India's core crumbles at Chennai
Graeme Swann experienced a whirlwind introduction to Test cricket, cutting a swathe through India’s much-vaunted batting order on an exciting second day at Chennai.
Called into the attack for a cursory over prior to tea, the off-spinner removed Gautam Gambhir and Rahul Dravid, leaving India reeling at 37 for three.
The home side crawled to 155 for six by close of play, a deficit of 161.
With Swann and fellow spinner Monty Panesar both causing India problems, England can be optimistic of their prospects come India’s second innings.
At the start of the day, it was India’s spinners who lorded over the England batsmen, dismissing the tourists for 316, an addition of just 87 from their overnight score.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni was expected to opt for the new ball, but he chose to persevere with the original cherry for 128.4 overs, entrusting spinners Harbhajan Singh (3-96), Amit Mishra (3-99) and Yuvraj Singh (1-33).
Fifty-three of England's runs came from the bat of Matt Prior, who impressed on his recall to the Test side 12 months after his poor showing with the gloves at Galle.
Andrew Flintoff was fortunate to survive the third ball of the day from Ishant Sharma, which appeared to be going on to hit leg stump.
But Mishra needed just five deliveries to remove Flintoff for 18, caught at short-leg by Gambhir.
Prior’s fifth Test half-century was marked by his calmness against India’s spinners, content to guide the ball behind square and rotate the strike.
He hit just a solitary four, a slog-sweep off Harbhajan, but he had little choice with wickets falling regularly at the other end.
The closest Prior came to a meaningful partnership was a seventh-wicket stand of 42 with nightwatchman James Anderson, who faced 82 balls for his hard-fought 19.
Anderson was reprieved by Dravid at first slip, but eventually holed out to Yuvraj, deceived by a flatter ball from Mishra.
Swann’s debut innings lasted just six balls, fencing a spitting delivery from Harbhajan to Dravid for one.
Steve Harmison (six) hung around long enough to help England past 300 before he feathered a catch to Dhoni standing up, off Yuvraj.
Instead of hitting out, Prior chose to put faith in Panesar (six), and the Sussex wicketkeeper was able to complete his fifty, from 96 balls.
Panesar was last out, lbw to a reverse-swinging ball from Sharma.
When India replied, Anderson gave a glimpse of the successes to come, inducing Virender Sehwag to chop onto his stumps for nine.
Summoned by Kevin Pietersen with India 30 for one, Swann’s first over in Test cricket left India with a huge repair job at 37 for three going to tea.
The Nottinghamshire all-rounder dropped short with his first ball and was cut for four by Gambhir.
His second ball saw a vociferous appeal for a catch at short-leg, which umpire Daryl Harper denied.
But Swann had his man third time around, when Gambhir offered no shot and was struck just outside the line. Harper upheld Swann’s appeal for leg-before and the opener departed for 19.
Rahul Dravid followed to Swann’s sixth delivery, hit on the front pad and sent back lbw somewhat contentiously.
It mattered little - Swann became the first England player since Richard Johnson in 2003 to take two wickets in his first six balls in Test cricket.
Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman responded with beautiful strokeplay in a partnership of 61, before perishing in similar fashion.
Tendulkar greeted the evening session by clubbing Swann for six. In the process he became the second India player, after Sunil Gavaskar, to score 2,000 Test runs against England.
Laxman was all wrists, easing Swann through midwicket for a sumptuous boundary.
But Laxman’s attitude was his downfall - when on 24 he tried to hit Panesar straight down the ground but offered a return catch, which the spinner took well.
Tendulkar fell for 37 in the very next over - checking a drive straight into the grateful hands of bowler Flintoff.
Yuvraj and Dhoni looked likely to engineer a recovery in the face of fierce bowling from Flintoff. But their stand of 35 ended when Yuvraj drove loosely at Harmison and offered Flintoff a straightforward slip catch.
India were grateful to see stumps, with Dhoni 24 not out, and Harbhajan unbeaten on 13.