Different venue, shame result

Different venue, shame result

Skipper Dhoni the lone saving grace as batsmen come a cropper on day one of the final Test.

Indian batsmen enacted their own version of Independence Day parade on a gloomy Friday at the Oval, a more dreadful one at that.

The first day’s play started 30 minutes behind the schedule due to morning showers and wet patches on the outfield. England skipper Alastair Cook didn’t have any hesitancy in opting to field first, and India needed a strong start to keep the hosts on the back foot.

But the Indian top-order caved in meekly in the first session itself, going to lunch at 43 for five that soon spiraled into 125 for nine at tea during the fifth Test with only skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni standing tall with a fifty (65 batting). The procession started with the dismissal of Gautam Gambhir in the very first over of the day.

Gambhir initially wanted to play a James Anderson delivery that had a bit of extra bounce, but then changed his mind and tried to leave the ball. However, he was a trifle late in withdrawing his bat as the ball took a healthy edge en route to Jos Buttler behind the stumps.

However, the biggest disappointments of the first session would be Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli. Their collective failure to notch up a big score has badly hindered India’s progress in this series, and this day their struggles reached a whole new level.

Pujara played and missed several times not even once managing to move feet well and cover the swing. Stuart Broad eventually ended his misery with a delivery that jagged back and rattled his timber. Kohli was expected to be India’s leading light, but Anderson never allowed him to be.

After nine innings his average is 12.50, projecting the sorry tale of the hardships of a brilliant batsman. Here, the Delhiite gave a glimpse of his elegant side, a well-timed cover drive off his tormentor Anderson. It was one of the rare instances when the England pace spearhead erred in line and length.

But it remained just an isolated spark. Kohli decided to offer no shot to a delivery from Chris Jordan that moved back just enough to brush his pads. Umpire Kumar Dharmasena lifted that dreaded finger after a prolonged thought, leaving Kohli disappointed. On another day, the umpire would have ruled that not out but even luck has turned against Kohli these days.

M Vijay looked as solid as ever, leaving anything remotely dangerous outside the off-stump. He has been India’s best batsman by some distance in this series, and reached a richly deserved milestone. Vijay turned Chris Woakes to fine leg for a single to amass his 400th run of the series. There was a bit of enthusiasm in the Indian balcony when the scoreboard flashed that feat, but it soon died out.
A lovely delivery from Woakes that pitched on the middle stump and curled away took the edge of his bat to Joe Root at gully, and Vijay walked off with a shake of his head.

Ajinkya Rahane had started this series on a bright note and his hundred at Lord’s was the cornerstone of India’s famous victory. But now those heady days have faded – of India’s and his. Jordan deceived him with a slower ball, and Rahane’s attempt to reach out for the ball resulted only in a tame return catch.

It, perhaps, was the biggest gain for England despite Broad’s return to the field with a face resembling that of a boxer who has suffered a knockout. Both Woakes and Jordan had paled in comparison with their senior pace colleagues, giving the home attack the feel of a two-horse chariot. But here, they discovered the line and length, allowing the batsmen no breathing space.

India wouldn’t even have crossed even hundred but for Dhoni’s meaty shots. By his own admission, Dhoni has one of the most ugly techniques in Tests. But he more than compensated for his shortcoming with a desire to fight but unfortunately there were no takers for his ways.

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