India vs England, 3rd Test, at Southampton: Alastair Cook battles through to lunch
Alastair Cook was dropped in the third slip © Getty Images
Aegeas Bowl: Jul 27, 2014
The sight of Ishant Sharma holding an icepack against his ankle was perhaps the most reassuring one for England in months. The man who had bounced India to the now famous win at Lord’s had to sit out, spent by his incredible exertions during those final two days. Pankaj Singh made his debut in his stead, while Stuart Binny gave way to Rohit Sharma in a move to bolster the middle-order.
England, one down in the series, perhaps strived to make amends and go one better. They ended incorporating three changes to India’s two. Jos Buttler for Matt Prior was already a known and much discussed replacement. Somewhat less expected was the omission of Liam Plunkett, who had put in some excellent bonus effort with the bat at Lord’s and had at times looked likely to put England on top with the ball. All-rounder Ben Stokes, not too impressive with the ball and like a broken slot machine with the bat, also found himself out. They were replaced by Barbados born fast medium bowler Chris Jordan and the Warwickshire all-rounder Chris Woakes.
Alastair Cook won the toss and England batted. There was a slight green tinge on the pitch, with the predictions of pace and bounce. It was a rather courageous decision by the England captain to bat, especially given the horrendous time he has been going through. The Indian pacers did not quite start off with the same degree of discipline as they had at Lord’s. The line was occasionally wayward, the batsmen provided more opportunities to catch a breather. The wicket looked rather true,without the predicted disconcerting pace and bounce.The ball came on to the bat, the faint tinge of grass rather benign growth that threatened batsmen not.
Yet, the first ball from Bhuvneshwar Kumar did produce a mild scare. It swung across, was edged by Alastair Cook, and fell just short of slip. The much afflicted heart must have leaped into Cook’s mouth. However, he stuck around. There was the streaky edge, the uncertain prod. Debutant Pankaj Singh worked up a brisk pace, got some shape and carry, moved it either way and produced an edge which Ravindra Jadeja floored at third slip.The England captain desperately needed this bit of luck. He battled on. A drive through the covers off Shami at the stroke of the hour characterised the captain with precision – not perfectly timed yet, but growing hesitantly confident. It took him past Kevin Pietersen in the table of top run scorers for England.
Sam Robson had played solidly through the hour, largely untroubled, finding the middle of the bat and then the gaps in the field in his normal obsequious manner. By the end of the first hour England had proceeded largely untroubled to 41. After the drinks interval, Robson spanked Shami through the covers for four and drove him through the on side for a brace to bring up the fifty of the innings. In the next over, Cook broke a 50-ball boundary-less period by cutting Singh to the fence. And just as England looked like dominating after an unusually decent start, the first blow was struck.
The opening partnership had reached 55 when Shami broke through. In his second spell, he was getting a good shape. The ball moved slightly away from back of the length outside the off stump, squared Robson up and ended in the hands of Jadeja. This time the ebullient Indian all-rounder held on. Gary Ballance and Alastair Cook survived the next few overs with the occasional flutter, Cook flailing at a Shami delivery, not quite fully forward, and getting a boundary streakily through gully.
The first introduction of spin was in the surprising form of Rohit Sharma, perhaps influenced by the two left-handers at the crease. Cook cut him to the point boundary to move into his forties. It was Jadeja who bowled the last over before lunch, and Cook cut him through the vacant point region to move within two runs of his half-century. The captain had managed to survive till the break, batting through the whole session and is likely to have his first happy lunch in several weeks.
England stood at a respectable 78 for one, although one cannot really say they have seized the initiative. One has to wait and watch how the rest of the sessions of the day pan out. If the hosts score heavily, the Indian strategy of going in with four regular bowlers will be put under some demanding stress test.Shami has bowled a good second spell, Singh has been impressive on his first morning in Test cricket, Kumar has been steady without being spectacular … however, it remains to be seen whether they can sustain themselves as a bowling unit if the rewards are not readily forthcoming.
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(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)