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By Arunabha Sengupta
Southampton: Jul 31, 2014
It has been a near perfect match for England right from the word go. The batsmen have clicked, even the ones who were showing signs of rickety decay. The debutant wicketkeeper has made his mark at the highest level with the ease of pottering about in his backyard. James Anderson has been back to his superb wicket-taking best. And their off-spinners — using the word with apologies to the great tradition from Jim Laker to Graeme Swann — have struck vital blows. Even the weather, fickle around England and dodgy in Hampshire, has backed the side to the hilt with cheery sun and blue skies. Yes, there is no help on offer for the Indians on that front either.
The Indian top order clings to the last straws, the foundations reduced to debris by the part timers. James Anderson has not picked up a second innings wicket yet and all that Stuart Broad has done so far is effect a run out. The Indian batsmen have had a strange Test, none of the top six looking like getting out during their innings until magnanimous bouts of generosity saw them gifting their wickets carefully gift wrapped during the most harmless passages of play.
There has been the persistent swing, but the Indians have negotiated it without raising much sweat. There has been some grip and turn, but only one wicket has gone down to a breaking delivery — that too off a Joe Root spinner when Shikhar Dhawan’s horror story continued. Other than that, Indians have fallen playing for the turn when there has not been anything on offer.
The task of batting out the final day of a Test match is tall order, especially with most of the batsmen already back in the hutch. The highest number of overs India have negotiated successfully in the fourth innings while saving a match in this century is 85 against West Indies in Basseterre in 2006. The highest number of fourth innings overs they have negotiated to save a match outside the subcontinent in remotely recent times has been 90 in Manchester in 1990 when Sachin Tendulkar scored his first ever Test century.
However, there have been some remarkable match saving efforts in recent times — a couple of them enacted against India which torment the immediate memory. Both Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane have looked solid in both innings, and if they do not indulge in producing needless skiers as in the first innings, they do have every reason to bat for a very, very long time. The lower middle order of India, with MS Dhoni and Ravindra Jadeja, is not really the ideal line-up for grinding out for a draw, but the Indians do bat deep to number nine and with some spirit and spunk they can offer enough resistance to make for an engrossing day’s play.
It is of utmost importance for the remaining batsmen to produce some fight through the day, if only to carry the momentum into Old Trafford.
(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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