Twice as satisfying

karthikkrishnaswamy Posted: Nov 17, 2012 at 0252 hrs
Ahmedabad Nick Compton isnít your average wide-eyed debutant. A career spanning 98 first class matches must have prepared him for most of international cricketís challenges. But five balls into his first Test innings, he was confronted by one he may never have faced before.

Clockwise, from 12 oíclock: an off spinner, passing a two-over-old ball from hand to hand; silly point; slip; a helmeted wicketkeeper, leg slip, forward short leg. Between the last two named fielders, slightly deeper, crouched short midwicket. England were 13 for no loss, 508 behind India.

Ravichandran Ashwin had taken the new ball. Alastair Cook had seen off his first over, but not without alarm. He had let two off breaks go past him, and seen MS Dhoni collect both with gloves pointing up, and almost played on to a short ball that bounced less than expected. Almost every ball had raised a dust cloud.

Compton worked the second ball he faced from Ashwin into the leg side for a single. But this was to be an anomalous occurrence for the rest of the evening. To pretty much every delivery that Ashwin or Pragyan Ojha bowled at him, Comptonís response was to push forward and prod with a vertical bat. He seldom broke his wrists to try and work the ball square on the leg side, or waited to open his face and squirt the ball into the off side.

Encouraged by this display of tunnel vision, Dhoni moved his fielders into seldom-seen configurations for spin bowlers. When Ojha bowled, Compton was surrounded by three slips, a silly point and a short leg. Each time a new catcher appeared, Comptonís defensive prod grew more perilous.

Dazed, confused

In the end, Ashwin didnít need any help from his fielders. A loopy off break spun through the gate and bowled Compton for nine. This was his 53rd dot ball, of which 33 had come against the spinners.

With four overs left in the day, England sent in James Anderson, their nightwatchman. To the third ball he faced of Ojhaís left-arm spin, Anderson played the left-handed version of Comptonís forward prod. The ball flew off his inside edge, as Cheteshwar Pujara threw himself to his left at short leg, only managing to parry it. Anderson played the same shot to the next ball, and this one kissed inside edge and a bit of pad before dropping in front of the second short-leg fielder, Gautam Gambhir, who dived once again to grab it one-handed.

Enter Jonathan Trott. Exit Jonathan Trott. Another forward push, another bat-pad. Caught Pujara, bowled Ashwin, zero.

England ended the day at 41 for three, with the two batsmen at the crease providing a glimpse of the contrasting methods they will look to employ to survive on Day Three. Cook stayed in his crease, and defended dourly, but seemed to play later and with softer hands than all his partners. Kevin Pietersen skipped down the track to almost every ball barring a horrendous half-tracker from Yuvraj Singh, and will probably look to scatter the field with bold strokeplay on Saturday. Itís hard to say which approach is likelier to succeed.

Benign to deadly

When India batted, it had seemed that anyone could come in and bat any way he liked and still score runs. Pujara went from 98 at the start of the day to 206 not out when India declared, never really attacking or defending and merely responding to what the English bowlers provided him.

Yuvraj Singh saw off the first hour against the second new ball before he went after the spinners in a satisfying 74 on comeback. He launched Graeme Swann for two big sixes over long off and swatted Samit Patel repeatedly and contemptuously into the leg side, before landing one last contemptuous swat, off a waist-high full toss, into long onís hands.

As Pujara carried on unhurriedly at the other end, MS Dhoni, Ravichandran Ashwin and Zaheer Khan all came and went, with Ashwin scoring 23 in a partnership of 66. When Dhoni declared, it wasnít really clear whether 521 would be enough to ensure that India only batted once.

Eighteen overs later, the answer was emphatic. Last year, in England, India became used to pitches that seemed to behave differently depending on who batted and who bowled. The shoe ó as Englandís Matt Prior predicted two days before the match ó was now on the other foot.