England vs India fifth Test: India’s batting is exposed by James Anderson yet again
Bowled tourists out for just 148 and are 62/0 at close of play
There were several notable elements about yesterday. It was India’s Independence Day, it was the Feast of the Assumption and it was the 50th anniversary of Fred Trueman becoming the first bowler to take 300 Test wickets.
For a little while on the first day of the fifth Test, it seemed England might achieve something which would be held in similar reverence down the years. Their bowling to Indiawas masterful, led by Jimmy Anderson, in hot pursuit of his country’s Test record and meriting comparison with Trueman or anybody else with each passing day.
It confirmed their recently gained superiority over these opponents, stamping an authority on proceedings that looked utterly beyond them less than a month ago. As it turned out they had to settle for something a little less spectacular than looked possible for much of the opening forays.
The tourists, all but finished at 90 for 9 after losing a crucial toss, detained England for longer than they would have liked. MS Dhoni, India’s captain, scored a first-innings fifty for the fourth time in the series. It was an impeccable contribution and in the circumstances it was heroic.
Dhoni made 82 of his side’s 148 all out, 55.4 per cent of the total. Given the context it was worth 150 on another day. Without him, India would have been out of the match barely as it had begun, with him they were only just clinging on to self-respect. As excellent as England’s bowling was, India’s batting was again timorous. They seem to have learned little from their reversals in the last fortnight and this was their fourth consecutive score under 200.
England had 19 overs to bat. The pitch had eased, the dark clouds had disappeared, the bowling was not quite as thrustful, Alastair Cook had a perilously close call for lbw which would have been given under the Decision Review System. Cook and Sam Robson shared their second half-century partnership and the deficit is already down to 86.
An early finish seems probable if the weather holds, as forecasts suggest it should. The home side can be expected to win from here as they would have been before the series started, given India’s wretched record as travellers.
There are bound to be some grumbles about the pitch. It was ideal for England’s quartet of seam bowlers to operate on and had more grass on it than has been seen in Kennington for at least four sets of ground sponsors. England may claim that it is pure coincidence that the green stuff has been following them round from venue to venue, though India would probably like to have it arrested for stalking.
If no directive has been issued as such – no, really – it has been mightily convenient. A warning for the future: it might be advisable to do it next summer when Mitchell Johnson and his chums arrive in town with Australia.
The toss was delayed by rain for half an hour and with the grass, the cloud cover and the atmosphere the decision to bowl looked natural. Only 12 captains had previously chosen to bowl first at The Oval in 97 Tests, and only two had led their team to victory.
Anyone prepared to argue with Cook’s logic was rebuffed by the fourth ball of the match, the first received by Gautam Gambhir. Murali Vijay had run three to cover to give him the strike. Gamhir had failed twice on his return to the team for the Test in Manchester. Now he had to prove himself all over again.
The ball moved prodigiously away from Gambhir, he knew he had to remove his bat, he tried but somehow as he was still in the process it hit the end of the blade and flew to wicketkeeper Jos Buttler.
Alarm ran through India’s batting ranks now. Cheteshwar Pujara, from whom so much was expected at the start of this tour and who played a consummate innings in difficult conditions at Lord’s, fiddled around nervously. Any of the 19 balls he faced might have dismissed him and when he pushed forward to Stuart Broad to be bowled with the ball squeezing through a gap between bat and body it was entirely expected.
In came India’s other great under-achiever, Virat Kohli. He looked out of form, his stance out of kilter, but he played one lovely off drive to remind observers of what might have been. It did not last because in the next over he shouldered arms to Chris Jordan and was, perhaps a trifle unfortunately, given out lbw.
Jordan and Chris Woakes were the men who could fully justify England’s decision to bowl first. The difference between them and the first string pair has been obvious. Anderson and Broad have been applying thumb screws, waterboard treatments and most other forms of heavy duty torture to batsmen, Woakes and Jordan have been gently stroking them with a limp rag.
But Woakes especially has been improving by the over, learning how to work out a batsman and now he bowled his best spell in Test cricket. It seems, however, that he is destined to be unlucky. The outside edge is not to be his friend.
Jordan accounted for Ajinkya Rahane with an athletic return catch off a tame semi-drive and Woakes removed the potentially troublesome Vijay with a beauty which went low to gully. At lunch it was 43 for five from 25 overs and the scoreline told the entire story.
That became 44 for 6 when Stuart Binny was set up by Anderson. R Ashwin, as he had in the disaster at Old Trafford, displayed some composure but he was held low by Joe Root at fourth slip.
Dhoni applied himself with determination and precision. He took no risks but was inevitably willing to hit the bad ball – and there were a few by this stage – for four. His judgement in accompanying Ishant Sharma in their last-wicket liaison was marvellous and he appeared to be enjoying himself hugely. Ian Bell dropped Ishant with the score on 95 and they added another 53 runs. But it was England’s day and even Fred would have been hard pushed not to know what was going off out there.
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