Ian Bell completed his 21st century on Monday at the Ageas Bowl © Getty Images
Ian Bell completed his 21st century on Monday at the Ageas Bowl © Getty Images

By Arunabha Sengupta

 

Jul 28, 2014

 

The sun beat down, the temperature resembled the tropics, and MS Dhoni used his bowlers in a sequence of almost musical regularity.Mohammed Shami bowled the first over after lunch, Pankaj Singh the second, Bhuvneshwar Kumar the third. The sequence continued through the first hour, Shami, Singh, Kumar; Shami, Singh, Kumar; Shami, Singh, Kumar. The traditional bowling partnership had been stretched into a triangle. No one could quite decipher the thinking behind the cyclic sequences, perhaps because it was blisteringly hot in the middle and two-over breaks for each of the three seamers helped sustain a combined spell of pace bowling. Whatever the strategy was,it worked. England managed just 30 runs in the 13 overs bowled during the first hour after lunch for the loss of one wicket, during a phase when acceleration was the recommended way. Some urgency was shown in spurts in the second hour, but England managed less than 100 in the second session while firmly settled in the driver’s seat.

 

Dhoni placed three men in the arc between deep mid-wicket and long leg, and Mohammed Shami bounced Joe Root. The attempt at replicating the Lord’s methods did not come off, with Root content to duck below the short stuff. The balls swung after passing the helmeted head, and after two difficult takes, the Indian captain took a man away from the leg boundary and brought him all the way to third slip. If there was movement, one could as well use it with balls pitched up. Pankaj Singh generated some sharp away swing.

 

The first quarter hour of quiet cricket was broken by a delightful late cut essayed by Ian Bell off Shami. It brought back memories of those heydays of 2012, when the Warwickshire had assumed proportions of a mammoth run-machine. But, there were to be just two boundaries during the first hour.Bell was playing with relative ease. Root, however, perhaps plagued by the painful memories of Lord’s, was kept quiet with a barrage of short balls which he steadfastly refused to play.

 

The curious  tactics worked. Bhuvneshwar Kumar bounced, too short, too high, and was called wide twice. Root, not having put bat on ball for long,walked down the wicket to drive one not that full, got an edge and Dhoni threw it up. The in-form strokeplayer had not been allowed to settle. The Yorkshire batsman walked back for three runs scored from 25 balls. The 23 run partnership from 10.3 overs was way short of the rate England were looking at.

 

Ravindra Jadeja was put on after the interval, and for the first time after lunch the same bowler bowled two consecutive overs from the same end. This strange spell broken, Bell stepped out, and lofted the spinner straight down the ground for a handsome six to bring up his hundred in style. The following three balls saw a cover driven four, a glorious straight six and, when the bowler shortened his length, a back cut for four. The 21 runs did much to neutralise the slow going of the previous hour.

 

The following over was sent down by Kumar, carrying on the policy of one over spells for the seamers. He pitched short, Moeen Ali went for the pull, the ball flew off the toe end of the bat and Ajinkya Rahane at second slip flung himself across to the right to hold what should have been Shikhar Dhawan’s catch at first slip. England were 420 for five, and Moeen’s struggle against the short ball continued. The sun had disappeared and a cold wind was blowing across the ground, and the murkiness had to be offset by the floodlights. Joe Buttler walked in for his first innings under darkening skies with a healthy total in the backdrop. The wicket did not tamper with the one over spell tactic. Shami came in for the next over from the Pavilion End. Bell drove him magnificently down the ground for four.

 

Kumar replaced Shami after that one solitary over and Buttler edged an away singer to second slip. Rahane went down and claimed the catch, Buttler made to walk away and on second thoughts stayed rooted. The third umpire was summoned.After what must have been an agonizing wait for the debutant, the verdict was that it had not carried. Buttler forced the next ball through cover for three to get on the Test cricket scorebooks. And then, in the same over, there was another edge, this time from Bell, and it fell short of Shikhar Dhawan at first slip.Should the slips have stood closer? Wisdom is easy in retrospect.
The scares behind him, Buttler hoisted Jadeja over cover for a couple of fours, the second a bit streakily. England went in at tea at 452 for five, Bell 133, Buttler 13. The acceleration had been tried, but the flow of runs had choked and sputtered. England’s grip on the match is not yet absolute, and some serious fireworks will be required to force a quick declaration in the last session.

 

Complete coverage of India’s tour of England 2014

 

(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)