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By Arunabha Sengupta
Ageas Bowl: Jul 29, 2014
It looked a perfect day for batting, no demon had materialised from the wicket overnight, in spite of quite a few prophecies, the pace had not increased. The Indian batsmen played with ease and comfort for most of the morning. But, just when it looked least likely, they ended up losing vital wickets. But for a stroke of fortune surrounding a decision towards the last few minutes of the session, the visitors could have been looking down the barrel by now – largely due to lapses of concentration rather than problems in the wicket.
After one minute of silence commemorating those cricketers who lost their lives in the World War One, Chris Woakes was seen running in from the Pavilion End, partnering James Anderson. Perhaps Woakes was considered the most likely bowler to swing the ball alongside Anderson.
However, there was not enough movement really to alarm the batsmen. Anderson did send a ball whizzing within a hair’s breadth of Murali Vijay’s gloves, but that was the only moment of early discomfort. The veteran Lancashire paceman maintained a superb seam position, moved it sharply away, the slips stood in wait, but the Indian batsmen played him confidently enough.
Cheteshwar Pujara steered Woakes – albeit with a hint of outside edge – to the third man boundary to start things off. Anderson switched to round the wicket early, hinting at an urgency to pick up wickets as soon as possible, and Pujara steered again, this time with more confidence and middle, and another four resulted. It still looked a beautiful batting strip. Pujara underlined it by sending an in-swinger from Anderson past the non-striker for four.
A contingent of cricket fans from Lancashire lumbered in. They always congregate during the third day of the third Test, every year without fail, wherever it is played. “It is normally at the Old Trafford,” said one of the party, a bit forlorn. “But this time we have had to journey all the way to this godforsaken place.” But, the ground was heavenly, they agreed.
Meanwhile, Stuart Broad replaced Woakes after three overs. Vijay, scoreless for 25 balls, cut him a bit uppishly past gully for four. He followed up with a firm forcing shot past backward point for three to bring up the fifty for India. Anderson pitched up and Vijay drove him through mid-on and mid-wicket for four.
Just as there were signs and symptoms of another long fruitless day for the bowlers, Broad struck the first blow. It was pitched short, angled into the body, and Pujara, swaying away, could not quite get his bat out of the way in time. The ball got a touch on the way to Jos Buttler. Once again, the Indian No 3 had got a start without going on to construct a substantial innings. He departed for 24 made in 77 minutes, and it was 56 for two. It had not really been an early strike, but the blow had been dealt.
Virat Kohli walked in, due some serious runs in the series. Broad and Anderson, spurred by the wicket, ran in slightly quicker, the balls hastened faster. Vijay evaded a couple of superbly directed short deliveries.
Chris Jordan was put on from the Northern End almost at the stroke of the first hour. The first ball was grotesquely misdirected, down the leg side, way beyond Buttler’s reach, racing away for five wides. He followed it up by pitching up and Kohli took a large step forward and drove him exquisitely past cover for four. That same over Vijay drove through mid-off with the same majesty that has marked his strokes through this series. He was looking good again. Drinks were taken on 75 for one.
The second hour started with Broad steaming in, and Kohli drove him handsomely through the covers for three. Vijay followed it with a backfoot push past the bowler, underlining the superb touch he was in. The over ended with a forced push through mid-wicket for three. Eight runs came off the over. The bat seemed to be reigning yet again when against the run of play the big blow was struck.
Broad bowled with plenty of energy. A couple of balls left Vijay and he uncharacteristically chased them. And then he was undecided whether to play at one or leave it. The back of the length ball ricocheted off the undecided bat and went on to the stumps. Vijay’s near two and a half hour stay at the wicket had brought 35, but India had needed many more from him today. The innings looked a bit dodgy at 88 for three.
A few nervy moments followed. Kohli ran a needless quick single to a very short mid-on, with Anderson almost beaming him on the head with the throw. Ajinkya Rahane went for the pull and managed to glove it in front of second slip.
Jordan did quite a bit to release the pressure, continuing on his erratic line, called wide on both sides of the wicket. Woakes replaced Broad from the Pavilion End after the Nottinghamshire pacer’s first spell had produced figures 19 for two from six overs. Kohli pushed him down the ground for three.
Moeen Ali was put on 20 minutes before lunch rather than just the token over before the break. Rahane turned him to the leg for two to bring up India’s hundred and then drove him through the covers for four. The off-spinner made a good comeback, turning one down the leg, inducing a faint bit of glove from Rahane to the keeper. The England fielders went up vociferously, but Rod Tucker remained unmoved. It was perhaps the third howler of the game. It would have been a crucial blow to India had it been given.
India ended the session on 108 for three, still a long way to go for relative safety. Kohli has looked good so far for his 18, Rahane edgy at times on 11. Significantly, the only balls to get wickets today or hurry the batsmen have been short. It will probably prompt the England bowlers to come charging in and hit the wicket on resumption.
However, it is still a superb batting wicket. With the most attractive Indian strokeplayers at the crease, a veritable batting feast is on cards during the second session as the sun splashes across the scenic ground in an unbroken cheery smile.
(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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