Murali Vijay was unbeaten on 95 © AFP
By Arunabha Sengupta
Nottingham: Jul 9, 2014
The second ball of James Anderson’s first over after lunch came through slow off the pitch. Cheteshwar Pujara checked his drive, and Bell held a blinder at short mid-on. The move had all the signs of having been scrupulously planned during the interval, and executed to perfection.
The bowlers had been swapped. Stuart Broad started proceedings from the Radcliffe Road end. Anderson charged in with the ancient pavilion behind him and the wind blowing strongly into his face. The fielder was placed with precision. When there is no help from the air or surface, it is these tactics that often make the difference.
Virat Kohli came in and was crowded by two men close to the wicket in front of the eyes on the on-side. And soon India’s big gun departed without even a muffled report during his brief visit. Broad charged in, the ball pitched perfectly, held its line. Kohli tamely edged to second slip where Bell held again. In two overs, the complexion of the match had done an about turn. The two youthful mainstays of Indian batting were gone. The five-bowler ploy was showing signs of coming back to haunt the Indian management. The selection, dubbed bold in the morning, was tottering precariously on the brink of being termed short-sighted. Cricket analysis can be funny.
The ball, now older, was suddenly reversing alarmingly. Anderson and Broad were sprinting in now, the taste of blood whetting their appetites. The former asked for an extra slip. Broad bowled with three, got Rahane to edge, and it fell just short of becoming Bell’s third catch after lunch.
Alastair Cook’s captaincy has been scrutinised to limits. The moves after lunch will perhaps do a lot for his long suffering image. However, at the same time, Broad bowled with three slips and plenty of men in the covers. Could one of the cover fielders have been removed to invite the drive, the possibility of an edge far counterbalancing the chance of a boundary or two? It will be interesting to see which move of Cook’s captaincy will be remembered. It all depends on whether the Indians manage to restore the balance and get to a big total. As I said, cricket analysis can be funny.
In the fourth over after lunch, Vijay clipped Anderson to the square leg boundary to restore some sanity. Rahane, everything straight and pure of the art of batsmanship sparkling in his play, drove Broad straight for four. The bat remained vertical, the forward step big and convincing. Yet, once in a while there was the tendency to flirt outside the off stump. Anderson, striving to run in with the grip securely concealed, was squeezed for four, but Rahane barely escaped flirtatious pokes at the reversing balls of Stokes and Broad.
England’s rejuvenated enthusiasm was infectious. When Vijay drove Anderson through the off-side, Broad, forsaking the traditional fast bowler’s rest at mid-off, flung himself to his left to stop the ball. The scoring dried up, reduced to a trickle; the ease of the morning had given way to uneasiness, the journey of progress transformed into a saga of survival.
Stokes was introduced, and maintained a line outside the off, occasionally getting one to nip back into the batsmen. With the ball reversing, Anderson and Broad took turns to run into the wind. Two men remained stationed close to the wicket for the catch on the on-side, one where the non-striker would normally stand. Cook stood directing operations from the only slip. At the stroke of the hour of quiet consolidation, Rahane momentarily lit the field up with a superbly essayed flick than bisected the two men back in the deep leg side boundary. Halfway through the day Indians were poised at 124 for three.
After the much-needed drinks break, the two Indian batsmen slowly steadied the innings again. Vijay, solid, unperturbed and often classy, punctuated his solid vigil with the occasional blazing drive through the off side.
Plunkett came in, round the wicket from the Radcliffe end, trying to bowl at Rahane’s body. For Vijay he switched back to the normal over the wicket fare, seven men plugging every gap in the off-side, only two of them behind the wicket in the slips. The line remained wide outside the off. Vijay refused to be tempted, playing only when the ball veered into him. Once the ball was pitched close enough to the bat, the willow flashed and it sped away through the five patrolling men to the cover boundary. A man was pushed back to the deep. Three balls later, a cut was essayed late and fine and Vijay was into the 80s. When Stokes bowled from the pavilion end without a third-man, Vijay guided two deliveries to the fine boundary, the second rather streakily.
While Vijay looked comfortable against every bowler, it was the introduction of Moeen Ali’s off-spin that finally helped Rahane break the constricting shackles. He cut late for three and swept firm and square for four. In the next few overs he forced the spinner off the backfoot three times, each time for three.
Plunkett was put on from the pavilion end, bowling into the wind, once again running in round the wicket. However, the pitch was too slow to help these tactics. The short balls were easily avoided. At one point Plunkett bowled without a slip, with men at silly point, forward short leg and leg slip. Given that round the wicket balls across the body can be gloved fine, the tactics did seem questionable.
Moeen tossed them up, mostly from round the wicket, bowling with two slips, the breeze aiding him, trying to get the doosra going. However, it only eased the pressure on the Indians. Moeen the spinner has not yet reached the levels required to trouble Indian batsmen.
At Tea, India stood at 177 for three, having absorbed the shocks of the first few minutes after lunch. Vijay, on 92, looks set for an excellent hundred. Rahane’s has been a stop start innings so far, and he has reached 32.The final session will determine the honours of the first day, and that crucial initiative which makes all the difference in a long series.
(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)