England discovered today in the Fourth Test that the series victory they crave against India will take patience, caution, guts and luck.
The tourists, 2-1 ahead in the series, finished the first day of the crucial final match on 199 for five, which is probably neither as bad as it sounds nor as good as it should have been. Kevin Pietersen, now as reintegrated as it is possible to be, was the top scorer with 73.
But after his departure the day was crucially seen out to the end by England’s surprise debutant Joe Root and the ever dependable Matt Prior, who shared an unbroken sixth-wicket partnership of 60.
Pietersen’s innings was at odds with almost all his other contributions as a Test batsman, his slowest of 51 scores above 50, played as if chipped from granite bit by stubborn bit. But like several of his colleagues, Pietersen was out in a moment of carelessness, chipping to mid-wicket, perhaps because a low, slow pitch could simply never be trusted.
The conclusion was also difficult to avoid that England’s innings suffered badly from the early dismissal of their captain, Alastair Cook. They have become accustomed to his enduring presence at the wicket throughout the series and when he was given out to a highly debatable lbw decision with the dew not yet cleared off the outfield they were in unfamiliar territory.
England’s team announcement was astonishing. Root, the 21-year-old Yorkshire batsman, was selected for his debut in place of Samit Patel. But he was also preferred to the middle order batsmen, Jonny Bairstow and Eoin Morgan, a considerable slight as Root came on this tour as an opener.
Whatever the reasons for his selection — perhaps because he can play spin bowling, perhaps because he bowls reasonable off breaks himself — he did not let England down. There are more viable positions in your maiden Test than to enter the arena on 119 for four but Root looked unflustered. Indeed, he looked the part.
He cover drove his third ball in international cricket for three and crisply placed his 10th firmly through mid wicket for his first boundary. These were the assertive strokes of a man who was at home. After that it was important that he stayed to the close and he duly accompanied Prior without alarm.
India had selection surprises of their own, bringing in Piyush Chawla for his third Test and his first since 2008, and Ravi Jadeja for his debut. It meant their bowling attack comprised one seamer and four spinners.
Losing the toss for the first time in the series did not make such a balance ideal but they were about to demonstrate that it hardly mattered. In the fifth over Ishant Sharma, the sole surviving fast bowler had Nick Compton edging behind one that lifted.
And then came the wicket that all India both wanted and needed. Cook was playing his usual waiting game, aware as always that crease occupation equated eventually to runs on the board.
He appeared to have moved his pad outside off stump when Sharma appealed for lbw. Umpire Kumar Dharmasena had already spared Jonathan Trott on similar grounds but now, to a nation’s delight, he raised his finger. A review of the decision would have reprieved Cook but the system is not being used in this series.
A period of rebuilding, of standing and staring, was necessary for England. Trott and Pietersen provided it and took England to lunch and beyond. Eking out runs on the surface was barely straightforward but their stall seemed to be set out for the day.
In a lapse of judgement, Trott then shouldered arms to Jadeja’s left arm spin and saw the ball go straight on to clip his off stump. For his fourth innings of his five in the series so far, Ian Bell’s stay was all too brief.
He looked ready to dig in and wait for the runs to come of their own accord. But his drive at Chawla went low and unerringly to short extra cover and Bell’s shake of the head for most of his journey back to the pavilion told its own story.
The difficulties presented by the pitch were easily discerned because of the way Pietersen approach his business. India cut off several run-scoring avenues by posting five men on the boundary but still he frequently found it difficult to formulate attacking shots.
There was the occasional vintage drive down the ground and the odd leg side whip but his innings took an untypical 188 balls. It was one of the latter strokes that ended his innings as he tried to exert his authority.
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