There were two stars on the first day of the second Test at Wankhede Stadium on Friday. One was Cheteswar Pujara (114 batting; 279b, 361m; 10x4) who put on an exemplary display of batting on a spinning track for India while the other was Monty Panesar (4 for 91), who gave a fine exhibition of spin bowling for England. Under the circumstances, on a day of fascinating tussle between bat and ball on a wicket which turned and bounced, India did well to post 266 for 6 in 90 overs with Pujara and Ravichandran Ashwin (60 batting; 84b, 112m, 9x4) unbeaten on a 97-run stand.
But England gave India a dose of their own medicine through 30-year-old Panesar. Ignored for the first Test, the tall spinner justified the faith reposed in him by putting India in a spot of trouble at 60 for 3 before the hosts retrieved their position.
Panesar, who imparts a lot of spin with his strong arms and long fingers, was spot on. He got purchase from the second over and tasted success in the third. He made the ball turn and bounce. He was full of energy and bowled marathon spells.
For India, it was all about Cheteshwar Pujara’s batting. For the third successive innings, he proved to be a thorn in England’s side. Unbeaten in both innings after playing two high quality innings (206 not out and 41 not out) at Ahmedabad, Pujara used his feet and the crease to pouch on loose deliveries as he cut, drove with panache to reach his 50 off 110 deliveries (5x4). There were three close calls, once his square cut nearly went into the point fielder’s hand while the second time, Jimmy Anderson failed to latch onto a sharp chance at second slip off Panesar when the batsman was on 62. Then when he was on 94, his heart skipped a bit as his pull off Swann deflected of the short leg fielder’s legs into the mid-fielder’s hands. But the replays saved him as it show that the ball hit the ground before going to mid-wicket.
Gautam Gambhir’s horrendous run with the bat continued. The left-hander flicked the first ball of the match for four and then played across to be leg before to Jimmy Anderson. Panesar was introduced into the attack in the seventh over. The left-arm spinner made his presence felt immediately by putting pressure on the Indian batsmen with his subtle variation.
In the space of two overs, Panesar dealt two big blows by dismissing Virender Sehwag (30) and Sachin Tendulkar (8). Playing in his 100th Test and coming off a brilliant century in the previous Test, Sehwag could not make it a memorable one as Panesar spoilt the party with a ball that crashed onto the leg stump. Tendulkar, who is woefully short of runs, was done in a by a beauty from Panesar. The icon has been bowled four times in his last five innings.
India rallied through Pujara and Virat Kohli with a 58-run stand before Panesar brought about the downfall of the latter. India then lost their fifth wicket in the next over when off-spinner Graeme Swann disturbed left-hander Yuvraj Singh’s stumps for nought. After bowling 23 overs, Panesar came from the pavilion end and scalped the wicket of Mahendra Singh Dhoni who edged to Swann at gully after the Indian skipper and Pujara had added 50 runs.
By the end of the day’s play, Ashwin yet again proved his worth as a batsman to share runs with Pujara. Ashwin, who scored a maiden century at this very ground last year against West Indies, was all elegance during his half-century knock.
The Indians sprang a surprise by including Harbhajan and playing three spinners. On Thursday, Dhoni said that the Punjab off-spinner had to wait. India went with Zaheer Khan as the lone seamer in the attack. As expected, left-arm spinner Panesar was brought in place of Tim Bresnan while Jonny Bairstow replaced Ian Bell, who has gone to England for the birth of his child.