England poised to hammer final nail
Ashwin pushes the game to last day with 83 not out
Once the Indian bowlers winkled out the remaining four England batsmen in 4.3 overs in the morning, and restricted England’s lead to 207, the home side had genuine chances of fighting for a draw in the third Test. England were bowled out for 523 in their first innings, but India ended the fourth day at 239 for nine, just 32 runs ahead.
Their outing was all the more appalling because Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir showed during their 86-run opening stand that the Eden Gardens pitch was not housing any demons in it. The Delhi duo was quite comfortable in the middle against all England bowlers, and there wasn’t much hint of reverse swing at that time. More significantly, the England fielders were at their generous best offering a let-off each to Sehwag and Gambhir in the early stages of their innings.
Standing at first and second slip respectively, Swann and Alastair Cook couldn’t decide between themselves who would go for a Sehwag edge off James Anderson. Ian Bell couldn’t hold onto a thick edge by Gambhir off Monty Panesar at forward short leg.
Going into the lunch at 86 for no loss in 21 overs, and fortune seemingly smiling on them, one would have expected the Indians to mount a serious fightback. How wrong we were in our thoughts!
There wasn’t any expected firefighting as the Indians set their own house on fire with some senseless batting. In the manic post-lunch session, India lost six wickets for 59 runs in 30 overs.
Admittedly, the England bowlers, especially James Anderson and Steven Finn, had regained their rhythm, generating reverse swing at high speed. Monty Panesar and Swann kept the pressure from their ends but still India had no business of collapsing like a rotten tree in storm.
Once Sehwag fell to Swann, some kind of deathly fear seemed to have gripped the rest of the batsmen. Cheteshwer Pujara, Gautam Gambhir, Sachin Tendulkar, Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh and MS Dhoni looked they could get out any moment, appearing in a state of panic and completely helpless to arrest the slide.
Till then, the pitch looked as flat as a runway but it began to show life. Hold on! It wasn’t about the 22-yard strip alone. It was merely a reflection of the skill level of the English bowlers, and the extreme effort they had put in to squeeze the life of the surface.
They were superb on the field in patches as well, atoning for the few lapses they made. Bell made a brilliant direct hit to oust Pujara, and with the dismissal of the Saurashtra lad India also lost a batsman who could have stuck around for a long time.
At 159 for eight, and a good part of the last session remaining the end was imminent for India. But Ashwin (83 n.o., 151b, 13x4), first in the company of Ishant Sharma, and then with Pragyan Ojha, added 80 runs for the ninth and last wicket associations to stave off the inevitable for another day.
It might have been a really painful – if not downright embarrassing – experience for their predecessors to sit in the dressing room and watch the way the aforementioned trio batted.
They weren’t the best suited to face the fired-up English bowlers, but they showed courage to stay at the crease, take a few blows and help India avoid the ignominy of an innings defeat. But the result, in all likelihood, is just a formality on Sunday.
Now, India have to pray for a miracle of jumbo size or full day of thunder showers in Kolkata. But in all honesty, they deserve neither.
INDIA (I Innings): 316 all out
England (I Innings, O/n: 509/6):
Cook (run out) 190
(492m, 377b, 23x4, 2x6)
Compton lbw Ojha 57
(214m, 137b, 6x4, 1x6)
Trott c Dhoni b Ojha 87
(242m, 223b, 10x4)
Pietersen lbw Ashwin 54
(95m, 85b, 9x4, 1x6)
Bell c Dhoni b Ishant 5
Samit c Sehwag b Ojha 33
(63m, 47b, 5x4)
Prior c Dhoni b Zaheer 41
(86m, 46b, 6x4, 1x6)
Swann c Sehwag b Ojha 21
(51m, 46b, 3x4)
Finn (not out) 4
(15m, 13b, 1x4)
Anderson c Sehwag b Ashwin 9
(12m, 9b, 1x4)
Panesar lbw Ashwin 0
Extras (B-13, LB-4, NB-5) 22
Total (all out, 167.3 overs) 523
Fall of wickets: 1-165 (Compton), 2-338 (Trott), 3-359 (Cook), 4-395 (Bell), 5-420 (Pietersen), 6-453 (Samit), 7-510 (Swann), 8-510 (Prior), 9-523 (Anderson).
Bowling: Zaheer: 31-6-94-1, Ishant 29-8-78-1 (nb-5), Ashwin 52.3-9-183-3, Ojha 52-10-142-4, Yuvraj Singh 3-1-9-0.
INDIA (II Innings)
Gambhir c Prior b Finn 40
(126m, 104b, 4x4, 1x6)
Sehwag b Swann 49
(84m, 57b, 7x4)
Pujara (run out) 8
(30m, 22b, 2x4)
Tendulkar c Trott b Swann 5
(17m, 6b, 1x4)
Kohli c Prior b Finn 20
(85m, 60b, 3x4)
Yuvraj b Anderson 11
(21m, 17b, 2x4)
Dhoni c Cook b Anderson 0
Ashwin (batting) 83
(176m, 151b, 13x4)
Zaheer lbw Finn 0
Ishant b Panesar 10
(75m, 53b, 2x4)
Ojha (batting) 3
Extras (B-8, LB-2) 10
Total (for 9 wkts, 83 overs) 239
Fall of wickets: 1-86 (Sehwag), 2-98 (Pujara), 3-103 (Gambhir), 4-107 (Tendulkar), 5-122 (Yuvraj), 6-122 (Dhoni), 7-155 (Kohli), 8-159 (Zaheer), 9-197 (Ishant).
Bowling: Anderson 15-4-38-2, Finn 17-6-37-3, Panesar 22-1-75-1, Swann 28-9-70-2, Patel 1-0-9-0.