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Jul 9, 2014
Liam Plunkett started the proceedings after tea by going round the wicket. As in the previous session, the results were immediate. The field was strange. A short leg, a short square, a leg gully, a short mid-wicketand a silly-point. Rahane fended at a short one and it popped up to drop just short of Alastair Cook at silly-point. Two balls later, another one popped up off a strangely miscued pulloff the toe-end of the bat, and this time Cook latched on as if his life depended on it. The 32 runs wereoften a tale of struggle and pain.
MS Dhoni countered the strange field with a flurry of pull shots, few of them properly timed, none of them resulting in runs, but it got the leg gully pushed back by some yards. He got off the mark with a forcing back foot shot, unnamed in the cricketing dictionary, into the large empty expanses in the off side. He followed it with two bottom-hand heavy punches through the off-side, and a four steered to the third-man boundary.
Meanwhile, Vijay advanced to 99 with a superb on-drive off Stuart Broad. A nervy period followed with the opening batsman negotiating 13 dot balls, a large number of them testing short deliveries by Liam Plunkett. Ben Stokes was put on, and Vijay demonstrated slight signs of impatience. A quiet word from his captain sedated the butterflies in his stomach. He played out five dot balls that spoke as much about his character as all the glorious strokes around the wicket.
Finally he turned Anderson to the on-side for a sharply scampered single. His eyes looked up in alarm as he turned to check whether his captain had reached safely at the other end. And then the bat was raised with relief. The time taken for is second fifty – 146 in contrast to 68 for the first – tells us of his resilience and adaptability.
Anderson continued, with seven men in the off side, four of them in the ring in rather unusual positions. There was no option for the bowler but to bowl outside the off. And Vijay, following his staunch principle throughout the day, shouldered arms repeatedly.For a moment, his patience did waver and the edge fell short of Cook at slip. The lack of pace in the wicket had been the saviour.
Stokes, running in with his red hair flaming in the afternoon sun, made deliveries tail in to the batsman. Dhoni countered by advancing outside the off-stump, clipping him to mid-wicket. The technique remained unconventional as ever, not all the strokes convincing. However, the runs came, and came quickly. That is what matters in the end.
The first hour after Tea ended with India at 211 for four, Dhoni on 23 and Vijay on 102.The situation looked respectable enough for the visitors. However, with debutant Stuart Binny and Ravindra Jadeja to follow, a safe score was never going to be easy to define.
The first ball after the break once again caused some flutters. Dhoni missed the paddle sweep off Moeen Ali and the decision was referred upstairs as Matt Prior whipped off the bails. The Indian captain’s response was to repeat the same stroke twice and in between force one through the covers. On all the three occasions the batsmen scampered for two.
Dhoni’s penchant for the sweep induced Moeen to come round the wicket with a leg-slip. Dhoni countered with an attempted reverse-sweep. With Vijay on strike, the slip was back. The opener stepped out and lofted the innocuous offering over mid-off for six, executed with the same élan that stamped his play all day. He followed it up with a lofted drive through the on side for four.The partnership was now over fifty.
Plunkett continued the rather tiresome tactics of bowling short across the body from round the wicket. It was a waste of time for both the teams and the reasonably large crowd watching the proceedings. Dhoni hooked him to the deep to enliven the proceedings somewhat.
Thankfully he switched to over the wicket and things started happening. Vijay was rapped on the pads, the appeal was loud, Bruce Oxenford said no and there was no DRS to step in. In the next over, Vijay was struck on the helmet. The batsman responded with a sterling drive through the covers. By now, the absence of quality spin in the England side was having a telling effect on this slow surface. Moeen Ali’s nine overs had cost 50.
In desperation, Joe Root was put on. Dhoni blasted him past mid-off for four. New ball was taken in the 81st over with the score on 249 for four. Anderson started from the Pavilion end and did not really force the batsman to play too many. Vijay was not interested in wayward offerings, Dhoni bottom handed a slap over point for three.
Broad, not really at his best in the field for the last part of the day, bowled at Vijay with seven men on the off side and no fine leg. The batsman was not really inclined to go for any extravagant shotswith balls sent down wide outside the off-stump.
Shadows lengthened across the field, the persevering spectators grew restless and indulged in occasional chants and shouts, the keys of the laptops clicked more vigorously for the end of the day reports. And all through Vijay remained poised and steady, admirably recognising that his job was just about half done. The balls were left with the same discretion, and when the ball was played it was with the full face of the bat. Watching Vijay today has been a rare treat.
In the final over of the day, Dhoni opened the face of his bat to run Anderson down to the third man to complete his half century off just 64 balls. It has been a crucial innings, and the pace of the runs has successfully managed to soothe the nerves that had perhaps fluttered at the losses of the major middle-order men. India finished on 259 for four, with Vijay undefeated on 122 after batting the full day. The Indian captain has so far enjoyed his foray up the order.
Two shock wickets after lunch and a suspect Indian lower middle order has kept England in the game, but apart from a tense post-lunch session, the bat has clearly dominated the ball. The weather is supposed to remain fine through the early part of the second day and India will be keen to have another good day under the sun.
(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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