Super Strauss puts England in charge
Opener edges towards history as Collingwood proves perfect ally in crucial stand which thwarts an Indian fightback
In time, many Tests gain a label. Take the Mumbai Test on England's 2006 visit to India for example. That Test has become known as the "Ring of Fire" Test because the Johnny Cash song played loudly on the team stereo during the lunch interval was deemed to have inspired Andrew Flintoff's side to a memorable victory.
At the start of this Test, there would have been a good chance of it being called the "Solidarity in the Face of Terror" Test but by posting scores of 123 and 73 not out, innings that have given England the wonderful opportunity to complete an unexpected but fully deserved victory over India, the tag should probably feature Andrew Strauss. Perhaps the "Strauss Briefly Sweeps Terror Under the Carpet" Test might be apt.
Strauss was seething when he got himself out 30 minutes before the close of play on the first day but, like all bright men, he has learnt from his mistake, seeing England through to an extremely strong position at the end of day three. After bowling India out for 241 in their first innings, a total that handed the tourists a useful lead of 75, Kevin Pietersen's side lost three early wickets to place the game in the balance once again.
It took an unbeaten 129-run partnership between Strauss and Paul Collingwood to ensure that England did not hand back the advantage they had worked so hard to gain. By the close the pair had extended the lead to 247 by taking their side to 172 for 3.
Strauss showed his character in England's first innings but he will be determined to join the ranks of those who have scored a hundred in each innings of a Test. Graham Gooch, with 333 and 123, was the last England player to achieve the feat against India. As on Thursday, Strauss collected a high percentage of his runs through the sweep shot, a stroke he was encouraged to develop to cope with spin by Duncan Fletcher, England's former coach. Watching the way in which he compiled his innings, it is difficult to know why so many have been continually questioning his place in the team.
The sweep is not the shot of an artiste; it is more the stroke of an artisan. But Strauss could not give a damn that his batting is not aesthetically pleasing, he gave up worrying about how it looked years ago. All he is concerned about now is the number in the final column, and in this Test it is 196 and counting.
Collingwood is hewn from similar stone and while the pair's time together may not have been what a large partisan crowd paid their entrance fee for, it was mighty effective. England were wobbling when Alastair Cook, Ian Bell and Pietersen fell in the space of four overs. Cook nibbled at Ishant Sharma and was caught behind, Bell gloved an Amit Mishra delivery to short leg and a distracted-looking Pietersen missed a straight ball and, much to the joy of Yuvraj Singh, was rightly given out lbw.
It is the first time in Pietersen's Test career that he has been dismissed twice for single figures in a Test, and it may be that the events of the past few weeks are having an adverse effect on his cricket. Bell has less of an excuse and it will be interesting to see how long the selectors continue to ignore the claims of Owais Shah. Bell was dropped for England's fifth and final one-dayer in India 19 days ago and the same fate could be coming his way in Tests.
England's predicament would have been worse had Mahendra Singh Dhoni, India's wicketkeeper and captain, held on to a sharp chance offered by Strauss when he was on 15. Had it been taken England would have been four down with a lead of just 118.
But in tight, nervy situations where the opposition are fired up, there are few batsmen England would rather have at the crease than Collingwood and Strauss. The pair may be battlers but they have contrasting styles of play. Strauss prefers to stay in his crease and play off the back foot or sweep, whereas Collingwood enjoys the occasional dance down the pitch to hit the ball over the top. Strauss's patience and Collingwood's bravery were both rewarded as India's venom was gradually removed.
"It was very satisfying to be involved in what we hope will be a crucial partnership," said Collingwood. "The game was on a bit of a knife edge when I walked out to bat and it was important we put together a partnership. You need a bit of luck to get in in India but once I had, I wanted to make it count. Pressure innings are the ones that give you the most satisfaction. This was a day when I needed to make a contribution. We have got ourselves in a good position but we need to make it count. The pitch has started playing a few tricks, it has started to crumble and hopefully that will continue."
England began the day hoping to make short work of India's lower order to take a substantial lead but it did not materialise. There was no lack of effort from Pietersen's men but they carried a jaded gait as they moved round the field, as though the second day's exertions had taken their toll.
England could be excused for feeling slightly fatigued – practice in the nets and training in the gym can only take you so far down the preparatory road. To become hardened and used to the rigours of Test cricket you have to play it, and England have not played a Test since the first week in August.
Cricket is never dull when Harbhajan Singh is involved and he provided Dhoni with adventurous support. With England beginning to fret, Monty Panesar struck, dismissing Harbhajan for 40. Dhoni passed 50 for the 14th time before losing Zaheer Khan to Flintoff, and the brace of wickets forced India's captain to change his approach. He tried to hit a Monty Panesar ball into the Indian Ocean but picked out Pietersen at long-off.
Mishra and Sharma made a nuisance of themselves, adding 22 useful runs, before Flintoff brought the fun to an end with a fast, straight ball. England had probably hoped for a greater lead, even though they could only have dreamt of being in this position a week ago.
England won toss
England – First innings 316
(A J Strauss 123, M J Prior 53no, A N Cook 52)
India – First innings (Overnight 155-6)
*†M S Dhoni c Pietersen b Panesar 53
(162 min, 82 balls, 5 fours, 1 five)
Harbhajan Singh c Bell b Panesar 40
(87 min, 58 balls, 7 fours)
Zaheer Khan lbw b Flintoff 1
(16 min, 15 balls)
A Mishra b Flintoff 12
(28 min, 18 balls, 2 fours)
I Sharma not out 8
(23 min, 19 balls)
Extras (b4, lb11, nb6) 21
Total (344 min, 69.4 overs) 241
Fall: 1-16 (Sehwag), 2-34 (Gambhir), 3-37 (Dravid), 4-98 (Laxman), 5-102 (Flintoff), 6-137 (Yuvraj Singh), 7-212 (Harbhajan Singh), 8-217 (Zaheer Khan), 9-219 (Dhoni), 10-241 (Mishra).
Bowling: Harmison 11-1-42-1, Anderson 11-3-28-1, Flintoff 18.4-2-49-3 (nb6), Swann 10-0-42-2, Panesar 19-4-65-3.
England – Second Innings
A J Strauss not out 73
(255 min, 150 balls, 5 fours)
A N Cook c Dhoni b Sharma 9
(51 min, 30 balls, 1 four)
I R Bell c Gambhir b Mishra 7
(15 min, 13 balls, 1 four)
*K P Pietersen lbw b Yuvraj Singh 1
(4 min, 5 balls)
P D Collingwood not out 60
(182 min, 133 balls, 6 fours)
Extras (b5, lb8, w2, nb7) 22
Total (3 wkts, 255 min, 54 overs) 172
Fall: 1-28 (Cook), 2-42 (Bell), 3-43 (Pietersen).
To bat: A Flintoff, †M J Prior, G P Swann, S J Harmison, J M Anderson, M S Panesar.
Bowling: Zaheer Khan 14-3-21-0 (w2), Sharma 10-0-31-1 (nb7), Mishra 11-0-47-1, Yuvraj Singh 2-1-7-1, Harbhajan Singh 11-0-31-0, Sehwag 6-0-22-0.
Strauss 50: 157 min, 90 balls, 4 fours. Collingwood 50: 159 min, 120 balls, 6 fours.
Umpires: B F Bowden (NZ) and D J Harper (Aus)
TV replay umpire: S L Shastri (Ind).
Match referee: J J Crowe (NZ).
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