The first ball of the morning, Pragyan Ojha gave it an almighty tweak for it to bounce off the dusty surface to elude Kevin Pietersen’s defensive prod and the off-stump by a millimetre margin. The baffled grimace of Pietersen was as stark as Ojha’s disbelief. This set the tone for the lopsided contest that was to be between the craftsmanship of Indian spinners and the resilience of English batsmen — the decisive narrative of the series.
England’s anticipated succour — so much was made of their will to defy the spinners — was mostly unapparent, as Ojha, snapping five for 45, and Ravichandran Ashwin (three for 80) cut a swathe across English batting, forcing them to a first innings deficit of 330 runs. Following on, England fought back to end the third day at 111 for no loss.
It was as much as a prognosis of their deficient approach as the skilful expertise of the Indian spinners. On Saturday, Ojha was a venerable artist of an artistic art-form. An orthodox left-arm spinner, at the zenith of his powers, blending his variations with cricketing nous, is a joy to behold as any in cricket.
The Indian spinner was unplayable for most of the first session, tormenting and eventually dismissing their perceivably best batsman Kevin Pietersen. From the first ball he troubled him - beat him time and again, induced edges, deceived him in flight, denied him his favoured thrust through leg-side. Finally, after Dhoni let-off an improbable stumping on the leg-side, Ojha induced a moment of indecision in Pietersen, to rattle his middle-stump. Pietersen attempted a waddle from the crease but the ball didn’t turn as much as he expected. He was made to pay for his dicey footwork.
Next ball, he got rid of Bell, who masterminded his own dismissal. Probably in a bid to get out of Indian spinners’ shackles, he charged at Ojha and despite not reaching the ball went with his lofted drive, only to be pouched by Sachin Tendulkar at mid-off. One of his most productive shots, but unwarranted at this juncture.
England were further in disarray when their skipper Alistair Cook (41) edged to first slip soon after as he uncharacteristically attempted an expansive drive, but was sucked in by the extra spin Ashwin had imparted. But for Matt Prior (48), useful lower-order contributions and India’s generosity on the field, England’s plight could have been far worse.
Reprieved at three by Zaheer Khan off Ashwin — his intended mystery ball delivered with the wrist but ended up a full toss on leg — Prior battled along, not always with conviction but didn’t throw his wicket away before the eventuality of batting with the number XI prompted an ungainly risk. He was the last English wicket to fall in the first innings, as Ojha whittled out his fourth five-for.
Interestingly, for England’s rant that the strip was a graveyard for fast bowlers, both Zaheer Khan and Umesh Yadav bowled a lively spell with the ragged ball, producing noticeable reverse swing. Yadav made the ball to tail in sharply at pace while Zaheer swung it in both the ways. They took a wicket apiece, though both lbws looked doubtful.
England batted far more assuredly against a pack of fatigued bowlers in the second innings. Cook punished the loose balls to make a composed unbeaten 74.
Brief scores: India 521-8 decl vs England 191 (Cook 41, Prior 48, Broad 25, Ojha 5-45, Ashwin 3-80) & and 111-0 (Cook 74 no, Compton 34 no).
- Sunday Standard