England flay Indian attack

England flay Indian attack

Ballance, Bell bat hosts into a position of strength against listless bowling

England flay Indian attack

The game was drifting away from India fast. Gary Ballance and Ian Bell were amassing runs at a rate more suited to a one-day game and the Indian bowlers were looking completely listless. They needed a spark to come back into the game.

A passive spectator to the carnage around him, Indian skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni came up with a rather surprising tactic in the post-lunch session of the second day of the third Test. Dhoni played a little game of Russian Roulette with his bowlers, giving one-over spell to his bowlers from over 120 to 134.

The merry-go round continued till he broke the unusual sequence in the 135th over, giving Ravindra Jadeja a second over in a row. But among the rush of following the bowling changes, some would have missed the fact that India managed to bring down England’s run-rate in the second session to 2.8 in that period from a whopping 3.9 of the first session. They also managed to dislodge Joe Root and Moeen Ali in that period.

However, it remained a fanciful strategy because England had by then laid the foundation for their formidable tea time score of 452 for five, also marching into a position from where they can dictate the course of this Test match at the Ageas Bowl.

Before Dhoni came up with his unusual ploy, England had moved ahead like a steam engine, courtesy fluent innings from Ballance and Bell, who added 142 for the third wicket in 245 balls. Ballance started from where he left the previous day, and if anything, he looked more positive.

Bell too looked equally comfortable as none of the Indian bowlers looked capable of troubling them, evident from the less number of edges. Of course, there was a bit of assistance for the bowlers in the form of bounce and movement, but for the second straight day the Indians failed to find the right areas.

Bell and Ballance, who made a fine 156, were more than happy to oblige. Bhuvenshwar Kumar and Mohammad Shami offered width and the English batsmen cut and drove with glee, while Pankaj Singh, impressive in his first spell, too lost his discipline as the hosts added 54 in the first hour and 57 in the second hour before lunch.

It could have been a perfect session for them but umpire Rod Tucker spoiled it with a howler. Part-time off-spinner Rohit Sharma managed to rip one past the down-coming bat of Ballance, and the ball nestled in Dhoni’s gloves after taking a deflection off his trousers, but Tucker relented after India’s prolonged appeal. Then came that phase when Dhoni tried to slow things down and inject frustration in England batsmen.

Dhoni, indeed, managed to rein in the run-rate and pluck two wickets, both went to Bhuvneshwar, in that 15-over period when he effected constant bowling changes from both the ends. But the plan soon came unstuck as Bell exploded without warning. Just like his skipper Alastair Cook, the right-hander has been struggling for runs all along this English summer.

Once he found his range, there was no stopping Bell. Pacers were cut, glanced and drove at will, and Dhoni employed left-arm spinner Jadeja to shackle him. That had little effect on the Warwickshire batsman as he skimmed down the track and lofted him over the straight boundary for a six. Soon, Bell brought up his 21st Test hundred with a thunderous six over the long-on fence off Jadeja and then celebrated the landmark with two more fours and six in successive balls.

Indians would have added another wicket to their kitty, but the replays showed clearly that debutant Jos Buttler’s edge off Bhuvenshwar was bounced off the grass before Rahane grabbed it. But India were more active in the second session, clamping the scoring rate and plucking two wickets. But that was not sufficient to take the edge away from England.

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