India vs England, 3rd Test, at Southampton: England in driver’s seat
Gary Ballance was in fine form for England against India at The Ageas Bowl © Getty Images (File Photo)
By Arunabha Sengupta
Ageas Bowl: Jul 27, 2014
The ball from Mohammed Shami was short and Alastair Cook pulled to the deep square leg and scampered two. The first milestone had been reached, much to the relief of the entire country. The captain, variously criticised in every quarter, had scored his elusive half-century. Two balls later, it was short outside the off-stump, and Cook rocked back to pull him past midwicket for four. Sign that the skipper had come out of the prolonged rut? The rest of the session provided enough indication of the same.
Gary Ballance glanced one to the boundary, cut over the top of the gully area and drove down the ground. Cook steered down to third man for four, and cut hard for three. There was nothing streaky about the stroke. The hundred was soon up and the two southpaws were going strong as the sun took turns between remaining hidden behind clouds and peeping through. Cook was moving across the stumps, but the stride forward became more assertive and less tentative with time. Ballance carried on in his fine nick, fresh from the hundred at Lord’s. Pankaj Singh and Shami were running in hard and bowling a spirited spell, but the net results had nothing to show for the effort. The shifts from over to round the wicket were not helping. Bhuvneshwar Kumar was looking distinctly off colour.
The close in cordon lost men to the infield and slowly vanished further into the outfield. The focus of the fielding side shifted to containment, with the onus of aggression delegated to the batsmen. MS Dhoni, meticulous with his field position, moved men around with one foot firmly on the tenets of orthodoxy. The speculative formations of the two previous Tests were absent. There was nothing happening for the bowlers, and the Indian grip on the match of necessity changed to one of relaxed firmness to enable rigours over long periods of time.
Ravindra Jadeja bowled his usual tight line, allowing just the occasional single to a field of six leg side men.His 12 over spell in the session went for just 20. But, the lack of bowling options was started to become a deadweight around the ankles of the Indian fortunes. Rohit Sharma was introduced and was cut away for four by Ballance. A repeat of the stroke went for four more, but uncomfortably close to the backward point.
Cook had gone past Kevin Pietersen in the morning. In the afternoon session, he overtook yet another England stalwart – David Gower. He turned Jadeja to the leg to bring up the 150 of the innings and MS Dhoni brought another man from the off-side to increase the leg-field count to seven. Balance pinched a single through the crowd of men to get to his fifty off 107 balls.
Pankaj Singh replaced Rohit from the Northern End and was promptly dispatched by Ballance for two boundaries through the off-side. The young Yorkshire batsman was fast assuming the role of the aggressor. The scoreboard looked more ominous by the minute. Just as overs were hastened along by Jadeja before tea, Cook glanced a fine boundary to break a 66-ball period without a four.
When Cook and Ballance played out the experimental final over before tea bowled by Shikhar Dhawan, England went in at 186 for one, Cook on 82, Ballance 72. England have enjoyed perhaps their best session in the series so far. It has been a superb comeback by a team that seemed down and out after the first day at Lord’s.The spilt catch by Jadeja early in the day has proved costly and may even prove to be the defining moment of the match. The England captain has made most of his escape and his resolve has been exemplary. The Indians have not looked like taking a wicket, and the hosts will be eager to drive home the acquired advantage during the final session.
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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)