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By Arunabha Sengupta
Nottingham: July 12, 2014
By the end of the fourth day, the Test match was all but pronounced dead and buried under the necropolis of a surface. Only two wickets had fallen through the day, none in the morning session, none in the evening as well till very late. A result looked possible only if there is a miraculous collapse, but thus far all the miracles in the match had been performed by bowlers gripping their bats at No 11. And then all of a sudden two wickets off consecutive balls breathed much needed life into the tale. With the Indian tail long, winding and inexperienced, there can well be another twist along the line. The zestful life of the lower order may have been exhausted by the immaculate last wicket acts on the second afternoon, one can’t expect similar shows every day.
Ben Stokes started proceedings in the final session, running in from the Pavilion end with a wide fourth slip. Murali Vijay steered a boundary to the left of the fielder and then snicked one past Prior for four. Alastair Cook’s innovation in field placement was perhaps proving expensive. He soon moved to the more conventional first slip.
Stokes and Liam Plunkett maintained a steady line outside the off-stump. It was slow going, brightened up occasionally, such as when an excellent Pujara on drive was stopped brilliantly by a sprawling Moeen Ali.
Plunkett switched to round the wicket, with short leg, silly point, leg gully and square leg. The line was predictably short. Pujara had enough time to pull for one. Occasionally, Stokes made one bounce sharply, indicating that on a helpful surface he could be more than a handful. Here, often the element of surprise was stripped away by the lack of life in the surface, and Pujara cut him for four with élan. When he pitched up the Indian No. 3 drove through the covers with perfect balance and timing.
Broad replaced Plunkett at the Radcliffe Road end, with lots of men in front of the wicket on the off side. Vijay drove him down the ground for four. The tactics of the off-stump line with a weird off-side field had not worked against Vijay in the first innings. It was rather unreasonable to expect them to succeed this time around. There was no sign of chinks and crevices in the reservoir of patience. Vijay was perfectly happy to leave every ball that was not threatening his woodwork.
With his wider deliveries not working, Broad looked for the lbw, bringing the ball back in with the reverse swing, Prior standing up to ensure the batsman stayed rooted. Vijay kept his head down, with utmost caution.
Anderson, perhaps recovered by now from his unaccustomed four hours at the crease, replaced Stokes. He bowled with two men close at short mid-on and short mid-wicket, hiding the ball, like Broad trying to summon some reverse swing. Some cutters were thrown into the mix. Prior stood up to him as well. Anderson tried a different line, coming round the wicket, trying to coax Pujara to flick uppishly into the waiting hands of the onside catchers by bowling on his legs. The batsman refused to hit in the air. The tactics were interesting, the results not so much. Drinks were taken at 97 for one.
Moeen started after the interval from the Radcliffe Road end and Vijay struck him over long on for six. Anderson kicked up his heels and strode purposefully in with the pavilion behind him with men at leg-gully, short leg, short mid-wicket and short mid-on. A pull by Pujara hit the short leg on the full, and luckily for him did not go up into the air. The following ball was outside the off-stump and steered into the gaps of on the offside for four.
The move did not get any reward. Plunkett soon replaced him. Turning Moeen to fine leg Vijay reached his fifty, to go with the hundred in the first innings. Apart from the few initial moments of the second innings, he had been a pleasure to watch. Pujara followed him to the landmark with a rasping square cut and a superb pull off Plunkett for boundaries.
And then a double blow was struck when least expected, severely against the run of play.
The man who looked least likely to take a wicket produced the breakthrough once again. The ball from Moeen straightened and Vijay, dancing down the wicket, got the outside edge of the bat. To make it doubly sure, Prior whipped off the bails as well,
The very next ball, the first of the next over by Plunkett, rose short and harmless. Pujara, full of confidence and flair, cut it firmly and well. A horizontal Stokes gobbled it up at point.Wickets continue to fall in lots in this strange Test match – it can be ominous if the trend continues tomorrow morning.
Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane played out the remaining overs , the former bent on playing for stumps while the latter keen to move things along with some delightful strokes. Plunkett bounced from round the wicket, and the diminutive Mumbai batsman pulled him for four. He followed it up by driving down the ground off the back foot for another boundary.
At the end of the day, the Indian score read respectable, even secure. The lead is 128 with seven wickets still in the bank. However, a look down the batting card does not inspire too much confidence.
The onus will be on Rahane and Kohli to bat as long as possible in the first session of the morrow or even beyond. India has gone into the Test playing one batsman less to accommodate an all-rounder who has scored two runs and sent down 10 of 154.5 overs – that too without a maiden. Already once in the Test they have been bailed out by a couple of tail-enders. A loss of an early wicket tomorrow and the ploy will come back to haunt them yet again.
(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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