England battle to avoid defeat

England battle to avoid defeat

Visitors make strong reply in second knock after slipping to Ojhas spin in first

England battle to avoid defeat

England had put in place extensive plans to counter India’s spinners coming into this series. But none came handy as they succumbed precisely to that old failing.

Overnight 41 for three and trailing by 482 runs, England had a massive task on hand. But they could manage only 191 all out in their first innings to concede a 330-run lead. Left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha was the chief destroyer, grabbing five wickets. Following on, the visitors were 111 for no loss at close on the third day at the Sardar Patel Gujarat Stadium here, still behind by 219 runs.

Indian skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni started the day’s proceedings with spinners — R Ashwin and Ojha — from both ends, holding back seamers Zaheer Khan and Umesh Yadav for a prolonged period – a clever strategy considering the shakiness England batsmen showed on Friday evening. The spinners did their job but the English batsmen contributed in large measure to their downfall in the first innings.

The happenings of the previous evening, especially Ashwin’s delivery to dismiss Jonathan Trott, seemed to be playing on the English minds. It was quite evident that they were playing the pitch rather than the ball, looking for sharp turn, when actually there wasn’t any non-negotiable spin.

England’s chances of staying alive in the match rested entirely on skipper Alistair Cook and Kevin Pietersen. Cook looked assured for most part of his innings, but Pietersen’s knock was a bizarre one. Using one’s feet against spin could be a good strategy on such pitches, but it can’t be reduced to the levels of Quixotic charges, and Pietersen was guilty of just that. There was a wristy flick to mid-wicket indicating his abilities against spin, but that remained an insignificant footnote in his edgy innings of 17.

The English batsmen, Pietersen in particular, haven’t done well against left-arm spin recently as their struggles against Pakistan’s Abdur Rehman and Sri Lanka’s Rangana Herath would reveal. The struggle continued here as well against Ojha. Pietersen played for non-existent turn, with the red cherry rattling the timber.

Ian Bell, perhaps, played the most brainless shot of the morning. His attempt to loft Ojha out of the ground and establish his superiority over the bowler ended in the hands of Sachin Tendulkar at long on, when some more patience could have helped his and England’s case. At 69 for five, there wasn’t much scope for speculations about the fate of England in the first innings, something that was sealed with the dismissal of Cook, who edged Ashwin to Virender Sehwag at first slip.

There were a couple of partnerships that delayed the inevitable – 47 for the eighth wicket with Bresnan and Matt Prior, who along with Cook looked most comfortable against spinners, and a 43 for the ninth wicket between Prior and Stuart Broad. Prior, who was dropped on four by Zaheer at long leg off Ojha, added another 44 runs to his score before the left-arm spinner, most appropriately, brought an end to Prior’s and England’s innings, castling the wicketkeeper batsman. It took just 56.2 overs for India on the day to wrap up the first innings, and they couldn’t have been faulted for imagining another England capitulation.    

However, a much more confident England turned out in the second innings with skipper Cook leading the way with a determined unbeaten fifty, and from an England’s perspective, the stubbornness showed by Nick Compton too would be welcomed warmly.

The Indian bowlers, who looked so threatening a couple of hours ago, seemed to have lost their edge — perhaps a bit drained after an immense effort in the first innings. England might have negotiated the post-tea session without burns, but India still stand miles ahead of the visitors.

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