Fight follows flight

karthikkrishnaswamy Posted: Nov 18, 2012 at 0358 hrs
Ahmedabad Something had to give. All morning, whenever the ball came floating out of Pragyan Ojha’s left hand, Kevin Pietersen had looked jittery. The first ball of the day had beaten his outside edge. First ball of Ojha’s next over, Pietersen had run down the track and missed the ball by two feet as it squirted off his pad down the leg side for four leg byes.

In his next over, Pietersen was almost bowled by a length ball that bounced shin-high. And on and on it went, till Ojha’s eighth over of the day.

The third ball of that over was slow and loopy, with a hint of drift into the right-hander, who took a half step forward, unsure of where the ball would land. It dropped shorter than he expected, turned away just enough to beat his groping forward prod, and clattered into middle stump - unusual for a ball beating the outside edge, but Pietersen, for some reason, had taken guard on leg stump.

Having just strutted in, Ian Bell skipped out of his crease, and swung his bat through a graceful arc to clear mid off’s head for a pressure-releasing boundary. That, at any rate, was the intention. But the ball turned away, turned his bat in his hand, and spent a long time in the air before dropping into that very fielder’s hands.

England had survived nearly an hour; now, they were 69 for five.

On Day One, Graeme Swann had taken four wickets with his stock ball. Now, Ojha was doing something similar, needing no fancy variations while he beat batsmen with guile, spinning his deliveries hard and varying their trajectory. The hat-trick eluded Ojha, as Alastair Cook inside-edged the next ball a foot short of leg slip - but he would soon add two more wickets to bag his fourth five-for in Test cricket as England were all out for 191 in their first innings.

Defenceless

It would take a little while coming, as Cook, Samit Patel, Matt Prior and Tim Bresnan all showed that defending the spinners wasn’t exactly impossible. Cook had looked particularly organised before he was caught at slip, Ravichandran Ashwin tempting him into his first ambitious drive with a dipping off break.

Patel, who had played the spinners with a degree of comfort from the back foot, found that approach slightly unsuited to a ball from Umesh Yadav that kept low and struck him on the pads. This over, the 48th, was the paceman’s first.

At 143 for seven, Ojha began a new spell. Bresnan, having just seen Sehwag drop him at first slip off a carrom ball from Ashwin, didn’t have any such luck with Virat Kohli at second slip as Ojha got one to pop off the shoulder of his bat.

From the other end, Zaheer Khan was getting the old ball to bend both ways. In the middle of an over that saw him hit the pads of Prior, Stuart Broad and Swann and see the ball squirt away for six leg byes in all, he trapped the left-handed Broad deep in his crease. Aleem Dar raised his finger to confirm the second LBW of the match - in both cases, the ball seemed to be missing leg stump.

In the next over, Ojha tossed one alluringly at Prior, who, like Pietersen, had taken stance on leg stump. This had served him fairly well while standing next to the line and striking the seamers and Ashwin through the off side. But he found himself getting farther and farther from the ball as he swished at this Ojha twirler, which dipped, turned and crashed into off stump, almost in slow-motion.

When England batted again, their openers had a little more knowledge of what to do, and what not to do, against Ashwin and Ojha. The wicket had slowed down a little. The Indian bowlers, having already been on the field for 74.2 overs, weren’t anywhere near as fresh as they’d been on Friday evening.

But the catchers still swarmed around Cook and Nick Compton, and the scoreboard still said that England needed 330 to avoid innings defeat. In the face of this, they played excellently, with far more awareness of scoring opportunities than in the first innings. These, admittedly, were a little less scarce.

Statement of intent

Compton, who had plodded to a 53-ball 9 in the first innings, made the boldest statement of the evening, reverse sweeping Ashwin for four in his second over. Cook then took over, swinging Ojha with the turn and putting Ashwin away for two boundaries in one over, making him pay for errors in length.

Both spinners, understandably, were less accurate than in the first innings, and Cook took toll of anything marginally full or short or leg-sidish, employing the cut and the sweep particularly well. Sachin Tendulkar, given a go in the 34 th over, sent down two long hops.

Cook put both away to move to from 61 to 69. Cook ended the day unbeaten on 74; Compton on 34. The skipper had shown England that they could still make something of this Test match, and the rest of the tour.