Battling India face stiff task of saving game

England open up massive 237-run lead

Battling India face stiff task of saving game

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 offered the story of the day in a nutshell: 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 (79) and Garry Ballance (64) 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 385 for seven at close on the second day of the fifth Test at The Oval on Saturday for an innings lead of 237 runs.

Indians managed to pluck some wickets towards the end of the second session and in the final session. But an 80-run stand between a classy Joe Root (92 n.o.) and Jos Buttler (45) for the sixth wicket stalled India’s attempt to gain some lost ground, pulling England further away from the visitors.

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 87.5 mph 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 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 pace in the range of 90 mph and beating the bat 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 of his 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 with ease. Ballance too soon slipped into active mode and he had plenty of deliveries on his pads to cash in.

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 at slips. Cook was dropped twice -- on 65 and 70.

Aaron found an edge with a ball that moved away slightly, but M Vijay shelled that chance at first slip. Ajinkya Rahane was next line, spilling a sitter off Ashwin at first slip.

Usually, a batsman of Cook’s 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 chance 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 the Lord’s, the Indian bowlers have vanished from the scene, succumbing to the unremitting pressure from English batsmen. Here, too the scenario was not different but the Indian bowlers showed some spunk to open a small creek of opportunity.

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

But soon the joy evaporated. Root first with Buttler and then with Chris Jordan, with whom the Yorkshire lad added 67 runs off just 62 balls, to mash the spirit of the Indians.

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