Whether or not Alastair Cook’s masterly hundred against India in the first Test would eventually avert an English defeat, it prevented England from the embarrassing possibility of an innings defeat. Thus, they erased their first-innings deficit and ended the fourth day at 340 for 5 with a slender 10-run lead.
The undefeated knock (168, 341b), even in isolation has a gallant grandiose about it. This was a masterclass on rearguard batting, when one’s sole concern is the clock. There was a time when he hung fractionally inside the line and nicked to slip, but no longer. His defence is straight and certain, his judgment outside off-stump impeccable, his capacity to play the ball late unrivalled by any of his compatriots and his strokes, though not classically elegant have crunchiness about them.
For most part of his 505-minute stay at the crease, his bat was a barn door. However, he latched onto every rope-fetching opportunity, hitting as many as 20 boundaries, severe to anything shot on either side of the wicket.
Remarkably, on a day when the spinners were expected to pose threat, Zaheer Khan and Umesh Yadav exemplified the virtues of persistence. Zaheer varied his line, and the line of attack, coming from around the wicket and both wide of the crease and close to the stumps. He used the crease to optimum effect, and probed nearly every possible angle.
His dislodging of Nick Compton illustrated a heightened know-how of his craft. First, he smoothened him up from round the wicket — taking the ball slightly away at times while the stock delivery moved in with the angle. He followed it up by reverting back to over the wicket and made one to hold the line after landing on the leg-stump, ending his 128-ball vigil and giving India their first wicket of the day.
Subsequently, India got rid of Jonathan Trott and Kevin Pietersen before lunch, both perishing to Pragyan Ojha, who made an immediate impact upon switching ends.
Pietersen, after convincingly defending him on the front-foot, played down the wrong line, premeditating a sweep, a risk-fraught prospect against a left-arm spinner even on truer tracks. The inward drift deceived him and the ball clipped his off-bail.
More than Ravichandran Ashwin, Ojha troubled England. Though he couldn’t procure the bite as on Saturday, he tested them ever so often.
After England added 39 more runs, Dhoni introduced Umesh Yadav, who jettisoned Ian Bell and Samit Patel in succession in his first over of the spell. With the ball offering a hint of reverse swing, he paid the dividends of keeping the ball full at top pace. Bell was pinged to the back foot and the fuller ball caught him on the leg. Patel, second time on succession, was wrongly adjudged leg before.
At the juncture, the prospects of a fourth day slip-up hovered over them like the kites over the stadium. But Cook found a likeminded ally in Matt Prior and together anchored them with an undefeated stand of 141 runs. Prior wasn’t always convincing, but England hadn’t a better dealer of adversity than their wicketkeeper, unbeaten with a cut-laden 84.