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England wrest initiative

G Unnikrishnan, Kolkata, Dec 5, 2012, DHNS:

Cricket Third Test: Tendulkar regains touch with battling 76 but Cook and Co stay in control

Gautam Gambhir is greeted by Sachin Tendulkar on completing his half century during 3rd India-England cricket test match at Eden Garden in Kolkata on Wednesday. PTI

Confidence was seeping back into Sachin Tendulkar’s game, evidenced by an assortment of crunchy drives and delicate paddle sweeps. But then came the moment that defined the day.

Steaming in from the High Court end, Steven Finn fired in a bouncer in the first ball of the 43rd over, and Tendulkar struggled massively before keeping the ball away. The sight carried the essence of the first day of the third Test -- England bowlers’ strong-willed effort and the hardships Indian batsmen had to go through to reach 273 for seven at close.

Indian skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni rightly elected to bat after winning his third straight toss, but what followed was certainly not in his mind. It was clear from the beginning that English bowlers would have a long, hard day in the park. But the toughness of the task didn’t hamper their approach or spirit; instead it seemed to have made them all the more determined.

Still, as long as Virender Sehwag was in the middle everything seemed to be in a perfect world, the hallmark of Sehwag brand of batsmanship. Runs flowed in at almost five runs per over, but Gautam Gambhir’s reluctance for a third run resulted in Sehwag’s run out, and a different game unfolded thereafter.

James Anderson and Finn discovered an extra yard of pace and troublesome reverse swing, while spinners Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann were parsimonious, barely allowing the Indians the breathing space they were looking for. Just when the Indians began the process of building a partnership, England bowlers were able to up the intensity to purchase a breakthrough.

Cheteshwer Pujara, the man in red-hot form, and Gautam Gambhir, who has been struggling for big runs, engaged in a 41-run stand for the second wicket, and at that stage nothing suggested the upcoming danger. Panesar produced a penetrative arm ball from nowhere to castle Pujara, and it set the tone for the rest of the day, Englishmen striking at the most opportune times.

Absorbing day

But it wasn’t that India were left without their own moments on an absorbing day of Test cricket at the Eden Gardens. As many would have liked and dreamt, they were constructed by Tendulkar (76, 155b, 13x4). It certainly wasn’t the fluent innings he has played, but en route his fifty, first since his half-century at Sydney earlier this year, the master batsman gave enough hints of regaining his range.

Gambhir, who made a valiant 60, showed the providence to shield Tendulkar from Anderson, his nemesis in this England line-up, for four overs, and that settled down the Mumbaikar a bit. The first sign of authority came when he drove Finn crisply to mid-on for a boundary, and after that a familiar Tendulkar emerged.

After the dismissals of Gambhir and Virat Kohli to Panesar and Anderson respectively, Tendulkar blossomed in the company of Yuvraj Singh. The Punjab left-hander, who is in need of some runs, came out with a positive mindset, attacking the spinners. Two drives – through point and past the bowler – off Swann, and a six off Panesar over the sightscreen was good enough indication of his attempts to conquer the gremlins in his mind against spin.

By far, it was the best phase of Indian innings; Yuvraj and Tendulkar showing a lot of
intent as India ended the second session on a relatively satisfactory note at 172 for four. There was a bright opportunity for India to extend their hold over England with a punchy effort in the last session. However, Yuvraj’s momentary casualness gave England the footing they were searching for.

Yuvraj drove Swann away from his body and Alastair Cook at covers held on to the chance, breaking the 79-run alliance. Anderson soon stunned the large number of Indian supporters at the Eden, inducing an edge from Tendulkar for Matt Prior to complete a low, diving catch behind the stumps.

The England pace spearhead soon jettisoned R Ashwin as Englishmen walked back with smiles to the dressing room. Indians will, now, need to recapture a lot of lost ground on day two, a tough job but not impossible.

score board

INDIA (I Innings):

Gambhir c Trott b Panesar    60
(169m, 124b, 12x4)
Sehwag (run out)    23
(45m, 26b, 3x4)
Pujara b Panesar    16
(58m, 48b, 2x4)
Tendulkar c Prior b Anderson    76
(202m, 155b, 13x4)
Kohli c Swann b Anderson    6
(31m, 24b, 1x4)
Yuvraj c Cook b Swann    32
(77m, 54b, 4x4, 1x6)
Dhoni (batting)    22
(71m, 59b, 2x4)
Ashwin b Anderson    21
(59m, 43b, 2x4)
Zaheer (batting)    0
(7m, 8b)

Extras (B-5, LB-11, NB-1)    17
Total (for 7 wkts, 90 overs)    273

Fall of wickets: 1-47 (Sehwag), 2-88 (Pujara), 3-117 (Gambhir), 4-136 (Kohli), 5-215 (Yuvraj), 6-230 (Tendulkar), 7-268 (Ashwin).

Bowling: Anderson 21-5-68-3, Finn 20-2-69-0 (nb-1), Panesar 35-11-74-2, Swann 14-1-46-1.


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