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By Arunabha Sengupta
Ageas Bowl: Jul 28, 2014
In contrast to the three sessions of the previous day, the first two hours were not only convincingly won by the hosts, they were thoroughly dominated by the England batsman.
Frustration piled on India early in the morning. Ian Bell missed outside the off stump, prodded tentatively, got an edge and it went through the slips. The early jitters were overcome. The strokes flowed, two particularly good hits through the covers. There were ominous signs of his normal prolific self emerging from beneath his shell of uncertainty. A back foot cover drive off Pankaj Singh was especially pleasing to watch.
Gary Ballance started quietly before hammering Bhuvneshwar Kumar for three boundaries in an over. Two flicks off the pads off Mohammed Shami and Pankaj Singh were superbly executed. A delicate late cut off Singh was pleasing and brought up the 300 with just two down. The last fifty was hastened in off just 59 balls. England had successfully injected the much needed impetus into their innings.
The Indian bowling, on the other hand, scarcely showed the discipline of Lord’s. MS Dhoni persisted with the three pacemen for almost the entire first hour, before introducing Ravindra Jadeja to plug the leaking runs. Drinks was taken at 301 for two. Ballance had proceeded to 134 and looking set for a massive score. Bell had reached 40. The cloud cover had not helped, and neither had the wicket got faster.
The English intentions were made clearer immediately after the break when Bell stepped out and lofted Jadeja straight down the ground for six. The batsmen were not going to allow the left-arm spinner to cast his miserly spell on the innings. A single off Shami in the next over brought up Bell’s fifty. He proceeded to back steer the same bowler for four, and followed it with a superb late cut off Jadeja. The England No 4 was looking more ominous by the minute. By now Ishant Sharma was being missed, not for the wickets and extra bounce but for the ability to keep things tight in the course of a long spell. At the other end, Balance was going from strength to strength, pulling Jadeja around the corner for four. The sun was now shining brightly over the ground from the bluest of skies and the England innings was in bloom.
“Runfest,” said Derek Pringle from the rear row of the press box. Michael Atherton agreed, “It’s one of the easiest days.” Ballance underlined the same with a pull – albeit not well controlled – that brought up his 150. When Jadeja floated one up, he drove through the vacant off-side for yet another boundary. The 350 of the innings was up, and runs were coming in a torrent.
Nine minutes before lunch, Dhoni threw the ball to Rohit Sharma. And this innocent card thrown down more as a combination of pre-lunch ritual and desperation, finally produced the long, long awaited breakthrough. The ball turned, bounced, took the back thigh pad of Ballance and was held by Dhoni. Rod Tucker thought there was a snick. The disappointment with which the Yorkshire batsman trudged back after scoring 156 speaks volumes both about his appetite and also about the amount of runs he thought the pitch was good for.
Lunch was taken at 358 for three, Bell on 68, Joe Root on two. England had stepped firmly on the accelerator and look likely to launch on an all-out assault after the break. They have taken Jadeja on and have been able to dominate the stingy Indian spinner. On this track, the hosts need both time and runs to put India under pressure, and some fireworks may be on view during the next two hours.
(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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