England fight back after wicket drought against India in fourth Test

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Fourth test, Nagpur, day three: England 330 (145.5 overs), India 297-8 (130.1 overs)


Something must have been lost in translation. It was widely foretold that the pitch for the fourth Test would be one of the most demonic in history because India would gamble everything on winning the match to draw the series.

Instead of which it has been polite to an annoying degree. The wild man of Borneo turned out to be dreary goody two shoes. The upshot was that England had to wait 76 overs to take their first wicket yesterday.

Of course, as is the way with wickets, buses and TV costume dramas, you wait an age for one and then others arrive all at once. There was almost a deluge in the final session. India had planned on finishing the third day still with four wickets down, slightly ahead of England, and seeing where the fourth took them with the pressure transferred.

By the close that plan needed amending. Having moved from 87 for 4 to

269 with nary a lapse they finished on 297 for 8, still 33 runs behind. Both Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni, who shared a painstaking fifth wicket partnership of 198 from 507 balls, had gone. Kohli was deceived by Graeme Swann six balls after reaching his third Test hundred, Dhoni was run out on 99, dashing for the run that would have brought him his sixth.

So the match changed again. But what a time it took in coming, what patience and fortitude it demanded by everyone concerned, playing, coaching, watching. If the groundsman received instructions he either ignored them or misunderstood them and if he received no instructions he may be an agent working on behalf of the Indian Premier League.

It made for the sort of Test cricket where spectators at home could not only put the kettle on but nip off for a weekend break and be certain of having missed nothing. More likely, they could have had a nap.

By that time, the tourists took their first wicket they were far more relieved than jubilant. Such a delay was not what they can have expected when they reduced their opponents to a state bordering on disarray the previous evening with the top four batsmen all gone.

Attritional cricket can also be effective cricket. India, needing victory to protect an unbeaten home record going back eight years, decided against a policy of trying to accelerate. Their chosen strategy was to defend, bat time, accrue runs slowly, take a lead and hope that the tourists would be overcome at the prospect of making history.

On balance perhaps there was no other way but it was brave for all that. Dhoni, who has been under constant scrutiny in India for the past month, took personal responsibility by promoting himself in the order. Kohli, whose top score in the series, had been 20, was admirably circumspect. They offered England nothing.

It was as if Dhoni was stating his credentials to continue in the role of captain, Kohli was displaying his as the man shortly to succeed.

Occasionally, the scoring rate in most of the first two sessions went above two runs an over before receding again.

From time to time they hit a boundary if the ball was short, wide or both, otherwise they clipped, nudged, nurdled. The first hour brought 26 runs from 17 overs, the second 33 from 15. You could hear the IPL money men counting the folding stuff.

The pleasing aspect was that the largest crowd of the match at this splendidly appointed out of town stadium never lost enthusiasm. Every run, as it would have been 40 years ago when the great Sunil Gavaskar was churning them out, was rapturously greeted and the noise level, unlike the run rate, did not drop.

They increased the tempo marginally in the afternoon but the closest to a wicket came from lbw appeals by Tim Bresnan in successive overs which sandwiched a miscued shot from Dhoni which fell short of the bowler’s left hand by an inch. Bresnan, like England’s three bowlers, laboured hard and long but it has been 448 balls since his last Test wicket.

It seemed the breakthrough would never come when it came. Barely had Kohli reached his hundred by cutting his 289th ball, from Swann, for his 11th four than he was deceived from round the wicket. The debutant Ravi Jadeja, who had been supplanted in the order by his captain, was undone by Jimmy Anderson with ball that swung in sharply, also from round the wicket, after an uncomfortable maiden innings.

Dhoni had spent an hour in the nineties while 17 overs were bowled. He decided the waiting had to stop by calling for a quick single when he drove Anderson to Alastair Cook’s left at mid-off. In the sort of movement not always associated him, Cook moved to his left, picked up the ball in his right hand and threw down the stumps.

The replay showed, narrowly but conclusively, that Dhoni was the 15th man to be run out on 99 in Test cricket. For Cook the captaincy is merely his platform for achieving one remarkable feat after another.

England had the taste for it now and were not sated yet. In the last over of the day Piyush Chawla was beaten by one that turned from Swann. For so long the day was excruciating but then that is Test cricket - never dead, dormant perhaps but always ready to spring to life on a pitch that did not deserve it.

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