Sometimes, revenge may be a dish eaten hot and dusty. India, of course, have denied that it is even on the menu. From the way events panned out in the first Test yesterday, it is safe to assume that they would not mind having it for starters, main course and dessert.
Having batted for more than five sessions in two uneven parts, the second of which was graced by a perfectly tailored double century from their new No 3, Cheteshwar Pujara, India declared their first innings at 521 for 8. By the time the second day was done in Ahmedabad, they had reduced England to 41 for 3, still 281 short of averting the follow-on.
To sound remotely attainable, it needed to be said as quickly as the wickets fell. Any dwelling on it and the gap seemed ominous and daunting beyond degree. The suggestion that England had learned the lessons of the recent past and were now some kind of post-modern experts in playing spin bowling in subcontinental conditions, the impression given in the three weeks before the match, looked slightly askew.
All three wickets went to the India spinners, Ravichandran Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha, in the space of 13 balls, taking their joint tally of wickets in only their sixth Test together to 76. Batsmen may be advised to worry that they are both still only 26 years old.
Ashwin bowled the poor debutant Nick Compton, who had faced 53 balls with painstaking application, through the gap between bat and pad with a sizzling off break. He then had an indeterminate Jonathan Trott caught off bat and pad at short leg. Ojha removed the hapless Jimmy Anderson, also held at short leg, begging the question why Anderson was there in the first place.
India’s spinners were in voracious mood with so little of the day left, fielders were crowding greedily round the bat like reporters doorstepping BBC director generals, and the England dressing room thought it a good idea to send in Anderson, presumably because George Entwistle was unavailable. If the state of play was insufficient to persuade them otherwise, the fact that Anderson had recently bowled 27 overs in searing heat might have done the trick. He lasted six balls, the only wonder that it was so long.
This conclusion to the day was probably predictable after England had spent 10 hours and 40 minutes in the field and bowled 160 overs. They had seen nothing like it since The Oval last summer when South Africa detained them for 189 overs and they lost by an innings.
Back in 2005, England made the mistake of winning the Ashes. They might not have thought it was an error at the time given that it ended 16 years (and 42 days, never forget the 42 days) of misery against Australia, the open-topped bus rides, the gongs they bagged and the general outpouring of jubilation.
Ricky Ponting, Australia’s captain, brooded and plotted for 18 months. Australia won the return series 5-0. Ponting always declined to say but this was revenge pure and simple.
Only last year in England – it seems a light year ago – India were pushed from pillar to post and capitulated to a 4-0 defeat. On the back of it, England became the top-ranked side in the world and how we rejoiced. Like Ponting before him, MS Dhoni, the captain of India, will not have forgotten that and he will know of what his team are capable in their own conditions.
The latter part of India’s innings was dominated by Pujara. He completed his century in the sixth over of the day, which he started on 98, and never looked like doing anything other than making it a double. He faced 389 balls and hit 21 fours.
Pujara will face greater challenges in less familiar conditions but in its way this was a perfect construction. There had been one false shot early on, which Anderson misjudged but blemishes thereafter were few. He defended well, he attacked intermittently, doubtless following the game plan.
India had started at a lick and their first 250 runs came from 60 overs. It took another 100 overs to make the next 271, partly because they were happy to drop the tempo, partly because England defended well with defensive fields.
But the scheme to have three seam bowlers and one specialist spinner took another battering. For most of the day it seemed England would fail to take a wicket with seam in an opponent’s first innings for the first time since 1974 in Trinidad. Three overs before the declaration, Anderson struck to render that null and void.
Graeme Swann took five wickets for the 14th time in a Test innings when he bowled Dhoni sweeping. He bowled four of his victims in all, the first spinner to do so for England in an innings since the Lancashire off spinner Roy Tattersall in 1952, also in India.
Swann will have a lot more bowling to do before this series is out and whatever happens he can expect the company of Monty Panesar. India have set out their stall, as they demonstrated by opening the bowling with Ashwin, a ploy they may well use throughout. Last night they were thinking only of taking a lead in the series but it can be taken as read that Dhoni and his troops have big plans beyond that.Reuse content