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By Arunabha Sengupta
Nottingham: Jul 11, 2014
The post-lunch saga of drama continued into the third day of the first Test between England and India, leading to light-hearted conspiracy theories built around the dining area and catering. India wrested the initiative, capturing six wickets in exchange of 74 runs in a brilliant session.
MS Dhoni predictably started with Ravindra Jadeja and Ishant Sharma, the most impressive bowlers of the first session. In the second over after the break, the latter got a ball to nip back and got Sam Robson leg-before. There was some controversy surrounding the decision, but no deviation apparent to aid the human eye. The absence of Decision Review System (DRS) left the batsman no option but to trudge back as umpire Bruce Oxenford raised his finger.
Ishant greeted Ian Bell with a bouncer, but was pulled with élan for four.The pitch is not prepared for such bowling bravado. The much maligned Indian pacer maintained a steady line outside off-stump and induced an edge off Gary Ballance that flew to the third-man fence through the vacant third slip area.
A quiet period followed, broken momentarily by a superb forcing drive by Bell against Jadeja. The ball was taken from in front of the stumps and dispatched to the cover fence off the back-foot.
Just as it seemed that England had overcome the Robson jolt, the ball was changed and all sorts of things started to happen. Almost immediately Ishant brought one slightly back into Ballance hitting him on the knee-roll. The finger went up again, and the left-hander was a picture of dejection as he walked back into the pavilion. Ballance and Robson, both crease bound batsmen, were always likely candidates for the leg before decision.
Ishant charged in with a spring in his step, long hair and lanky frame drawing curious parallels with an Afghan hound from the Test Match special box.The tentative Joe Root was put through some uncomfortable moments by deliveries nipping sharply back. Some held the line and beat the leaden-footed Root outside the off stick.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar was brought back, replacing Jadeja from the Radcliffe Road end. As some patches of blue appeared through the clouds and a tentative sun peeped through casting the first shadows of the day, Bell broke free of the Indian clasp of the last few minutes. He started with a delicate cut, a flick and a glance for three boundaries in an over off Bhuvneshwar and followed it up with another flicked four off Ishant.
He had sparked to life with four fours in six deliveries. But it was extinguished soon enough. Ishant pitched short, got bounce outside the off and Bell decided too late not to go through with the curious dab. Dhoni held the easiest of catches. Bell’s 25 was studded with six boundaries of unfulfilled promise. Ishant had three for 21 from 35 balls. England were 172 for four, with Root projecting significant vibes of uncertainty.
India attacked. Four slips, a short-leg and an overstepping aided bouncer greeted Moeen Ali. With the off side full of open spaces, Moeen opened his account with a pleasing punch down the ground for four.
Ishant’s spell after lunch amounted to three for 29 in seven superb overs. Shami replaced him and for the next few minutes, Root’s bat seemed to be crafted out of broken china. He inside edged to leg for two, played uppishly to short mid-wicket and snicked past the third slip for a boundary. Two outside edges in a Bhuvneshwar over fell short of the slips. The Yorkshire batsman was redefining edginess. He tried to counter the uncertainty by walking down the wicket and was hit on the pads. On cue Dhoni came up to the stumps.
Moeen relieved the pressure by driving Shami twice, languid and elegant, threading the cover field. In the next over Shami dug one in, Moeen did not seem to pick it, took his eyes off, and it went off his glove to Shikhar Dhawan in the slip. A promising innings was nipped in the bud.
Matt Prior started by driving Bhuvneshwar through cover point with class and composure. Dhoni came up to the stumps again and the next ball landed in his gloves after passing the edge by some comfortable distance. Umpire Kumar Dharamasena thought long and hard and decided in favour of the bowler. Prior walked away with disgust and disappointment competing for expression on his face.
Two balls later it veered away, the nick from left-handed Ben Stokes was genuine. Dhoni, now standing back again, held it near his ankles. England were down to 202 for seven, falling apart, the uncertain Root the specialist batsman who had strangely managed to survive.
Local hero Stuart Broad walked in to a raucous ovation, the type of cheer common the late 1960s when a man named Garfield Sobers played for the county. In the final over before tea, a ball reared and took the shoulder of his bat and fell tantalisingly short of gully. Broad and Root, both looking nervous, managed to survive till the break. The slim English hopes rest on their capable but not too confident shoulders. The complexion of the match has undergone another major change and the final session will be crucial for India to drive home the considerable advantage.
(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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