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By Arunabha Sengupta
Nottingham: Jul 13, 2014
Dank, overcast, gloomy skies greeted the Indians for the very first time during the game after the delayed start due to the wet outfield. The stands remained partially filled, plenty of cricket lovers having been jilted by the dark signs of a stalemate. The only way to get blood flowing through the numb veins of the game wasto pick up some quick wickets. That exact sequence was played out as if to a masterfully directed script, turning the match into a gripping contest, with snatches of uncertainty thrown in.
Stuart Broad’s third delivery was on the off and middle, drifted in slightly.Virat Kohli played across the line, missed it and the ball thudded into the pads. It was a rather poor stroke early in the day.It had been most important for the two overnight batsmen to see through the morning session. Instead, the Indian captain walked out before the spectators had settled down, and the brittle lower middle order put on their pads with butterflies doing animated rounds in the stomachs.
Worse was to follow. A hint of a reverse swing accompanied Broad’s first ball of the following over. Rahane was tentative in his forward movement and nicked it to Prior. The less than reassuring form of Ravindra Jadeja walked out in the fourth over of the morning. India tottered at 173 for five, the lead looking a malnourished 134.
Perhaps worried about the ball coming back at him, Jadeja fished outside the off stump. In curious counter-measure, Jadeja stepped out and tried to slash Jimmy Anderson through the covers. There were disbelieving gasps around the stadium, several in the press box and Dhoni went down the wicket and had a word with him.
Broad came in to Dhoni with Matt Prior standing up. It stopped Dhoni’s walks down the wicket to counter the swing and lack of pace. The Indian captain snicked straight into his counterpart’s hands in the first slip and out it popped again.
Jadeja, crowded by three crouching slips, survived for a while by fate and fortune. Dhoni steered two boundaries to third man and survived a loud appeal for leg-before off Anderson. As the sun peeped through Jadeja looked a bit more assured, even though he stayed aeons without opening his account and did not seem to mind it. Runs were a rarity.
Liam Plunkett replaced Broad at the Pavilion end and immediately inflicted a rather severe blow on the Indian fortunes. Dhoni, intent on seizing the initiative from the new bowler, tried to force him through mid-on. His feet remained rooted to the crease and the ball flicked his front pad on the way to the stumps.
The stage was set for Stewart Binny to play the career defining innings. Thus far his selection had been mocked and maligned, his role not quite clear to many. His father had been no stranger to such situations and had bailed India out often enough in the eighties. He started confidently enough, forcing Plunkett through point and then leaning into a superb drive through the covers.
After 37 scoreless balls, Jadeja suddenly defied every dictum of cricket by charging down and slamming Jimmy Anderson down the ground for four. The score stuttered and stumbled past 200. Ben Stokes took over from the persevering Lancashire man and ran in with considerable pace, hurrying the two batsmen. Binny punched him through the covers off the backfoot for four.
Moeen Ali was introduced from the pavilion end and there was immense interest in how Jadeja would proceed to handle him. The southpaw played with commendable restraint, even playing out a full maiden.
The England bowling did look a bit thin once Broad and Anderson were taken off. After the morning session had seen several snicks, some taken, some falling short, and some spilled, Stokes curiously ran in without slips as ten minutes remained for the lunch break. Binny attempted an expansive drive on the up and through the covers, and the ball just about missed the edge. Alastair Cook jogged back to take his post beside Prior. While one has had an overdose of innovation from the England captain, much of his traditional field placings have been post-facto.
And after a session that belonged to England, India went in to lunch with something to cheer about. Plunkett hustled in, bowling round the wicket, at the body, the tactics that have become slightly monotonous in this Test match. Binny pulled him to the square leg boundary. He continued the same length, and Jadeja pulled him twice, once fine and the next in front of the wicket, for two resounding boundaries. India went in to lunch at 230 for six, the lead 191.
Binny has looked solid so far for his 26 runs. Jadeja has fought off bouts of eccentricity to finish on 18. The pair have added an invaluable 46 runs so far and may have created the foundations of a match saving partnership. However, the side needs to bat at least another 20 overs to be confident of securing a draw – more if the period is negotiated without much trouble to the scorers. The trend of almost nothing happening before lunch has been reversed on the final day with three big wickets going down. The visitors will hope that a similar reversal has taken place for the post-lunch session as well, and the fifth day will not witness the now familiar spate of wickets in the second session.
(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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