Murali Vijay remained unbeaten on 55 © AFP
By Arunabha Sengupta
Nottingham: Jul 9, 2014
If seizing initiative is of major importance in a major series, Indian opener Murali Vijay did it in the very first over. England’s pace spearhead James Anderson’s first two balls passed by without raising concerns or incitement. And the next three sped to the fence. Two were steered to third-man, the third flicked beautifully, almost a la Laxman. The first over brought forth 12 runs, with no speed, bounce or movement to show for the expense.
Stuart Broad was a bit more probing, but with little more return. The batsmen were not bothered. This was a wicket where the best course of action was to buzz at the patience of the batsman like an irritating fly until he decided to swat in irritation.
Anderson was taken for boundaries aplenty, most of them through third man, often off defensive looking steers. Dhawan drove him for three, Joe Root’s athletic chase saving the extra run. The bowler looked gingerly. The short leg disappeared in the sixth over. Footholds were scowled at. Even the short balls were avoided with plenty of time. The wicket was too sloth to hurry batsmen.
It resembled one of those days at Trent Bridge described by Neville Cardus, when the sun smiled down and the score was always 320 for one.
Anderson changed to round the wicket for Shikhar Dhawan. The ball was not moving on its own, so guile entered the scenario. Angles were created, but Dhawan looked comfortable enough, flicking a couple to square leg.
And then the patient perseverance of Anderson paid off. Dhawan prodded defensively outside the off stump, and Matt Prior of uncertain health, a question mark over his selection till this very morning, swooped down to his left and pouched it in front of the slips. It was Anderson’s 50th wicket at Trent Bridge. The score stood at 33 for one after seven overs.
It looked like a minor hiccup. Cheteshwar Pujara started with careful scrutiny, not ready to trust the benign benevolence of the wicket. His head was bent down on top of the balls, sniffing for anything suspicious. During the initial phase, he played only when required to.
Anderson, pepped up by the wicket, ran in with somewhat more spring in his step. But Vijay steered him for four yet again. Slips were added, four of them, waiting for one of Vijay’s steers to go awry. The batsman nonchalantly drove him through the covers.
And when Anderson pitched short, Pujara brought out his cheeky doppelganger from beneath the sheath of circumspection, cutting over the slips to the fine thirdman fence. Anderson ended his first spell at 7-0-40-1.
Ben Stokes and Liam Plunkett ran in energetically, but did not come close to rush or trouble the batsmen. Balls were played away from the body with enough ease to conjure up the atmosphere of Nagpur in Nottingham. Vijay on drove both Stokes and Plunkett, between the stumps and mid-on, each time elegant and classy. Pujara cut Stokes for four and unleashed a glorious cover drive off Plunkett. In desperation, Plunkett bounced Pujara from round the wicket. But the pace was too slow to hurry the batsmen.
Moeen Ali was introduced in the 23rd over, with the score 79 for one, and was greeted with applause resembling relief rather than hope. But the Indians had no plans to let him settle. Pujara stepped out and launched him over mid-wicket.
When Stokes pitched short Vijay square-cut him for four. Either his back-foot game has improved or the wicket in Trent Bridge has been specially prepared to pamper him. The next delivery was pitched up, and the resulting cover drivewas fluent, and raced away to take him to his half century in 68 balls, studded with 11 fours.
When Plunkett changed over to the Pavilion end, Pujara guided him past gully for four to bring up the Indian hundred at almost a run a minute. The bowler responded by bouncing from round the wicket and it reached Prior on the second bounce. The batsman perhaps did not like it, and forced the next one past cover for four.
Just before lunch Pujara allowed a couple of bouncers to strike him on the body. But, the action spoke more of English desperation than Indian concern. The score at lunch read 106 for one, Vijay 55, Pujara 38. The fortuitous flip of the coin had been utilised to near maximum.
India has gone in with an inexperienced line up. MS Dhoni is slotted at No 6, Ravinder Jadeja and debutant Stuart Binny constituting the lower middle order. It is of paramount importance for the top order batsmen to lay a foundation. The initial work cannot be faulted.
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(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)