Eight for four, and nowwhere to go

The manner in which India extended its first innings trauma into the second belied even the worst-case scenario plots, writes K. C. Vijaya Kumar.

Manchester has a sizeable share of population from the Indian subcontinent, especially from the two Punjabs split by the Wagah Border. Of course, those from Lahore outnumber the ones from Jalandhar. There is even a road called Curry Mile that — you guessed it right — has restaurants primarily dealing with India and Pakistan cuisine. There are also FM radio stations dedicated to Bollywood.

If these are things that would make the Indian team feel at home, unfortunately at the city’s historic cricketing venue, Old Trafford, M. S. Dhoni and his men felt completely lost. The insecurity multiplied on a fair pitch with its share of good bounce. Once the Indian captain elected to bat on winning the toss under overcast skies, his top-order undid his decision with a terrible collapse (eight for four) in the first 30 minutes of play. And there was only one way the fourth Test (August 7-9) was headed — towards England’s grasp.

Yet, the manner in which India extended its first innings trauma into the second belied even the worst-case scenario plots. If India mustered 152 in the first dig, it wound up at 161 in the second knock. And during these two hits, only a combined total of 89.4 overs was consumed!

The biggest flaw that can derail any team in Tests, the inability to bat long and occupy time, undid India, and the visitor crashed to an innings and 54-run defeat within three days, which meant the host was sitting pretty with a 2-1 lead with one match — at The Oval — still remaining in the series.

If momentum is a fickle mistress in sport, the current series proved it emphatically. England, condemned for a batting-friendly pitch in Nottingham that led to a draw, and pilloried further following a loss at Lord’s, had nowhere to hide. So too was the plight of its captain Alastair Cook. However, the tide turned once Cook was dropped on 15, by Ravindra Jadeja, at Southampton’s Ageas Bowl. On such slender threads are built a game’s oscillating fortunes. Eventually, England won the third Test and marched into Manchester on level terms.

India helped Cook’s cause by failing to turn up, especially its batsmen. A peeved Dhoni said later, “In the first two Tests, the lower-order camouflaged the runs that the top-order batsmen did not make. The batsmen should take up responsibility.”

The dirge began when James Anderson — revelling in his home town and assured that the ICC had closed the Code of Conduct violation case against him for allegedly pushing Jadeja during the first Test at Trent Bridge — and Stuart Broad (six for 25) scythed through the Indian line-up. Be it comeback man Gautam Gambhir or a surprisingly struggling Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara, the corridor outside the off-stump proved too tempting, while Murali Vijay got an incredible delivery from Anderson. As he walked away in disbelief, Vijay asked Pujara: “Should I have played at it?” And Pujara said: “Yes.” Such was the accuracy and menace of the ball that hurtled towards the opener.

It was left to Dhoni 71 (133 balls, 15x4) and the support crew of Ajinkya Rahane and R. Ashwin to soften India’s fall. The trio ensured that India went past the 150-mark.

Dhoni’s knock was built upon patience and his earthy wisdom of countering swing, which meant that he went walk-about at the crease to negate whatever Anderson and Broad bowled to him.

When England commenced its first innings, it had to contend with Varun Aaron’s pace and Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s swing. Pankaj Singh too persevered and finally got his maiden wicket off the 416th delivery he bowled since his debut at Southampton. However, India’s seam combine was hamstrung by two factors — a poor total and their own inability to sustain the pressure. Still there were moments of delight for the ‘desi’ fan when Aaron got Cook, caught on the pull and Bhuvneshwar scalped Sam Robson. The killer punch was when Aaron softened Moeen Ali with bouncers and then castled him with one that stayed full and seamed in.

England, however, prospered as Joe Root (77) and Jos Buttler (70) joined forces for the seventh wicket and added 134 runs. Though Aaron broke Broad’s nasal bridge with a mean bouncer, after being hooked for two consecutive sixes, the host comfortably secured a 215-run lead thanks to its first innings score of 367.

JOINING FORCES... Jos Buttler raises his bat in the direction of the pavilion after reaching 50 on the third day. Team-mate Joe Root looks on. Root (77) and Buttler (70) added 134 runs for the seventh wicket that took the match further away from India.-AP

On the third day afternoon, all India had to do was to play out the remaining 61 overs and then hope that Hurricane Bertha, zipping across the Atlantic Ocean, would play a wet hand in the course of the match.

Sadly, sense was discarded and on a pitch that Dhoni termed as ‘good’, his batsmen imploded.

Anderson, not keeping well and struggling initially for rhythm, and an absent Broad should have given Indians some hope, but they were just self-destructive.

To add insult to injury, spinner Ali grabbed four wickets and with just Ashwin (46 n.o.) and to a certain extent Dhoni resisting, India was bundled out in 43 overs.

The following day, it rained non-stop! Maybe Dhoni’s men watched it from their hotel windows and rued their ineptitude.