A new angle on an old script
Posted in England in India 2008
Test matches in the sub-continent often follow a familiar pattern.
Those who have watched the game in this part of the world will recognise the long periods when nothing seems to be happening other than batsmen harvesting runs for fun.
The same observers will also be aware that such spells are often interspersed with bursts of activity, when wickets that seemed impossible to find suddenly begin falling like the Bank of England interest rate.
An exaggerated version of that theme was in evidence at Mohali today, when England, having gone the best part of four sessions without success, gorged themselves to the tune of nine wickets in less than two.
An afternoon session that yielded four precious top-order wickets, three of which fell to Graeme Swann, was followed by an Andrew Flintoff-inspired evening burst that ended with India being bowled out for 453.
One is tempted to prefix their first-innings total with the word ‘just’, such was the scale of England’s recovery, but that would overlook the commanding position India still find themselves in heading into the third day’s play.
Despite the fact they lost their last nine wickets for just 133 runs and can still be classed as favourites was almost exclusively due to the efforts of Gautam Gambhir and Rahul Dravid, whose partnership of 314 for the second wicket dwarfed the next highest stand of 40 between Yuvraj Singh and Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
Gambhir and Dravid, who kept England at bay for 70 overs yesterday, did likewise for almost 38 today.
There was an element of repetitiveness to the early passages of play as the batsmen weathered disciplined spells from Flintoff and Stuart Broad, began to pick off the loose deliveries as Kevin Pietersen rotated his bowlers, and worked the ball into the gaps for plentiful singles.
Interestingly, Dravid, having struggled so openly yesterday following a poor run of form, was the more fluent of the two, with Gambhir’s eagerness to take to the attack to England, and particularly the spinners, eventually bringing about his downfall.
It would be churlish to apportion blame to a man with 179 runs to his name, especially given the role he has played at the top of the order for India in recent months.
Yet if England somehow pull off a remarkable victory at the PCA Stadium, the moment that Gambhir charged recklessly at Swann and edged a wild drive to backward point will surely not be allowed to pass without mention.
It was the first of three wickets in rapid succession for Swann, the off-spinner rewarded further for his willingness to toss the ball up when he induced a similar stroke from Dravid and an uncharacteristically risky paddle-sweep from Sachin Tendulkar that hit him in line with off stump.
Swann may have attributed England’s fatalistic sense of humour to their lunchtime revival, but he also deserves immense credit for setting in motion a recovery that not kept their interest - and the spectators’ - in the series alive.
Thanks to the efforts of Swann, the indefatigable Flintoff and a more confident Monty Panesar, the prospect of India batting on into the third day was eliminated, and England will begin their reply tomorrow harbouring hopes of establishing a first-innings lead.
Victory still appears a tall order, and Pietersen and company will be acutely aware that there is little margin for error with the bat, and then with the ball, if they are to pull off the unexpected.
That the tourists, trailing 1-0 in the series, must force the pace opens up the possibility that Pietersen may declare in arrears, in the hope that England can bowl India out cheaply second time around and chase down a fourth-innings target.
It remains a subject of conjecture at the moment - and the loss of early wickets tomorrow will quickly render such talk redundant - but the fact that the thought may have crossed Pietersen’s mind at all speaks volumes for the progress made by England this afternoon.