England inch ahead as rain cuts into play

England fight their way to 237 for six

England inch ahead as rain cuts into play

On a cloudy Friday, the temperature never rose above 21 degrees Celsius and sun made only fleeting appearances at Old Trafford. Spectators remained cocooned in their sweaters, clutching on to umbrellas in anticipation of the predicted rain.

The drizzle first appeared at 2.10 pm local time, and five minutes later assumed big enough proportions for umpires to halt the proceedings in the post-lunch session. The battle on the field on the second day of the fourth Test too was as grim as the weather. Resuming from their overnight 113 for three, England reached 237 for six for a lead of 85 runs.

Perhaps, England were expecting to encounter a dispirited Indian side. After all, they were rolled over for a paltry 152 in their first innings. As it transpired, the Indians were anything but disheartened. In fact, they were in a mood for a scrap. In the prevailing conditions, skipper MS Dhoni was always going to use his pacers more, and they didn’t disappoint either.

Bhuvneshwar Kumar jagged the ball around. Varun Aaron was pacy. Pankaj Singh ran in relentlessly and purchased good bounce, and he could have had his maiden Test wicket but for slices of misfortune. The Indians won the first hour of the morning session quite comfortably, plucking Chris Jordan and Ian Bell, who made a delightful 58.

Jordan, a handy lower-order batsman, looked in good touch and rattled up three quick fours to narrow the gap. But his pull off Bhuvneshwar didn’t have sufficient power and Aaron took an excellent tumbling catch at mid-wicket to give India the first wicket of the morning.

Bell fell two overs later to Bhuvneshwar. The Uttar Pradesh medium pacer bowled a delivery perfectly in the channel outside the off-stump, and Bell nibbled it with disastrous consequences, a simple catch to Dhoni behind the stumps. At 140 for five, England were still trailing and they needed some steadiness.

Joe Root and Moeen Ali stalled the Indian charge for a while, albeit in contrasting ways. Root was very composed, seldom allowing the pressure of the situation to get to him. At the other end, Ali looked edgy. The left-hander was put through a severe test by Bhuvneshwar and Aaron, and the latter set him up nicely towards the end of the first session.

Aaron pinged Ali’s right arm with a bouncer, softening him up a bit, and followed it up with a quick inswinger. Ali played all over it in his anxiety to get off the strike, and the Birmingham man heard the sickening clatter of wood.

At 170 for six and just 18 runs head, England were far from safety zone.

In walked Jos Buttler, who had made his Test debut at the Ageas Bowl a week ago. At Southampton, he came to the crease when the home side was in a dominant position – 420 for five – and the Indians were going through the motions.

But here the Indian bowlers were on top of their game and needed careful handling. The English pair did that without much trouble, and they also nullified India’s spin duo – R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja – effectively. Root and Buttler were more proactive in the second session, scoring 36 runs off nine overs possible before rain intervened.

Root, who was patient in the first session, opened up a bit more. The Yorkshire man’s square cut off Pankaj and a delicate late cut off Jadeja were from the top draw. The seventh wicket alliance so far has added 67 runs, keeping England ahead.

England have some more useful batsmen in the dressing room, and they will be looking to pull further ahead of India. Of course, the weather permitting.

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