India fight back but England still hold all the aces

Hosts establish a handy lead of 98 runs

India fight back but England still hold all the aces

First ball after lunch, Bhuvneshwar Kumar bustled in from the Pavilion End but the delivery pitched on Alastair Cook’s pads. The left-hander trickled it down to deep fine leg for a boundary.

It gave a real-time picture of the English batsmen’s ability to force the Indian bowlers to alter their line. The Indians, especially Varun Aaron, began the morning session, targeting the channel outside the off-stump.

But Cook and Gary Ballance were stubborn. They were not even remotely interested in playing those deliveries, prompting the Indian bowlers to adopt a line closer to the stumps. The Englishmen were waiting for that playable line and amassed runs at a good clip all day long, reaching 246 for five at tea on the second day of the fifth Test at the Oval on Saturday for an innings lead of 98 runs. 

The Indians did salvage some pride, plucking some wickets towards the end of the second session but England had already pulled ahead.

Resuming from their overnight 62 for no loss, England lost Sam Robson early. Robson failed to bring the bat down in time and Aaron’s 87.5mph delivery rattled his timber. From then on for a long time, they were reduced to mere sidekicks as Cook and Ballance added 125 runs for the second wicket.

Bhuvneshwar continued to bowl on the pads, giving the batsmen easy scoring chances. Ishant Sharma, who returned to the eleven after a leg injury forced him to sit out of the third and fourth Tests, looked rusty, failing to hit correct spots or crank up serious pace. Aaron was impressive, working up pace in the range of 90 mph and beating the bat quite often.

At times he too was guilty of sacrificing the line in the quest for that extra yard of pace. It was evident in his battle against Cook. Bowling from around the wicket, the Jharkhand pacer put Cook in trouble on a number of occasions with deliveries that swung into the batsman, forcing him to play. Cook was unsure in feet movement, often ending up at awkward positions.

But Aaron couldn’t sustain the pressure, releasing Cook of his burdens with occasional short-pitched deliveries that the left-hander pulled away with ease. Ballance too soon slipped into active mode and he had plenty of deliveries on his pads to cash in.

One he began to score predominantly through the leg-side, Ballance soon expanded his game to the offside as well, cutting and driving with ease. India made this period tougher for themselves with shoddy effort in the slips. Cook was dropped twice – on 65 and 70. Aaron found an edge with a ball that moved away slightly, but M Vijay dropped that chance at first slip. Ajinkya Rahane was the next in line, spilling another sitter off Ashwin at first slip.

Usually, a batsman of Cook patient disposition wouldn’t have let those reprieves go in vain. But he chose to test the slip catching skills of Indians, and this time Vijay held on to a low-catch engineered by Aaron’s movement. At 191 for two, England were in a massively advantageous position to push for a huge lead.

Since winning multiple sessions during the second Test at Lord’s, the Indian bowlers had vanished from the scene, succumbing to the unremitting pressure from the English batsmen. Here, too the scenario was not different but the Indian bowlers showed some spunk to open a small creek of opportunity for their team.

R Ashwin dismissed a well-set Ballance, Ishant exploited Ian Bell’s uncertainty outside the off-stump and Moeen Ali chopped Ashwin on to his stumps as England all of a sudden found themselves 229 for five. In that busy passage, the home side lost four wickets for 38 runs as India eme­rged winners of the second session.

Even that mini-victory wouldn’t be sufficient to mask India’s profligacy with the bat in their first innings and the general waywardness with the ball. They still have a mountain to climb.

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