It has been 20 years since England played a Test match on India's most symbolic piece of turf. But they treated Eden Gardens today as though it was their back yard where they knew every blade of grass and speck of dirt. They greeted it like an old friend and embraced it.
The upshot of this unheralded familiarity was that India were 273 for 7 in their first innings after the opening day of the third Test. England were not quite faultless but two bowlers, Jimmy Anderson and Monty Panesar, were exemplary in conception and execution, in thought and deed.
All series, Anderson has waited, grumpier by the moment no doubt, for a venue where reverse swing would play its part for the fast bowler. Without it, he and his put-upon breed can be neutered in these parts.
When he saw that it was available because of an abrasive pitch and a far from grassy outfield he seized the opportunity voraciously, the gleam in his eye and the snap in his wrist probably discernible from a thousand yards. Anderson has provided many outstanding samples of his craft over the last eight years but this was exceptional even by his standards.
His exhibition for the day was made complete by the addition to his tally of Test wickets of Sachin Tendulkar for the eighth time. It arrived just as the Little Master was beginning to justify his sobriquet after two hours of scratching about like an ageing apprentice who had mistaken his vocation.
Nor should the contribution of Panesar be overlooked, either lightly or otherwise. He has been regarded for most of his international career as a one-dimensional spin bowler, a single-trick pony who can bowl brisk spin effective on certain surfaces.
Now, on a slow pitch, he reduced his pace accordingly and delightfully conveyed a slower ball as though it was on a piece of string. The lesson seems to have been long in the learning but it may yet make Panesar an option in places less hospitable than the subcontinent.
When England lost the toss for the third time in the series – and in Alastair Cook's case for the fifth occasion in five matches as captain – it seemed fairly crucial because any side want to bat first on a used pitch likely to deteriorate. But then nine of England's 12 Test wins in India have come after the coin landed the wrong way up and 23 victories in this century have been by sides calling wrongly, 23 by the toss winners.
In the event, the tourists controlled most of the day because they stuck rigidly to their principles. As with many things in cricket, a lucky break helped, and for England it arrived 45 minutes into the match. Up to then, a few swishes against the new ball had been followed by some crisply authoritative batting from the opening pair of Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag.
Much more of it and a threatening partnership might have been converted into a serious one for England. But Gambhir, indulging in a spot of ball watching, responded lackadaisically, if at all, to Sehwag's demand for three for his drive to midwicket. Samit Patel cut the ball off, Steve Finn gathered and hurled the ball in and Sehwag, belatedly discovering that he needed to turn and scramble for safety, was well short of it and run out.
India never regained the initiative thereafter, largely because Anderson was so masterful in the afternoon but partly through their own lapses, betrayed by casualness or impatience. The prized wicket of Cheteshwar Pujara was claimed by Panesar, the batsman missing a straight one, and Gambhir, perhaps still fuming with himself for seeing off Sehwag, cut the spinner to slip.
It was slightly pitiable to watch Tendulkar struggle for much of his innings. Here was a batsman, who as boy and man had toyed with attacks for two decades, grubbing about trying desperately to remember what the piece of wood in his hand was for. He never gave a chance yet he could have been out at any time.
Maybe he appreciated that if he stayed at the crease long enough it would all come rushing back again, the amnesia cured. His reward appeared to be on its way, and the prods and open-faced glides to third man were giving way to something more assertive.
Anderson, however, was relishing his day at work, concealing the ball from the batsman's view and swinging it as he wanted, wily and deceptive. The batsman did not quite know what was coming next but he knew it was coming late.
Virat Kohli, the new boy wonder of Indian batting who has had a wretched series so far, was outsmarted, and eventually so was the Little Master himself. Only Muttiah Muralitharan has dismissed Tendulkar as many times in Test matches.
The ball just darted away and wicketkeeper Matt Prior, staying down, swooped low to his right, caught the ball one-handed and, when it was dislodged by his landing, held on to it in the crook of his left elbow. After all these years there can still be no happier moment in cricket than for a bowler to know he has sent Tendulkar packing, but the batsman himself must be starting to wonder for how long he should continue giving them the pleasure.
In the day's fading moments just before the Kolkata night closed in Anderson struck with the second new ball as it found its way through Ravichandran Ashwin's defences. Three wickets was the least he deserved, for it was a brilliant display of his art.
Timeline: How the first day of Third Test unfolded
3.30am GMT: Play starts
England make two changes, Steve Finn replacing fellow paceman Stuart Broad while Jonny Bairstow makes way for Ian Bell. India, unchanged, win the toss and elect to bat.
4.16am: Wicket, Sehwag run out 23
India's fine start is spoiled in comical fashion as Virender Sehwag commits to a third run that Gautam Gambhir has no interest in.
5.14am: Wicket, Pujara b Panesar 16
A rare failure for the stoic batsman as Monty slides the ball through his defences to bring Sachin Tendulkar to the crease. India 90-2 at lunch.
6.36am: Failed appeal
Tendulkar passes 34,000 runs and India reach 100 before a half-hearted appeal against the Little Master as the balls hits the pads off Panesar. He survives.
7.03am: Wicket, Gambhir c Trott b Panesar 60
More Monty magic. He tempts Gambhir to edge to Jonathan Trott and India are 117-3.
7.33am: Wicket, Kohli c Swann b Anderson 6
Jimmy Anderson gets in on the act as Virat Kohli prods to slip and India are 136-4.
8.35am: Tendulkar fifty
India survive a couple of appeals and reach tea on 172-4. Tendulkar refinds his form and provides some resistance, reaching his half-century off Finn straight afterwards.
9.11am: Wicket Yuvraj c Cook b Swann 32
England get the breakthrough, a 79-partnership ended as Yuvraj Singh pushes to Cook.
9.45am: Wickets; Stumps India 273-7
Anderson ends Tendulkar's renaissance and Ravichandran Ashwin also falls to him, the hosts very much in the back seat.
James MarinerReuse content