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Nervy India scramble to safety

Wisden India logo Wisden India 13-11-2016
© AP Photo

After meandering along for four days, the first Test between India and England sprung to life late on the final day before the hosts held on for a tense draw.

Alastair Cook’s 30th Test century (130) took him past Don Bradman’s tally of 29 and helped England set India a near impossible 310 from a minimum of 49 overs at the Saurashtra Cricket Association Stadium on Sunday (November 13). India were wobbling at 71 for 4 with almost an entire session to bat out on a wearing surface, but Virat Kohli denied England a win with a stubborn unbeaten 98-ball 49.

By the time the two batting heroes of the day shook hands, India had reached 172 for 6, having batted out 52.3 overs – just about enough to hold on to dear life.

India’s chase, rather fight for safety, began on a terrible note with Gautam Gambhir falling to Chris Woakes with nothing on the board in the second over. It was a dismissal that would remind Gambhir of his earlier struggles, the opener poking outside his off-stump and nicking to the slip cordon.

It was clear soon that India were not going to be adventurous, but they were also careful not to get into a shell. M Vijay hit a couple of boundaries off Stuart Broad and was also keen on not letting the spinners settle down – he regularly stepped out to hit Zafar Ansari for boundaries down the ground.

Scores: England: 537 & 260/3 decl drew with India: 488 & 172/6

It didn’t help England that they dropped both Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara, the two first-innings centurions, in a space of three overs. Ansari first dropped a sharp return catch off Vijay and then saw Broad dropping Pujara at point.

However, Pujara’s luck ran out when he was ruled leg before off Adil Rashid despite the ball pitching outside leg-stump. The DRS had come to Pujara’s rescue on his way to a century in the first innings but this time, quite strangely, he chose not to review the decision. It didn’t help him that Vijay, who would have had a clear view, turned the other way as soon as Kumar Dharmasena raised his finger.

India went into tea at a nervous 41 for 2 and England struck more panic soon after the break. Vijay was caught at bat-pad off Rashid in a repeat of the first-innings dismissal before Moeen Ali spun one off the crack and bowled Ajinkya Rahane off his pad.

India still had at least 25 overs to bat with numerous fielders around the batsmen. One more wicket, particularly Kohli’s, could have sent shivers down the dressing room. That would never happen.

R Ashwin, who survived a close leg before review by England early, gave his captain company for 15 overs before carelessly driving Ansari to cover. Soon, Wriddhiman Saha chipped a return catch to Rashid to keep England interested.

England needed four wickets from the last 30 minutes for a famous win. They tried everything – including having their substitutes as ball-boys to retrieve the ball quickly should it cross the boundary rope – but a resolute Indian captain wouldn’t didn’t budge, Ravindra Jadeja keeping him attacking company when the teams shook hands.

© Reuters Image

Earlier, England resumed on 114 for no loss and stretched their score to 260 for 3 before dangling a carrot in front of India’s nose. Cook led England’s charge, scoring at a good pace despite not going at top gear. His first 50 runs took 122 balls, while the next 80 came off just 121.

In an exchange of roles between the openers from the fourth day, Cook pushed England ahead while Haseeb Hameed couldn’t find the same touch.

The centre part of the pitch remained firm and India’s spinners switched to wide lines, extracting turn and bounce from the rough. With such a defensive line and an in-out field, England couldn’t exactly go all guns blazing.

Cook is too experienced to not understand that and took his time, collecting runs with dabs and flicks. But Hameed, the teenaged debutant, succumbed to growing impatience and smashed one back to Amit Mishra in the legspinner’s first over of the day, having added only 20 runs from 61 balls on the day. Mishra had another in his next over when Joe Root top-edged a swipe to the wicketkeeper.

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By then though, Cook had already overtaken his younger partner with some solid yet busy batting.

Ashwin in particular was hard to score off with his outside leg-stump lines and fielders for the sweep shot, but Cook still managed to pierce the gaps with flicks and the occasional paddle sweeps. When Ashwin bowled the occasional straight ball, Cook was quick to cut and even played a rare inside-out shot over extra-cover.

Cook went past his century pushing Mishra for a single before lunch and stepped on the accelerator after the break, along with Ben Stokes, who was promoted to No. 4. By the time he miscued Ashwin to long-off and called the innings close, Cook had already taken an England loss out of the equation.

The England captain nearly set up a thrilling win. His Indian counterpart ensured the series scoreline wouldn’t change ahead of the second Test.

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