler and Cook's pick and throw was on target at the non-striker's end, catching Dhoni short by an inch.

But his uncharacteristically patient 246 deliveries was worth more than a century. India's hopes of taking a lead will depend on Ashwin.

"It was pretty good to bat with Dhoni the whole day. We had to show some temperament and we did," said Kohli.

Published by HT Syndication with permission from Hindustan Times.

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