India need another 46 runs to avoid the follow-on © Getty Images
By Arunabha Sengupta
Ageas Bowl: Jul 29
The Indian progress through the final session on the third day of the Southampton Test remained curious, halting, fluent partnerships nipped just as they began to flourish. England bowlers kept pegging away with commendable patience and were rewarded for their relentless efforts. Yet the Indian tail, shepherded by the valiant captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, thwarted the final onslaught to keep the innings going till the morrow.
The one batsman who did not look like throwing it away did so with great flourish. Just before tea, Rohit Sharma had committed hara-kiri trying to hit Moeen Ali over mid-off. If some spectator, eager for an early snifter, had missed this show of magnanimous generosity, Ajinkya Rahane compensated by presenting his own wicket gift wrapped with bubble paper to the bearded spinner. It was a rank long hop; Rahane pulled and up it went skywards before coming down obligingly into the hands of mid-wicket. The Mumbai batsman walked back for 54. Moeen had two for 39 from 11 overs of controlled but innocuous bowling. At that moment he had as many wickets as Stuart Broad in the series.
At 217 for six, the sight of Ravindra Jadeja walking in did not really inspire too much confidence. Dhoni countered by pummelling Moeen to long on for four and sweeping him for two.
Moeen and Chris Jordan bowled in tandem, keeping James Anderson and Stuart Broad fresh and waiting for the new ball due in a few overs. Both Dhoni and Jadeja were watchful for this period, apart from the occasional flashing flirt built into the foundation of their games.
The new ball was taken as soon as the 80th over was bowled. Anderson charged in from the Northern End, Broad with the Pavilion behind him. Dhoni strained against his nature to shoulder arms ball after ball. And Jadeja drove the first ball from Broad with disdain and panache through the covers for four. He tried to repeat the stroke off the last ball, it flew off the edge to gully and Joe Root flung himself to his right and could only get a hand to it.
Anderson bowled testing in-swingers into Jadeja, several of which thudded into his thigh pad. At the other end Dhoni clipped Broad to the fine leg boundary and Jadeja followed it by coming down the track and slamming him cross batted past mid-on to bring up the 250. Drinks were taken at 254 for six. India had maintained the saga of losing one wicket every hour. Now it was of utmost importance not to lose the remaining in the last hour of the day.
The curious combination of Dhoni and Jadeja had successfully seen off the initial Broad overs with the new ball. After the break the less intimidating form of Woakes was observed running in from the Pavilion end. His first ball was pasted to the cover boundary by Jadeja’s lightning bat-swing. Anderson continued in the next over and the Indian left-hander stepped down the wicket and slammed him cross batted, past mid-on for another boundary. The outrageous stroke brought up the fifty of the partnership.
The next over by Woakes saw Dhoni drilling him through the covers for three and Jadeja driving him audaciously back down the ground for four. The new ball had not only been negotiated with some aplomb, runs were coming faster as well.
Anderson, however, stopped this merry progress, swinging one back into Jadeja and hitting him on the pads without much doubt. The jolly association was halted at 58 and India stood at 275 for seven. The Indian all-rounder walked back for 31, obviously not too delighted to give his wicket away to the England spearhead.
Dhoni, the picture of restraint while Jadeja was around, now unsheathed the primal nature that normally accompanies the ways of his willow. He walked down the wicket to cream Anderson through the covers and clipped him to fine leg. Two boundaries took him to 35 and brought the deficit down under 300. At the other end there was the straight batted Bhuvneshwar Kumar, perhaps the most reassuring batsman for India in the series after Murali Vijay. After 16 scoreless deliveries, Kumar steered Woakes down to third man for four and brought out another of his elegant on drives for three. Later, as the ball grew relatively older, Broad pitched short and this excellent young man cut him three times in the same over, two of the strokes off consecutive balls. All sped to the cover boundary. The 300 of the innings was up.
In the following over, Moeen dropped short and Dhoni unleashed a mighty pull that sailed all the way over mid-wicket. It was the 50th six struck by Dhoni as captain, which put him on top of the Test match list past Brian Lara. Another partnership was beginning to flourish and at a brisk pace. And as had been the trend all day, a wicket fell just as it was threatening to pull India back into the game.
Broad cut one back into Kumar, the inside edge lobbed off the pad and Gary Ballance threw himself forward from third slip to come up with the catch. The hosts were delighted to see the back of Kumar. The oak like door at the end of the Indian innings had been breached. The Indian medium pacer walked back for an impressive 19. It was 313 for eight.
As Mohammed Shami came in, Broad sent down some testing in-swingers at Dhoni. The Indian captain missed a couple of huge heaves before creaming him through the covers to post his fifty. At stumps the score stood at 323 for eight. There remain 47 to avoid follow on, and the Indian intention on the morrow will be to cut as deep as possible into the deficit and the time remaining in the game.
Anderson has bowled better here than all his previous efforts in this series. Additionally, perhaps under gag orders, he has limited his activities to bowling. Broad has been far more disciplined and occasionally threatening. Woakes has moved the ball around, beaten the bat time and again, and has been unlucky not to get wickets. Moeen Ali, not really penetrative, has shown far better control than the previous Tests. Jordan has been the weak link in the attack, but it must be said that the English bowlers have been far more assiduous and done more with the conditions than their Indian counterparts.
However, their workload has been heavy and fatiguing. Anderson, Broad and Woakes have all bowled over 20 overs on a blisteringly hot day. So, whether they will be too keen to run in again remains a question even if follow on turns out to be an option. In case the decision is to bat again, or in the unlikely event of India passing the 370 run mark, there will be the tricky problem of the timing of declaration and the target to set.
The day may have been disappointing for the Indians, with the irritating factor of set batsmen not going on to make runs, but it has at least injected plenty of interest into the game. The Test match will be alive and well through the next two days.
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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)