Scorecard | India vs England: Live Discussion | Sehwag's plans
It took a batsman scoring his third century in just his seventh Test to prop India up on a day when England gave them a dose of their own medicine. MS Dhoni got his desired track that turned from the start and elected to bat with three spinners in the side, only to have his rival tweakers – primarily Monty Panesar – rip the heart out of India’s vaunted top order on a crumbling Wankhede pitch on Friday.
England had dismantled over half of India’s side two overs into the final session, but India fought back speedily in the time that remained through No.3 Cheteshwar Pujara (114*) and R. Ashwin (60*), who added a priceless 97 runs in the fading hours to wrest back the initiative.
Pujara has yet scored 361 runs in the series without being dismissed, and proved his worth again with an innings of remarkable solidity and composure, his prolonged stays at the crease getting increasingly reminiscent of the man he is often alleged to have replaced.
India were 266/6 at close, and England would have mixed feelings about the score, for the wicket is already the consistency of a coconut cookie; and India are playing three spinners in Ashwin, Pragyan Ojha and Harbhbajan Singh.
Spin is King
Panesar sent down 34 overs and finished with four wickets, including those that curtailed Virender Sehwag’s 100th-match celebrations and extended Sachin Tendulkar’s wretched run with the bat. He came on to bowl in the seventh over of the morning and struck twice in the first session and once each in the last two, for once leading the orchestra instead of playing second fiddle to the experienced Graeme Swann.
It was an action packed day. Turn was readily forthcoming; puffs of dust greeted the ball when it pitched at the right spot; three vital batsmen were bowled, one of them – the Great Man – to an absolute Panesar beauty that pitched on leg and took out off stump. Amid all this, Pujara cocooned himself into a place only he could inhabit, his meditative century balancing itself on a monk-like focus.
Omitted from the first Test, Panesar marked his return with two vital wickets, but not before Gautam Gambhir had perished on the second ball of Test. Taking strike to relieve his aggressive partner of responsibility first up in his 100th match, Gambhir flicked a confident boundary to greet Jimmy Anderson, but fell to swing on the second ball: trapped in front as he swung across the line.
Sehwag was iffy in his knock of 30, inside ending Anderson on to his pads, edging to just wide of second slip, before Panesar bowled him. The batsman looked to work the ball on the legside and missed it, the ball grazing his pad on its way to the sanctum sanctorium. In his next over, the sardar had the measure of Tendulkar.
The crowd had actually cheered Sehwag’s wicket, so impatient were they to watch their favourite son bat. But the maestro lasted 12 deliveries , giving up the ghost when Panesar turned in his equivalent of Shane Warne’s Mike Gatting dismissal: the ball pitching on leg and whirring away to take the top of off. This was the sixth time that Tendulkar has been bowled in his last 13 Test innings. India took lunch on 87/3, with Pujara and Kohli course-correcting in the middle, but the latter fell soon after resumption.
Exultant England, perfect Pujara
The future helmsmen of Indian cricket - Kohli and Pujara - added 58 and Pujara was authoritative as he reached his half-century with a pull off a Panesar full-toss. Soon after, Kohli (19) drove the same bowler to cover, failing to keep the shot down as Denis Compton accepted the catch. India were in more trouble in the next over, when Yuvraj Singh came in, and Yuvraj Singh came out, all within the space of two balls - bowled by Swann for a duck.
Dhoni was more attacking than he had been the last time he batted. The India captain had scored a painstaking single-digit score at Ahmedabad, but struck crisp boundaries in his 29 here, adding exactly half-a-century of runs with Pujara and taking the team into the safety of the tea break without further loss. India took tea on 167/5, the previous session having yielded 80 runs at the cost of Kohli and Yuvraj.
Ashwin helps himself
Dhoni succumbed to bounce two overs after resumption. Panesar got the ball to climb and turn, inducing an edge off the shoulder that Swann took – as ascertained by replays - barely millimeters from the ground. This brought Ashwin to the crease and now followed India’s most productive session of the day.
The new ball was taken and handed over to Anderson in the 81st, and a hooked four off a short ball in the same over brought Pujara his third Test century in 248 balls. Pujara and Ashwin added 97 in quicktime, reducing the advantage that England had gained in the first two essays.
Ashwin batting was an act of sheer class. He drove Stuart Broad magnificently on either side of the wicket, flicked Panesar with panache and creamed three boundaries in an Anderson over. A fortuitous top-edge against Broad took the Chennai off-spinner to his second Test fifty. Ashwin had scored a century in the last Test match that he had played at the Wankhede Stadium, against the West Indies, although it was also his brain-freeze run-out that had cost India an expected win that day.