Cheteshwar Pujara dampens England hopes after Monty Panesar piles pressure on India
India 266-6 England: It’s just like the good not-so-old days, with all going well for England – then enter Pujara
Sometimes, in their dreams maybe perpetually, England must think back to what it used to be like. In the days of wine and roses everything seemed to work out eventually. The wickets fell, the runs were scored, the catches were taken, the Tests were won.
If only they could have bottled the essence of whatever it was they had then barely a year ago, when skill, strategy, talent and luck combined thrillingly, and carried it here. If India were not quite on the rack today, the first day of the Second Test, they were stretched pretty thinly.
It did not go horribly wrong for England as so much has so often this year but it stopped going right either. From 119 for five with all their top men gone – or all but one and an extremely important one he was – and the recalled Monty Panesar plundering wickets India recovered to 266 for 6 by the close.
They were heading not for a gigantic total but one beyond the restrictions imposed by the pitch. England were still in it but they could have been ahead. They could have been setting themselves for an improbable series levelling victory and they were not doing that. Panesar, who took 4-91, could have bowled out India and he did not.
The substantial difference was another resplendent innings from Chetashwar Pujara, a man who until a week ago was Rahul Dravid’s replacement, but is now simply Chetashwar Pujara, or that man again. He added to his 206no and 41no in the First Test at Ahmedabad with an unbeaten 114.
If Dravid was The Wall this chap is The Stockade. It was slightly more sedate than his innings in Ahmedabad, taking 279 balls, and slightly less pristine because he offered England two opportunities to catch him.
On 17 he cut Jimmy Anderson in the air to point. The ball dropped agonisingly short of Nick Compton. It would have taken a springheeled fielder blessed with a sense of anticipation to match but that is what it takes. Half chances have to be snaffled.
On 60, Pujara was put down off Panesar at slip by Anderson, diving to his left. It was unquestionably a tough chance, it probably would not gave reached Jonathan Trott at first slip, but it was another chance and it had gone.
It allowed Pujara to ensure he was still there at the close. He did not make another mistake. He was helped there, most effectively, first by his captain, MS Dhoni, and then by R Ashwin, who must have spent much of his occupation assessing the pitch for his off spin.
The sixth wicket partnership was worth 50, the seventh was still going on 97 at the end of proceedings, precious runs all on a surface where the ball was turning, bouncing and occasionally going through the top. It was not a minefield but batsmen will not be asking the groundsman for replicas as Christmas presents.
Pujara played the percentages, defending with utmost skill in conditions he will have seen several hundred times but playing measured attacking strokes. In a week when the Indian Premier League sponsorship rights have been sold for £45m in a five year deal it was perversely old-fashioned.
Everyone suspected what was likely to happen as soon as India announced that they were fielding three spinners. In the old days, that would not have been news unless somebody wanted to make an issue of why they were not playing four.
But it was six years and 36 Tests since India last had three spinners in their Test XI. That was at Mohali in 2006. They beat England by nine wickets (and nine of the wickets, wouldn’t you know it, fell to pace).
England bowled six overs with the new ball before Panesar was summoned from the deep. Given Stuart Broad’s lack of penetration and accuracy, he might as well open the bowling in the second innings.
Poor Broad is going through a lean patch. He probably is not fully fit for the rigours of fast bowling and he probably does not want to admit it. In the UAE earlier this year when England’s bowlers were up to it and England’s batsmen were not, Broad played a prominent part in restricting Pakistan with some cunning fast bowling.
It seems to be beyond him for the moment and his 40 wickets in Tests this year, to which he had not added last night in the first two matches of this series, cannot sustain him for much longer.
Panesar took a while to find his rhythm. English spinners are not often reqired in the first half hour of play. But pretty soon he pushed one through Virender Sehwag’s defences in the batsman’s 100 Test. Pretty soon after he produced a peach of a ball to bowl Sachin Tendulkar on his home ground.
It pitched on leg and turned sharply across a groping Tendulkar to hit his leg stump. A ball in a million to a batsman in a million but it also asked the question about how long Tendulkar can continue an illustrious career that is not quite as illustrious as it once was.
He averages 24 in Test matches this year. Of course, he is undroppable, of course only he can decide when the time has come. But even here the whispers will soon grow into noisy gossip.
Soon after lunch a threatening Virat Kohli was undone by the pitch, Yuvraj Singh lasted two balls. Just for a moment it was like the old days of not so long ago for England.
Timeline: How The first day unfolded in Mumbai
Wicket, Ghambir lbw b Anderson 4
What a start for England. Gautam Gambhir flicks Jimmy Anderson for a four off a very straight opening ball; the paceman's next is a delicious inswinger that hits Ghambir's pads.
Wicket, Sehwag b Panesar 30
Monty has come on before Graeme Swann and it has worked a treat. Sehwag goes to smack away a full toss but misses and the stumps are hit.
Wicket, Tendulkar b Panesar 8
Panesar gets the home favourite with a fine turning ball that levels his off-stump. The locals are a bit quiet now, with India struggling on 60 for 3.
Wkt, Kohli c Compton b Panesar 19
Monty is England's main man this morning and a Kohli drive into extra cover finds the diving Compton, who snaps up the ball. Three wickets and counting for the spinner.
Wicket, Yuvraj b Swann 0
The wickets are tumbling and Swann gets Yuvraj for a duck. Apt, given the time in Blighty, that England are having India for breakfast.
Anderson dropped catch
Pujara should be on his way as Anderson dives from second slip, but he only succeeds in stopping Trott from taking a simple catch.
Wicket, Dhoni c Swann b Panesar 29
England's "second" spinner is having a blinder as the India captain edges to second slip. It takes ages for the umpires to give it, but the tail is finally exposed. India are 169 for 6.
The man nicknamed "The Rock" pulls Anderson for a boundary to reach his third ton this year. He's been mighty calm all morning.
Stumps, India 266-6
Ashwin reaches his fifty before the end on a mixed day for England; they couldn't push on after a fine start and may pay for it.
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