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England wilt in the field and collapse at the crease

Saturday, 17 November 2012 - 8:49am IST | Agency: Daily Telegraph
Loss of three wickets in two overs a hammer blow. Pujara, the new Dravid, puts bowlers to the sword.

If ever a photograph were needed to tell a story it was when Alastair Cook, England's new Test captain, leaned on his bat looking utterly bereft when Jonathan Trott was out for a duck in a crazy two overs during which England lost three wickets at the end of the second day of the first Test.

Trott's dismissal, to Ravichandran Ashwin, capped a brutal day for Cook. Unhappily, few images are being transmitted from this Test because of rights issues, so Cook's devastation will probably remain unpublished despite it perfectly summing up the miserable start to his captaincy.

It also gave further evidence that England have been mugged, deceived and made fools of here. India made 521 for eight declared on the back of a superb, unbeaten 206 from Cheteshwar Pujara. If -fielding for 160 overs was not hard enough, England had to see out the perilous hour towards dusk that coaches warn batsmen of but can do little to allay, as tired minds face fresh spin bowlers with men around the bat.

Surviving that without collateral damage is almost impossible but to lose three wickets, two of them top-order batsmen, was a hammer blow. First to go was Nick Compton, his debut innings in Tests not quite as memorable as the one in 1937 by his grandfather, who scored 65 against New Zealand. Compton looked solid, if strokeless against Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha. With the ball turning off the pitch, Ashwin spun a quicker off-break through the gate to bowl him: his 50th wicket in only his ninth Test, a record for India.

With just under half an hour left, England sent in James Anderson as nightwatchman, a controversial move since Steve Waugh banished it when captain of Australia. The Australians have since reprised it, at least under Ricky Ponting, but Anderson was never likely to survive long lunging as he did, and Ojha quickly had him caught off bat and pad by Gautam Gambhir at short leg. Anderson is unlikely to list this among his favourite grounds having taken one for 75, failed in his duty as nightwatchman and misjudged a catch off a man on eight who went on to make 206.

Protected for all of seven balls by Anderson, Trott arrived, scraped his guard and departed all in the space of a few minutes, another victim of the vultures around the bat.

His wicket prepared the way for Kevin Pietersen to join his new captain for his first major innings since the Headingley Test in early August. A headlong charge at Ashwin's first ball to get off the mark was followed by an early confrontation with his pie-chucking nemesis Yuvraj Singh. Earlier, Yuvraj had fallen short of the perfect comeback, after a year's absence beating cancer, when he was out for 74, though being asked to bowl to Pietersen appeared to take him by surprise and he sent down a series of long hops both batsmen took advantage of before stumps were drawn with England 41 for three, still a distant 281 from avoiding the follow-on.

Given that the same pattern of events has been inflicted upon England here for the past quarter of a century, it was all so predictable. Essentially it is all about deception: England being fooled by the pitch into picking the wrong bowling attack and fooled by the warm-up games against modest opposition into thinking that they could play spin.

Taking on Indian spinners at home when they have a massive total on the board is almost as intimidating as facing the West Indies quicks of yore, and infinitely more claustrophobic. You can practise all you like with loudspeakers and coaches sledging and appealing, but until you face the real thing there is no substitute, which is why England did not face any decent spinners in the warm-up games.

India did allow their batsmen to have an early taste of England's bowlers with both Pujara and Yuvraj playing in the warm-up games. Both got runs then and both got them here too, with Pujara, 24, excelling in spectacular fashion in only his sixth Test. He is the local boy made good, coming from nearby Rajkot. He has a lovely economy of stroke reminiscent of Rahul Dravid, who he has replaced in the side. The exception is his pull shot to the spinners. Perhaps because of the sluggish nature of the pitches in India, he puts his whole body into it, imparting a kind of twisting top-spin reminiscent of the great West Indies batsman Rohan Kanhai.

There have been few thrills to his batting here but, ever since he played at under-14 level, Pujara has possessed an appetite for big scores and while this was his first double hundred in Tests, he already had 10 doubles and three triples in the first-class game.

Swann felt he had Pujara lbw when he was on 113, but umpire Tony Hill did not agree and with no Decision Review System, there was no way to refer it. Swann finished with a hard-earned five for 144 from 51 overs but it was thin gruel elsewhere.

 




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