Special

Test Cricket Versus India: England in command after dominant first day

A near flawless display with bat and ball from England in the third test enabled the hosts to continue their control over India at Edgbaston. If this day’s performance is replicated further on in the third test match, England are certain to take an unassailable 3-0 series lead and replace India as the number one Test side. Four wickets apiece for the in form Stuart Broad and Tim Bresnan tightened England’s grip on the four match test series, dismissing the Indians for 224 after Andrew Strauss inserted the tourists into bat in overcast, bowler friendly conditions. It could have been drastically worse for Duncan Fletcher’s side when they were reduced to 111-7, only for MS Dhoni to blast an entertaining 77 and lead from the front for the first time in this hugely anticipated test series. England’s openers reached 84-0 at the close, trailing by 140 runs and appear likely to build a healthy first innings lead.

An early breakthrough was necessary to justify Strauss’ decision to field first, which came in the second over, with Broad’s first ball. The pre-match spotlight had been placed on Virender Sehwag’s return to the side, but he had to return to the pavilion after gloving a delivery to Matt Prior to record a golden duck. Umpire Steve Davis had originally turned down England’s appeals, but the decision was reviewed and Sehwag had to depart. Rahul Dravid joined Gautam Gambhir at the crease and the duo looked unflustered despite the early setback and accurate seam bowling from their opponents. They put on 51 for the second wicket, with both scoring pleasant looking boundaries down the ground as England were pursuing an outside edge. An inside edge was Gambhir’s undoing, off a full pitched delivery from Bresnan, which uprooted his leg stump. This brought the ‘little master’ into bat, with millions around the world desperate to see him record an astonishing 100th century in international cricket. Tendulkar has only passed 50 once in the series so far, and perhaps the burden of reaching this milestone is resting heavily on his shoulders, as he failed to make a notable contribution again. He looked uncharacteristically apprehensive, as he played and missed at his first ball from Anderson, which batsman would usually leave to settle down. Anderson beat Tendulkar again three balls later with a beautiful in-swinging delivery, which was lucky to miss his offstump. Broad accounted for Sachin’s restlessness at the crease, as he prodded to third slip to give Anderson a simple catch, dismissing India’s favourite son for one. Arguably, England wanted Dravid’s wicket as badly as any of India’s star studded batting line-up and they got their wish with the last ball before lunch. Bresnan, so impressive at Trent Bridge, carried his match winning form to Birmingham with an unplayable delivery which clipped the top of off stump to leave India reeling at 75-4.

Raina joined Laxman in the middle when play resumed, with the latter looking settled after hitting two boundaries through the covers off Bresnan, who was starting to stray off line. Contrastingly, Raina was not technically or mentally assured and was suckered into attacking a straight drive from Anderson which comprehensively bowled the out of sorts left hander. Laxman looked like a man in form, effortlessly finding the ropes again off Bresnan, before inexplicably miscuing an attempted pull shot to Broad at fine leg. India were tottering at 100-6 and were in desperate need of a partnership to get a respectable score. MS Dhoni was batting alongside the tail and looked tentative early on, as Tendulkar and Raina had done. The England seamers had given the Indian batsmen little respite and continued their ploy of pitching the ball up and created uncertainty in the minds of the tourists, as a result.

Dhoni had to wait 16 balls to get off the mark, triggering the Indian Captain into playing all out attacking strokes in a bid to find form with the bat and transfer pressure onto the England bowlers. Unfortunately for him, he was running out of partners, as Mishra was caught behind off Broad, leaving India in a perilous position at 111-7. Dhoni threw caution to the wind upon Praveen Kumar’s arrival, evident by a huge straight six over Anderson into the crowd. This was bettered by another maximum, with a clean strike over midwicket stunning Bresnan and the England fielders. Kumar was also by no means watchful, as he hit Graeme Swann for successive fours as Strauss looked to stem the flow of runs, rather than taking wickets. This was emphasised when the slip fielders were removed for boundary riders, proving ineffectual, as Kumar and Dhoni hit further sixes off Swann and Broad respectively. Dhoni reached his first fifty of the series with another aggressive shot, coming in just 62 balls, which was exactly what India needed from their skipper. The pair put on 84 for the eight wicket, before Kumar succumbed to a Bresnan bouncer, giving Prior a feint edge. India had reached some respectability at tea, scoring 205 with two wickets remaining.

The Indian captain’s approach altered little after the tea break, but he turned down singles in order to keep the strike and shift the momentum in his side’s favour when England began their innings. He reached 77 before he edged Broad’s fullish delivery to Strauss at first slip. Ishant Sharma offered little resistence, with Anderson ending an admirable bowling display from the hosts. The focus was now on England’s misfiring opening pairing of Strauss and Cook to get England off to a solid start with 25 overs left in the day’s play. Praveen Kumar bowled a tight line to Cook, but his fellow seamer, Sreesanth, failed to build any substantial pressure on Strauss, who hit him for two straightforward boundaries in only his second over. Strauss soon raced onto 20 at a run a ball, as India bowled to his and Cook’s strengths, on the pads, in an effort to plant them lbw. The legspinner, Mishra, was greeted into the attack with boundaries through point off the front and backfoot from the England captain. Mishra did however, begin to find some sharp turn, without causing alarm to Strauss or Cook. Both looked assured and confident at the crease, regularly rotating the strike, leaving well and putting away the bad balls, all traits successful openers must acquire. Strauss reached his fifty, (his first in eight innings) off 75 balls, as England ended a near perfect day on 84-0, with a big innings lead looming for a potent side aiming to dethrone India as the world’s number one ranked test team.

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