Ojha's five-for puts India in control

England fight back after following on.

Pragyan Ojha's fourth five-wicket haul destroyed England. (File photo)

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It was rumoured that Alastair Cook, upon learning that he had lost the toss, wore the look of one whose dog had died. But does anybody really believe things would have turned out differently had the England skipper called right and batted first?

On Saturday, the third day of this lung opener, Pragyan Ojha’s left-arm spin sent England into such a worrisome tizzy that suspicions must now be raised on their competitiveness in the remainder of the series. Right from the first delivery that appeared to have had the measure of Kevin Pietersen – England’s purported counter to the guiles of the sub-continent – to the fall of the day’s final wicket, Ojha (5-45) and offie R. Ashwin (3-80) tormented England ceaselessly.

The visitors fought back after following on in the last session and were making a valiant attempt at course-correction, their second innings bulwarked by a resolute Cook (74*) and debutant Nick Compton (34*) after the first had been confined to 191 at the stroke of tea – 15 less than what Cheteshwar Pujara had managed alone for India. In brief, India claimed seven wickets for 150 runs in the first two sessions, and England retaliated with a century partnership in the third.

The opening enterprise of Cook and Compton tided over 38 overs - including 28 from the Ojha-Ashwin combine - in the last session and put on 111 runs. With two full days to go, a deficit of 219 has to be overcome just to make the hosts bat again and Andy Flower, Graham Gooch and Mushtaq Ahmed – all knowledgeable of the slower ball in their own mean way – must be wearing the expression of mournful sages in the England camp, having watched wicket after wicket tumble to spin all morning.

Dramatic start

There was drama from the get-go when Cook and Pietersen resumed on 41/3 in the morning.  Ojha appeared to have snared the texting-happy batsman on the first ball of the day when he pushed ahead at one that turned away and nicked to MS Dhoni behind the wicket. The Indian skipper dropped it, but a leg-bye was signaled, acquitting Dhoni of his presumed folly.

Always suspect against left-arm spin, Pietersen got himself into a tangle again on the last ball of the opening over. He stepped out, yorked himself, and barely managed to turn the ball into his pads, whence it dribbled to short-leg and allowed Gautam Gambhir to have a half-hearted shot at running the batsman out.

Ojha was seriously distressing to the star England batsman and beat him again with straighter one – when Pietersen had scored 6 - only to have Dhoni miss the stumping chance and concede four byes. Ashwin was keeping things tight at the other end, and it was only in the 15th over of the morning that pace assumed duties in the shape of Zaheer Khan.

First blood and Bell’s folly

The breakthrough arrived when Ojha rattled KP with another huge shout for leg-before -  a faint inside edge saving the batsman – and castled him with the delivery that followed: one that held its line and snuck in to flatten the middle stump, ending Pietersen’s agonizing stay in the middle.

It is unknown what was going through new man Ian Bell’s mind. On the first ball he faced, Bell tried to loft Ojha over the off-side, and was caught adroitly by Sachin Tendulkar running back from mid-off. Cook’s face was inscrutable as he watched Bell walk back to the pavilion, and having negotiated the hat-trick ball successfully, the England skipper lasted seven more overs before his 109-ball, 41-run resistance ended.

Ashwin tossed up a slowish off-break, induced an edge, and the sharp catch that resulted was gobbled up by Virender Sehwag standing close in. At 80-6, the follow on mark of 322 appeared a few light years away, as Samit Patel and Matt Prior sought to close the yawning gap between runs acquired and runs needed.

Zaheer fumbles, Sehwag keels over

India’s leading off-spinner could also have claimed Patel when he rapped the all-rounder right in line with the middle stump. Patel was not too far forward and everything looked good, save for the umpire who thought otherwise.

Zaheer dropped Prior, then on 3, when he pulled tempting full toss to the deep midwicket boundary, as an amused Sehwag almost keeled over laughing at his teammate’s misfortune. Spare a thought also for Umesh Yadav,  whose stock delivery travelled in the region on 141 kmph and who woke up the batsmen occasionally with snarling bouncers that entailed drastic evasive action.

Yadav had to wait until the 48th over for a bowl and struck immediately, thanks to a contentious decision. He angled one in and rapped Patel in line with leg-stump. The intense appeal that followed was actually rewarded when Aleem Dar raised the fatal finger, leaving England seven down for 97. The session belonged to India with four key wickets.

Captain's knock by Cook. (File photo)Ojha’s five has last say

Sehwag at slip, his silhouette an easy curve against the backdrop, had grinned like a Cheshire cat at Zaheer fumble of Prior’s catch. Soon after resumption, Sehwag dropped Bresnan, then on 6, off Ashwin’s carom ball and this time his smile was rather more rueful. Bresnan responded with a solid cover drive for four in the same over and when Prior crashed Zaheer through point the two dropped batsmen had raised England’s highest partnership – a measly 47.

It took Ojha’s return to sever the association. The left-armer picked up his fourth victim in the form of Bresnan, undoing the all-rounder with bounce as he shoulder-batted to gully. Stuart Broad came out swinging, clouting Ashwin for four and six and became the match’s second debatable lbw decision.

Zaheer Khan, in his seventh over on the trot in the post-lunch session, brought one back – albeit a tad too sharply - into Broad’s pads, whose frigidity at the crease cost him the verdict. Fittingly, Ojha came back to wrap things, bowling Prior for 48 for his fifth scalp - the batsman going for the drive and swishing air as the ball met timber. Ojha sent down 22.2 overs and ended with his fourth five-wicket haul, which in conjunction with Ashwin’s 3-80, spelt a 330-run deficit for England as they followed on.

England follow on, Cook fights back

Cook and Nick Compton walked in again under the burden of mammoth arrears. After Yadav, Ashwin and Ojha had turned in four overs apiece, Dhoni threw the ball to Virender Sehwag, who produced an edge from Cook that dropped just short of Kohli at slip.

Ojha injured his shoulder sliding in the outfield and was substituted by Harbhajan Singh, but the 26-year-old returned to engineer another close call. Compton, the great Denis’ grandson, offered a tough chance off Ojha, but once again the edge died inches short of the slip fieldsman.

Cook reached his fifty with a pulled four crunched through square-leg off Ojha, and with the two batsman playing the spinners comfortably, Dhoni reintroduced the pacy Umesh. The fast bowler was fended off without trouble. Sachin Tendulkar was brought in to turn his arm over, and Cook helped himself to a couple of boundaries, taking the score past 100 as England ended the day more positively than they had begun it, still trailing by 219, but at least showing some spine now.