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Late strikes keep India in front after day of compelling Test cricket

Wisden India logo Wisden India 20-11-2016
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How often can a team claim to have had the better of the day’s exchanges until a fatal blow off what turned out to be the last ball of the day – that too the penultimate day of the game – and still find itself a long way from safety? And how often can an innings that has already spanned 59.2 overs and produced just 87 runs and two wickets be referred to as compellingly arresting?

Test cricket isn’t just about runs and wickets, it isn’t about a flurry of activity with the match hurtling along at breakneck speed. Its inherent charm lies in the innumerable challenges it places on body, on mind, on technical skills. It can reduce strutting men to shivering boys, or elevate intense young lads to sage-like status, depending on. That’s why even in this age of instant gratification, the players continue to insist Test cricket is the real deal. After days like Sunday (November 20), you realise that they aren’t just paying lip service, that success in the longest format means so much to so many.

It was almost England’s day at the ACA-VDCA Cricket Stadium on day four of the second Test, but it is India who hold the edge, particularly after Ravindra Jadeja trapped a stubborn Alastair Cook in front off the last ball of the evening. Chasing 405 for victory, England finished on 87 for 2. That’s the cold, bare fact, but it does little justice to the action-packed, emotion-soaked proceedings that are bound to have left individuals from both teams a little drained.

Scores (Day 4): India: 455 & 204 against England: 255 & 87/2

Stuart Broad exemplified England’s spirit in the morning when India looked to kick on from their overnight 98 for 3, an overall advantage of 298. With Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane in the middle, India would have been hopeful of a lead of at least 450; Broad, however, had other ideas as he made light of a foot injury to make early inroads.

It needed the standout brilliance of Kohli, and an entertaining last-wicket stand of 42 between Jayant Yadav and Mohammed Shami, for India to eventually scramble to 204 all out. When Cook and Haseeb Hameed walked out to kick-start the chase – the highest successful by an overseas team in India is 276 by West Indies 29 years back, merely reiterating how big a mountain stared England in the chase – the huge gathering would have expected a rush of wickets, especially because that is exactly what they had seen in the morning.

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Instead, they were treated – for it was nothing if not a treat – to a delectable exhibition of in-the-trenches resolve by the present and the future of England cricket. Cook is a past master in these situations, having been there and done all that several times during his glittering decade-long international sojourn. Hameed, all of 19 and in just his second Test, wouldn’t ever have imagined an examination of this sort.

Watching him approach the task, though, you wouldn’t peg him as a teenaged newcomer. Cook one expects to defend with aplomb, to put mind over matter, to not allow the vagaries of the surface to snap his focus. Hameed matched his skipper in all these matters, a tremendous effort even in isolation but even more praiseworthy given the circumstances under which he fashioned the obdurate fightback.

The pitch behaved a lot better than many had predicted, indeed feared. There was no consistent sharp turn or exploding deliveries, but the bounce was variable as one would expect on a fourth-day track in the subcontinent. India didn’t bowl badly at all, far from it. Shami and Umesh Yadav were spot-on with the new ball and an older one with which they tried to procure reverse in vain, while R Ashwin and Jadeja strung together miserly spells even if they were allowed to settle in nicely by the non-violent stance adopted by the openers.

It wasn’t as if Cook and Hameed didn’t put a foot wrong. It couldn’t be, not with the bounce that up-and-down. Both men survived several anxious moments, but while the fortune that came their way was well merited, they also were resolute enough to put those moments behind them and carry on as if nothing had happened.



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India weren’t beginning to panic, but frustration was just about setting in, especially with both reviews squandered in the space of three deliveries in unsuccessful bids to overturn not-out calls by umpires Rod Tucker and Kumar Dharmasena off Jadeja and Ashwin respectively with Cook on 45 on both occasions. Neither was a horrendous review – Hawk-Eye backed the umpires’ call on either instance with the ball hitting the stumps both times – but India would have to wait a further 34 overs before reviews would be available to them again.

In the immediacy of the second review being lost, Ashwin finally settled jangled nerves by pushing Hameed right back, and getting the ball to both turn and scoot through to hit him low in front of leg stump. The little fella trudged off, wondering if there was any justice in the world at all. For 188 minutes and 302 deliveries, he had helped his skipper piece together 75 and keep India at bay, but this was something he could do nothing about. He had no reason to hang his head in shame.

Slideshow: Spin twin strike late, break visitors’ resistance

India vs England, 2nd Test: Spin twin strike late, break visitors’ resistance: India struck late to reduce England to 87 for two in their 405-run chase by close of the fourth day's play in the second Test in Visakhapatnam. Openers Hasseb Hameed (25) and skipper Alastair Cook (54) were the batsman to be dismissed. Cook's dismissal ended the day's action. Joe Root was unbeaten on 5 at stumps. (Source: AP) India vs England, 2nd Test: Spin twin strike late, break visitors’ resistance

Joe Root, feisty and combative, walked out to a hostile reception but carried on from where Hameed had left even as Cook brought up one of his more self-satisfying fifties, off 205 intense minutes and 172 demanding deliveries. England’s two best batsmen seemed set to resume the battle on the morrow with 318 still needed for victory, when Jadeja defeated the English skipper’s work to leg and won the lbw shout. Cook’s review was just a prayer in the wind.

Drama was not at a premium when India sought on build on their lead in the morning, and were stymied by a masterly spell of seam and cut from Broad. The strained tendon in his right foot did trouble him, but he didn’t pay it any heed as he bowled eight unchanged overs of potency and immaculate control. Rahane was sucked in by a leg-cutter that he gloved to slip, while Ashwin put his bat out and was caught behind.

Kohli looked as if he was batting on a different pitch, his expansive off-drive off Broad early in the morning easily the stroke of the day. Wriddhiman Saha came and went in a jiffy, trapped in front by a googly from Adil Rashid, who then went on to torment the lower order. Kohli paid the price for his first mistake, though it took a special catch from Ben Stokes at slip, airborne and parallel to his right, to deny him his second hundred of the match. Jadeja and Umesh fell in no time as India had lost 6 for 45 when the admirable Jayant and the aggressive Shami cut loose.

Shami took a shine to Rashid, depositing him for two towering sixes, while Jayant showed how capable a batsman he is with polished strokes to push the lead past 400 when Rashid picked up the fourth wicket of his spell and brought the first session to a close. That passage of play saw thrill-a-minute action; for the rest of the day, it was the fascinating battle between the hunter and the hunted that held centre-stage.

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