Among the greater virtues in life is learning from your mistakes. It helps you to become a better person and much more importantly in some eyes it helps you to play spin bowling in Asia.
England have taken most of the year – and again in some eyes most of a century – to take heed. But on the third day of the Third Test they applied the lesson resolutely and fastidiously.
Sometimes it was dull, mostly it was watchful and it had a firm objective in view: winning this match and this series against India. The mind went back to January in Dubai when England, basing their strategy on what had worked elsewhere, came out slugging. They were humiliated and they never recovered. Saeed Ajmal and his henchmen had them for breakfast, lunch and tea.
Experiences like that take some time to recover from. When batsmen stop waking up in the night in a cold sweat they still have to go back to the nets and convince themselves that they can do it, that it will be all right in the end. At the start of this series England faltered again, all out for 191 in dusty Ahmedabad and looking no better than at the start of the year in dusty Dubai.
What England, led by Alastair Cook, appear finally to have realised is that in these parts it is virtually essential to wait and wait and wait like most of the customers in Rick’s bar in Casablanca, though with rather more hope of a fruitful outcome. Cook, the newly minted record-breaker, and his cohorts waited.
They began the day 100 runs behind India with nine wickets in hand and ended it 193 ahead with four left. Eighty runs came from the first session of 32 overs, 85 from the second in 30 overs and 128 in the last session of 28 overs when India were bedraggled.
The painstaking groundwork of Cook and the early order led to Matt Prior and Graeme Swann having some afternoon fun in the sun, sharing a quickfire 56 from 65 balls, a scoring rate hitherto unseen. England passed 500 in an innings for the first time since The Oval in the late summer of 2011 against the same opponents when the world was at their feet.
Cook, who had scored his 23rd hundred for England on the second day, spent much of the third homing in on his third double hundred. He was dropped for the second, a relative sitter to Ishant Sharma who put down a return chance, presumably astonished that it was being offered.
That seemed to make Cook’s pursuit of fresh landmarks certain of success. But on 190, after taking his total time of crease occupation in this series to almost 26 hours, he was run out in extraordinary circumstances. That it was the first time he had been so dismissed in 312 first class innings made it more improbable.
Kevin Pietersen clipped the ball to square leg, and both men quickly declined the thought of a single. Cook, having started backing up, turned to retrieve his ground as he will have done thousands of times before. He had not quite grounded his bat when the throw from the fielder, Virat Kohli, screeched past him, prompting Cook instinctively to take the bat out of the way, creating a gap to allow the ball through and hit the stumps.
He could have let the ball hit him, he could have touched his bat down and then taken evasive action, India could have withdrawn the appeal. None of these things happened and it was nobody’s fault. Cook had been batting for more than eight hours, it was utterly spontaneous, the ball might have missed. It was the quickest-witted action India had performed all match.
At the start of proceedings, India bowled well enough. R Ashwin, an off spinner who has declined from hero to zero in this series, responded with aplomb. Pragyan Ojha, his left arm spinning partner, found some turn. But England played straight and calmly. The seamers, by and large, were less worrisome and if there was some reverse swing on offer, its past master Zaheer Khan still too often looked like the 34-year-old fast bowler he now is.
Cook was accompanied by Jonathan Trott for the morning and the mission suited them perfectly. When Trott went in sight of a hundred, edging behind, Pietersen strolled in with a purpose. He is in good fettle, the reintegrated one, and he unleashed several warning shots with the obvious promise of more where they came from.
On this occasion it was not to be and, lbw sweeping to a deserving Aswin, he failed to join Cook as the second England batsman to make 23 hundreds. He will do so soon, but Cook deserved his lone moment in this match, and in any case Pietersen might have felt like the second man on the moon or up Everest.
The first four men in the order made 50 for the 21 time in an England innings, the fifth did not. Questions are being asked about Ian Bell and they will get louder. He surveyed the scene adequately but then inexplicably played a loose drive without much, if any foot movement.
Bell has one match after this to redeem a fallow year. It is possible that he will be denied the opportunity but the trouble with dropping someone is that his successor has to be given a proper run in the team. Bell could be despatched back to Warwickshire in the most extreme scenario but he would make bundles of runs there and everyone knows it.
Samit Patel has not nailed the position at number six. His 33 was breezy enough but it left as many questions as it answered. Middle order batsmen are beginning to form a mini-queue. For now the selectors may take the view that Englishmen are good at queueing. For now, too, there is still a Test match to be won.
Famous four: England run-outs
1. Ian Bell, 2011
India's Praveen Kumar appeared to have failed to prevent a boundary hit by Bell but he had in fact kept the ball in play and the batsman was run out as he headed off for the tea break thinking the ball was dead. After a dressing-room discussion, MS Dhoni allowed Bell to return.
2. Ricky Ponting, 2005
Gary Pratt ran out Ponting, who had look set to register a big score. The use of substitute Pratt infuriated the Australia captain, who left the field aiming a foul-mouthed tirade at the England balcony.
3. Inzamam-ul-Haq, 2001
Inzamam drove the ball straight back to bowler Steve Harmison but stayed in his crease. Harmison threw the ball back to the striker's end, Inzamam jumped and the ball hit the stumps. The umpires, wrongly, ruled the Pakistan batsman out.
4. Geoffrey Boycott, 1978
Boycott was an unpopular figure on the tour of New Zealand and struggling to register runs. A young Ian Botham was told by vice-captain Bob Willis to "run the bugger out". After Botham called for a near-impossible single, Boycott was caught short and left the field saying: "What have you done, what have you done?"
Timeline: How the third day of the Third Test unfolded
Resuming on 216 for 1, England add three runs before Ravichandran Ashwin appeals after Alastair Cook's pad is hit. The umpires fail to play along and the captain survives.
Cook reaches 150 as England close in on India's total before a reprieve from Ishant Sharma, who somehow drops an easy chance.
Wicket, Trott c Dhoni b Ojha 87
After surviving two appeals, Jon Trott finally walks, nicking to MS Dhoni. England are 338 for 2, a lead of 22, and remain very much in control.
Wicket, Cook run out 190
India had almost forgotten what this feels like – Cook's out! The captain is run out. According to Law 38: A batsman is not run out if he or his bat had been grounded behind the popping crease but he subsequently leaves it to avoid injury, when the wicket is put down. Sadly for Cook, he never returned to the crease. England now 359 for 3.
Wicket Bell c Dhoni b Sharma 5
After reaching tea 65 ahead, England lose another man. Ian Bell goes cheaply, Dhoni taking the catch off Sharma to leave England on 395 for 4.
Wicket Pietersen lbw b Ashwin 54
KP smashes a quickfire nine fours and a six as England's lead ticks over to 100, before he misjudges an R Ashwin delivery and is caught leg before.
Wicket Patel c Sehwag b Ojha 33
India enjoy a bit of luck as Virender Sehwag juggles Samit Patel before taking him at slip. England 453 for 6.
Stumps; England 509 for 6
Despite that late flurry of wickets, it's still England's day, again. A lead of 193 with four wickets in hand leaves them holding all the aces.
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