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By Arunabha Sengupta
Nottingham: Jul 11, 2014
After the drama of the post-lunch period the third session started in spectacular fashion. The first hour was the most exciting seen so far in the Test match, with belligerent strokes to counter some aggressive bowling with considerable swing. And then there followed the second resilient last-wicket partnership in as many days.
It began with Mohammed Shami charging in and making it bounce. Stuart Broad, perhaps annoyed at having been dragged away from his Harold Larwood biography, pulled it powerfully in front of square for four. The third ball nipped back and Joe Root survived a loud appeal. Shami persisted in bringing the balls back into Root and the Yorkshireman responded with a wristy flick through mid-wicket. The trend was set, the session was going to be eventful.
Ishant Sharma and Shami both tried to induce Broad to miscue the cross batted stroke off the short deliveries. And Broad kept pulling nonchalantly. One from Shami was flat batted between bowler and mid-on. There was a fierce cut to the point boundary as well. It made for exciting cricket, but the sluggishness of the pitch did not make pitching short a very profitable ploy for the Indians.
After 60 uncertain deliveries, Root produced a beautiful on-drive off Ishant. The next ball was back to the patchy tale of unconvincing methods, an inside edge running down to fine-leg for four. Runs were coming in a flurry, but the ball was swinging. Strangely, even though the ball was considerably old, the swing was more conventional than reverse.
Broad continued to play his strokes, sometimes streaky, always positive, at all times a delight for the crowds. It took England quickly and surely towards the 258-run mark that would make India bat again. More importantly, it sparked off a frenzy of excitement among the persevering spectators.
The new ball was taken after 82 overs, Bhuvneshwar Kumar entrusted with it. Broad slammed the first ball disdainfully past cover for four. The stroke carried England past the follow on mark. Broad celebrated the happy occasion by lofting Bhuvneshwar over mid-off for another boundary. The final ball of the over was driven gloriously by Root past cover. The first over with the new ball cost 14.
Ishant bowled from the other end and Broad drove him twice through extra-cover, strokes of power and grace, underlining why Geoff Boycott had compared his flourishing follow-through with that of Garry Sobers. Off the final ball of the over, however, he almost ran himself out, and enjoyed an escape through a rather horrendous through from Virat Kohli.
The reprieve was brief. In the next over, Bhuvneshwar pitched one on the leg-stump and it held its line. Broad missed the attempted forcing shot across the line, and Kumar Dharmasena thought it was adjacent — television replays vindicated him. The batsman, however, did not make much of an effort to conceal his dissent and one will follow the reaction of match-referee David Boon with interest. It was a slightly bitter end of the most entertaining innings of the match so far, a 42-ball effort for 47. The 12 overs after tea had brought 75 runs. England still trailed by 177.
Liam Plunkett began by essaying a few well timed drives straight to the fielders and a miscued pull that luckily went along the ground. But, after the drinks break, he demonstrated his growing batting ability with a superb drive through the covers.
Root, some classy strokes off his legs punctuating his unconvincing forays outside the off-stump, reached a fighting fifty with a single off Bhuvneshwar. But two balls later, Plunkett missed one that jagged back and the sound of leather hitting timber rang in Bhuvneshwar’s fourth wicket.
James Anderson came in and the 300 was raised rather dubiously, a Ravindra Jadeja delivery beating everything and going for a couple of byes. The only man in the side with claims to being a rabbit celebrated the landmark with a reverse sweep timed and placed to perfection. It brought the house down, even Broad’s arrival had not been greeted with such cheer. Indeed, it seemed that Anderson had come out with the spirit of his new ball partner bubbling inside him as he punched Bhuvneshwar for four off his back-foot and later hit him unconventionally and straight for another boundary. Some overs down the line Anderson repeated the reverse sweep again, with similar results. It makes one wonder whether he would be better served batting right handed. Incidentally, Anderson plays golf right handed and is an excellent driver of the stationary ball.
The field spread out for Root, and even the two superb strokes of Anderson did not encourage him to run singles early in the over. In fact, his attempted emulation of the No 11 went awry, the reverse sweep failing to connect and he was struck just above his wrist, necessitating the appearance of the physio with his paraphernalia of bandages and sprays.
But, Anderson did not really need much shielding. He played with ease and not a little flair, even pulling out a Wimbledon style forehand past mid-off. With three overs left in the day, the partnership crossed 50.
In some ways, the well spread field for Root allowed him to get back into form, and iron out the creases of tension in his batting. The Indian bowlers were not looking to get him out and as a result the pressure was eased and tentativeness disappeared. Soon he was picking up twos with ease as fielders patrolled the vast outfield. When they were brought up, once in a while he went over the top for boundaries.
The last wicket stand of 54 has eaten into the Indian lead and the advantage at the end of the first innings is no longer an axiom. Root is by now looking solid and secure. On this pitch neither of the sides have yet found out the secret of dismissing the last man. The partnership has not only bailed England partially out of a shaky situation, it has also reciprocated the frustration the Indians had heaped on the hosts the previous afternoon.
It will be most interesting to watch India’s approach on the morrow. A lead of less than hundred with just about two days to go can often lead to all possible scenarios.
(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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