Immovable Strauss dominates India
The remarkable application of Andrew Strauss batted England into a winning position in the first Test against India at Chennai.
Strauss, with 73 today to complement his first-innings 123, is tantalisingly close to becoming the second England batsman to score twin hundreds in a Test against India, after Graham Gooch at Lord’s in 1990.
In a 129-run partnership for the fourth wicket with Paul Collingwood (60 not out), Strauss guided England to 172 for three in their second innings, a lead of 247 with two days remaining.
India would have to break records to salvage an unlikely victory. The highest winning total at the MA Chidambaram Stadium, is 155 for eight, made by India against Australia in 2000/01.
Strauss offered one chance, a thick outside egde to Mahendra Singh Dhoni standing up, when 15.
The Middlesex left-hander again made extravagant use of the sweep from outside off stump to India’s two frontline spinners, Harbhajan Singh and Amit Mishra.
Dhoni, the India captain, endured ankle problems while batting. He then had to contend with heavy reverse swing from India’s pace bowlers when keeping wicket.
Earlier, England had taken a first-innings lead of 75 runs after dismissing the home side for 241 four balls after lunch.
Andrew Flintoff (3-49) and Monty Panesar (3-65) shared four wickets between them on the third day as the tourists ran through India after initial waywardness.
Dhoni (53) and Harbhajan (40) had frustrated England in the first hour, putting on 75 runs for the seventh wicket.
Harbhajan reverse-swept Panesar just over the head of Collingwood at gully. He also slashed Steve Harmison over slip, before cutting accurately through point.
The partnership ended when Harbhajan offered Ian Bell a regulation catch under the helmet off Panesar.
Dhoni lost Zaheer Khan (one) soon after, trapped lbw on the back foot by Flintoff.
After such a responsible innings, it was puzzling to see Dhoni throw away his wicket attempting to hit Panesar over the top.
That was vindication of good captaincy by Pietersen, who had positioned himself at deep mid-off in anticipation of his opposite number hitting out.
Mishra and Ishant Sharma saw India safely through to the break with a gutsy last-wicket stand of 22.
But India’s innings lasted just four balls into the afternoon, when Mishra (12) was bowled by Flintoff.
England’s openers were circumspect in putting on 28, before Alastair Cook’s dismissal triggered a mini-collapse to 43 for three.
Sharma had struggled with no-balls in his opening four overs, but persevered around the wicket and induced a feather from Cook (nine).
As expected, Dhoni turned to Mishra, and he struck in his third over, enticing Bell (seven) to prop forward and glove to short-leg.
Dhoni then dealt a masterstroke. Instead of returning to Zaheer or bringing on Harbhajan, he introduced Yuvraj Singh.
And with his first ball the left-arm spinner had Kevin Pietersen (one) lbw on the front foot, missing the ball that goes straight on.
Mishra almost had a second wicket when Collingwood played gingerly and chopped the ball just over mid-off.
Collingwood’s next scoring shot was more convincing - lofted straight down the ground for four.
The Durham batsman grew in confidence, coming down the track to Mishra and cover-driving Sharma with poise.
India appeared resigned to their position as England dug in late on, though Collingwood did survive an appeal for lbw by Mishra from the final ball of the day.
Disappointingly, it was a day marred by slow over rates. When the clock ticked round to 16.30pm, the scheduled close of play, there were still 17 of the day’s alotted overs to be bowled.