During their sixth-wicket partnership, the wicket had looked bereft of any life. But first ball after the break, delivered from left-arm around by Pragyan Ojha, sprung off the footmarks and crunched into Cook’s shoulder. What had caused this? The electrolytes swirling around the Indian spinners’ tummies? The blemishes exposed by the sweeping of the pitch? Who knows?
All around the stadium, clumps of spectators came to life. Till then, for most of the day, the act of watching the match had been an uneasily lonely affair – some had watched determinedly through glazed eyes, some intermittently, between long bouts of staring into their mobile phone screens, and some had dozed.
Now, it was a shared experience. They were all watching the same thing, and reacting the same way, reacting like any Test match crowd in India. The slow hand-clapping as the spinner hustled through his run-up, the collective “oooh,” even after a perfectly reasonable defensive stroke.
Right through his tenure as India’s captain, MS Dhoni has banked on exploiting these phases during home Tests – whether it’s a bit of reverse swing, or a new batsman coming in and having to adjust to conditions. Till then, he sets conservative fields, and waits for things to happen.
During this particular phase, things did happen. Fourth ball of the over, Ojha got one to straighten from middle and smack Prior low on his pads. Umpire Aleem Dar, possibly thinking it was bat first, gave it not out. In the next over, R Ashwin, from around the wicket, spun one past the left-handed Cook’s edge. Ojha then got Prior to edge one, but the ball fell short of second slip.
But the spell soon broke, and Motera grew quiet once again. Maybe it was a square cut from Prior, off Ojha, that pierced the gap between point and the off-side sweeper, maybe it was the pitch reverting to type, maybe it was the fact that Cook and Prior are experienced cricketers, used to seeing out such phases.
In Ojha’s next over, another square cut four from Prior, followed by a drive to the cover boundary, took England into the lead. Six overs later, Cook and Prior walked off, their partnership an unbroken 141.
The day had been full of trademark Dhoni-style captaincy. For the seam bowlers, who in their short bursts often looked likelier to take wickets than the spinners as the day wore on, the off side sweeper was a regular sight. During his partnership with Prior, Ojha bowled to Cook with a deep midwicket. Yuvraj Singh took the ball second over after tea, and bowled a four-over spell.
But till Prior’s arrival, the day had also followed Dhoni’s script, with wickets falling in little bursts between long spells of the waiting game.
In the seventh over of the morning, Zaheer Khan beat Nick Compton’s outside edge with a ball that left him from around the wicket. After three more balls from that angle, Zaheer switched to over the stumps.
Perhaps playing for a bit of away movement, Compton’s pads got in the way of a full delivery that just about pitched on leg stump. A typical Zaheer wicket.
Ashwin and Ojha then bowled six overs in tandem before Dhoni switched the left-arm spinner to the other end. Ojha struck first ball from the press box end, with a loopy delivery that turned a little more than Jonathan Trott expected and kissed his edge on its way to the keeper.
Kevin Pietersen’s dismissal to Ojha in the first innings was the 24th time he had fallen to a left-arm spinner.
He has denied having any specific issue against that kind of bowling, and usually plays them as if he wants to prove that point. This only makes him more likely to get out to them. On Sunday, he aimed a sweep at Ojha, to a delivery that was too full, and too straight, for that stroke. To compound matters, he swept down the wrong line. K Pietersen b Ojha 2 (6b).
Out walked another batsman looking to live down his first innings dismissal. Ian Bell played cautiously, without too much alarm, and struck three sweetly timed fours, before Dhoni brought on Umesh Yadav, having seen Zaheer achieve a hint of reverse swing. He struck immediately, getting one to bend into Bell and strike his pad low, in front of middle. It looked like it would just about clip leg stump.
Next ball, Samit Patel got a similar delivery, slightly fuller. Once again, Tony Hill raised his finger. For the second time in the match, Patel had been given out leg before wicket, off Umesh, to a ball seemingly destined to miss leg stump. This time, he had also got a faint inside-edge.