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By Arunabha Sengupta
The strange Test match between India and England has entered the fifth day with just a slim outside chance of a result. The near-miraculous last wicket association between Joe Root and Jimmy Anderson has put England in the ascendancy, and the two quick strikes towards the end of the day have added some much needed oxygen to the dying game gasping for breath.
However, the same Anderson-Root partnership has played its part in almost killing the Test match.The curious tactics of shielding Anderson when he was well past his fifty resulted in slowing down the momentum, wasting precious time as well as reducing England’s chances of wresting the initiative with some attacking cricket. It was quite strange to hear Root voicing during the post-day press conference that the plan had been to bat as long as possible and eat into the time.
With the partnership taking England close to the Indian total, one would have expected aggression rather than occupation to have been the objective. Especially after the hosts had taken the lead. Anderson and Root, amazing though the partnership was, could not have been expected to go on and procure a 200-run advantage – at least no management would have banked on that. The number of runs Root turned down and the number of deliveries Anderson was not allowed to swing at with his tail-ender’s tactics could well have amounted to far more pressure on India.
Right now, a result seems possible only if the Indian batting undergoes a collapse on the final morning. Whereas the performances of the number elevens in the match have given enough evidence of the absolute kill-joy nature of the wicket, the inexperience of the Indian line up and the lack of the extra batsman do not totally rule out the chances of some excitement.
If the England bowlers pick up a couple of quick wickets in the morning and get through to the likes of Stuart Binny and Ravindra Jadeja, there is all the potential of excitement. While the pitch has refused to help the spinners – and England does not have a real spinner in any case – reverse swing and cutters have occasionally touched the England bowlers with some incisiveness. However, one has also got to take the weather into account. Showers, which have benevolently stayed away for four days in spite of ominous predictions, are supposed to interrupt proceedings today – multiple times if the weather channels are to be believed.
For the Indians, it is of utmost importance for Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane to bat together as long as possible, preferably through the morning session. Wickets have been a rare commodity in the first two hours in this Test match, the four days have witnessed just two of them. If the two Indian batsmen put their heads down it may prove very difficult to dislodge them.
With England burdened with Moeen Ali’s apology of off-breaks – the two wickets he picked up yesterday afternoon were granted to him by some magnanimous Indian generosity– the burden of the bowling have to be borne by the pace bowlers. If India make them bowl long and hard today, it can render them stiff and sore before the next Test match at Lord’s begins on Thursday.
Even if winning the Test match is almost impossible, the Indians do have good reasons to bat for long today.
(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry.He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)
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