A run feast with a world record to boot

BHUVNESHWAR KUMAR (LEFT) is congratulated by Virat Kohli after he got rid of Matt Prior in England's first innings. Bhuvneshwar Kumar not only picked up five wickets, but also made two half centuries.-AP BHUVNESHWAR KUMAR (LEFT) is congratulated by Virat Kohli after he got rid of Matt Prior in England's first innings. Bhuvneshwar Kumar not only picked up five wickets, but also made two half centuries.

The 22-yards, as one wag quipped in the press-box, was the ultimate winner in a match that ground to a draw under an avalanche of runs and a world record. K. C. Vijaya Kumar reports.

The drum beats of dissent were beaten over the last fortnight. England and the local media were busy talking and writing about the slowing down of English pitches this summer. The trend continued when the host and India squared up for the first Test at Trent Bridge from July 9 to 13.

It was a pitch that England skipper Alastair Cook compared to the belter at Nagpur, one that forced Stuart Broad and James Anderson to lapse into sarcasm. Sample this, Broad: “Indian pitches are faster than this!”; Anderson: “We are amazing hosts!”

Even M.S. Dhoni was not exempted from being probed about the shirt-front surface and though the visiting captain resorted to the cliched ‘pitch is something beyond our control,’ he admitted that his preference is for the speciality of the host countries. “In England, you expect the pitches to be swinging and seaming and then when you do well, you feel good,” he said.

The 22-yards, as one wag quipped in the press-box, was the ultimate winner in a match that ground to a draw under an avalanche of runs and a world record. India posted 457 and declared its second innings at 391 for nine while England, thanks to a stupendous 198-run last-wicket alliance between century-maker Joe Root and Anderson, piled up 496.

Truth to be told, the clash was not a sleep-inducing one as it produced sessions of excitement, passages that defined resilience and a tense last day in which debutant Stuart Binny rescued India. Just that the pitch stayed comatose and the will of the competing players shaped the contest. Bowlers, who almost busted their shoulders on an unresponsive track, found a palliative balm by notching big runs with their willows!

JOE ROOT APPLAUDS even as James Anderson raises his bat after a half century. Root, the century maker, and Anderson came up with a world record partnership for the 10th wicket.-AP

The tale isn’t just about wagging tails, a few frontline batsmen excelled too and for India, Murali Vijay sparkled. The opener’s 146 (361b, 25x4, 1x6) his fourth Test century and the first overseas, was a wonderful amalgam of stout defence and elegant drives.

Vijay’s ton along with assistance from Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane and Dhoni (82) set a fine base. Promptly, Bhuvneshwar Kumar (58) and Mohammed Shami (51 n.o.) added the seasoning through a rebellious 111-run partnership for the tenth wicket.

India had bucked the odds of poor first innings outings while it was playing away across continents and England was on the back-foot when Shami castled an out-of-form Cook around his legs. Like the first two days, India wrested honours on the third day too as despite fifties by Sam Robson and Gary Ballance, Dhoni found his go-to man in Ishant Sharma. The lanky speedster’s spell of 7-1-29-3 nailed Robson, Ballance and Ian Bell, and ushered in England’s collapse. His fellow-seamers Bhuvneshar and Shami too joined the act.

England was 202 for seven before a glimpse of the turn-around was shown by Broad, who clattered a 47 while Root (154 n.o., 295 b, 15x4) stayed dour before revealing his strokes. Still India led the way when stumps were drawn on the third day, thanks to its 105-run lead.

The penultimate day then swung the pendulum towards the host. Root and Anderson (81) toyed with the Indian attack and Dhoni admitted being hamstrung by a pitch that wasn’t suited for Binny’s relatively gentle seamers. His primary pace-trio along with Ravindra Jadeja bowled the bulk. It didn’t help the Indians who got hooked onto the idea of bouncing Anderson out of the game.

Despite his blind spot against short-pitched stuff, the number 11 lent adroit support to Root, who too found his aggressive element. And just as an incredulous crowd watched, the duo went past the earlier world record of 163 set by Australia’s Ashton Agar and Phil Hughes at the same venue, last year.

England gained a 39-run lead and the Indian second innings that prospered briefly upon Vijay and Pujara’s fifties, stuttered under overcast skies on the final day. Broad’s incisive spell of 6-3-6-2 that scalped Virat Kohli and Rahane, and Liam Plunkett’s delivery that crashed through Dhoni’s stumps, left India hobbling at 184 for six. The Test was wide open and England had a chance to twist the knife.

India found its crutches fast and soon was sprinting merrily as Binny (78), a ‘dubious selection,’ according to television pundits, proved his batting credentials. A knock, effective in defence and pleasing to the eyes, Binny’s critical partnerships — 65 with Jadeja and 91 with Bhuvneshwar (63 n.o.) — saved the Test for India and helped Dhoni say in the post-match press-conference: “Plenty of positives for us!”