The honours seemed evenly split at the end of the first day. Having won the toss for the first time, England would have expected to bat for long and have a big total on board. However, this pitch has to be the slowest and lowest so far in the series and so run-making was not just a test of skill but also of patience.
The ball barely got above the knee and once when Ishant Sharma tried a bouncer, it went on the third bounce to the keeper. The next ball got up a little more than Nick Compton expected and surprised him as he nicked it and even then, Mahendra Singh Dhoni had to bend low to grab the ball inches before it landed on the turf. Ishant then gave India their biggest wicket — getting the England skipper Alastair Cook trapped leg before with a ball that cut back into the left-hander.
It was a call that could have gone either way but fortunately for India, it went in their favour and their scourge of the first three Tests was back in the pavilion without too many against his name. Maybe, that brain failure that resulted in his stumping while chasing the small target in Kolkata showed that Cook is drained after his marathon efforts in the first three Tests. Ishant bowled particularly well, keeping the ball well up and utilising the low bounce.
This low bounce is going to make life difficult for India’s batsmen, since they have a tendency to stay back in the crease to the quicker bowlers and the earlier they make the adjustment the better it will be for them. Kevin Pietersen has his own method and approach and while it can get him out sometimes, this time he was the one who ensured that he kept the Indian bowlers at bay. Trott has the patience needed to stay on this wicket and it was their partnership that helped England recover from the early loss of the openers.
India had given a cap to the in-form Ravindra Jadeja and he showed that he has the golden arm, getting Trott to shoulder arms to a ball that came in with the arm. Jadeja hardly turns the ball, his strength being his accuracy but when he does get it to grip, he becomes a different bowler because he is quick through the air and does not give the batsmen the opportunity to advance down the pitch. He struck again when Pietersen, after being kept quiet, got impatient and went for a lofted drive. Pietersen did not get close enough to the ball and Pragyan Ojha took a terrific low catch.
It was at this stage that a wicketkeeper came in to thwart India again. Matt Prior has batted tremendously in this series and his contribution to England’s wins has probably not got the kudos it deserves simply because Cook, Pietersen, Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann have cornered the headlines — but it is both in front as well as behind the wickets that he has been a thorn in the Indian side’s flesh. If India had got through after the fall of Pietersen’s wicket, then they could have had England on the ropes but Prior helped debutant Joe Root settle down and their unbroken partnership has given England breathing space. Root was impressive too as he batted with great common sense and showed no nerves whatsoever in his first Test.
India need to ensure that the last five wickets are taken quickly — otherwise this game will also slip from their grasp for batting fourth on this wicket is not going to be a pleasant prospect at all.
- Professional Management Group