India back in familiar way

India back in familiar way

Ben Stokes celebrates after dismissing Virat Kohli. Reuters

Over the last month and a half, the Indian batsmen have consistently struggled to break free from the shackles imposed on them by the relentless English pacers. The script was no different on Saturday evening as James Anderson and Co ran roughshod over them for the umpteenth time, leaving the hosts as favourites for completing a resounding 4-1 triumph.

After letting England, tottering at 198/7 overnight, run away in the morning session and post a hugely competitive 332 all out, the Indian batsmen fluffed their lines against some hostile bowling to be wobbling at 174/6 on day two of the fifth and final Test.

Just like the Indian bowlers who took a session to get into their groove on the opening day, the English pacers too took some time to assess the flat-bating conditions before finding their devastating lines and lengths to flatten the Indians. Stuart Broad sent back Shikhar Dhawan with his opening ball of the game but thereafter they weren’t penetrative enough.

It was partly because of K L Rahul’s audacious approach. Having been dismissed for plenty of cheap scores, Rahul decided the best way to resurrect himself was to hit his way out of trouble. He played shots that one would see him play only in limited overs — driving on the up, inside-out shots and pulls off bouncers. He flirted with danger repeatedly but survived to frustrate England.

At the other end, Cheteshwar Pujara batted in his usual watchful style. He played the ball really late, getting inside the line beautifully to carry on nicely from the ton he scored in the previous Test. Trusting his defences like he always does, he presented a dead-bat to almost all balls, signalling his intentions of first laying a strong foundation and then cashing on it. Things were going steady for India at that stage when Sam Curran, the man with the Midas touch, produced a peach from out of nowhere to dismiss Rahul. The left-armer’s ball initially appeared to be coming in but after pitching it changed trajectory, moving away to crash through the defences of a befuddled Rahul and knock the top of the off-stump. There was nothing much Rahul could have done to such a delivery and he just nodded his head in acknowledgement before walking off.

Having got the opening he was desperately seeking, England skipper Joe Root immediately handed over the red cherry to Anderson (2/20) and the swing master instantly made an impact. He set up skipper Virat Kohli brilliantly but the huge shout for LBW was turned down by umpire Kumar Dharmasena. Anderson was livid and rightly so.

He lost his cool temporarily at the end of that over but then breathed fire from the next over onwards. Ball after ball he kept landing it in that corridor of uncertainty as both Pujara and Kohli struggled to cope with the heat. Kohli was lucky, not just with the LBW appeal, but to play and miss a few. Pujara though had none of it when he poked at one and presented Jonny Bairstow with a simple catch.

In his very next over, Anderson got Ajinkya Rahane with a similar ball as India slumped to 103/4, leaving Kohli with the unenviable task of staging the rescue act once again. He did so briefly with debutante Hanuma Vihari but departed to Ben Stokes (2/44) after making a chancy 49, leaving the team staring at another defeat.

England have to thank birthday boy Jos Buttler (89) for taking them to a position of strength. His 98-run ninth-wicket stand with Broad looks like being the big difference maker, as India let slip the advantage in the morning.

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