The Indian declaration came without a warning so much so that the motley crowd at the Sardar Patel Stadium here was surprised by MS Dhoni’s sudden recall of his batsmen on Friday afternoon. The stands stood in astonishment when the batsmen started walking back eight overs after the tea break. In those overs, India added only 19 runs.
If the declaration was imminent, there perhaps should have been a sense of urgency, rush and big hits. Instead, the batsmen, including double centurion Cheteshwar Pujara, just went through the motions as if they were playing for a draw rather than a win. It was like foreplay sans the main action.
So it appeared, for a few minutes.
But hold on. Action was there — in ample measure and in large abundance. All the sound and fury by England over spin, rather lack of it, in their build-up to the Test, looked justified in the way they handled Ravichandran Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha. In a trice, the visitors were 41 for three, dancing on the pitch like a cat on a hot tin roof.
Nick Compton, Jonathan Trott and nightwatchman James Anderson perished failing to negotiate turn on the track, flight in the air and bounce off the pitch. England lost three wickets in 18 overs. They had needed almost one full day to take as many Indian wickets.
By stumps on Day Two, India have put themselves in a position from where they can call the shots in the Test. With 480 behind and 281 more needed to avoid follow-on, England’s hopes will rest on their two unbeaten batsmen — Alastair Cook and Kevin Pietersen. The two would have to play out of their skins to save the Test.
Samit Patel said that is possible and there is a lot of cricket left in the Test but from this stage, a victory for India should be as imminent as an item number in a Bollywood potboiler.
Earlier, India declared at 521 for eight after Pujara completed his double century. Overnight 323 for four, India started the day on a rather sluggish note, Pujara and Yuvraj Singh preferring caution to aggression. Pujara, unbeaten on 98, did not need much time to complete his century in the morning, but after reaching the landmark, he batted as if he was starting all over again.
Yuvraj played the odd big shot and completed his half century in the first session but defence was his preferred approach. Despite being in a position of ascendancy, the Indian batsmen did not look dominating.
Pujara played some fine shots, particularly through on-side whenever the bowlers erred in length, but graft was the adopted method of his batting. He batted for 513 minutes and 389 balls in a marathon effort of unbeaten 206. The knock is a good augury for Indian cricket in general and Pujara in particular.
Yuvraj, playing a Test exactly after a year and cancer treatment, was in fine nick. He attacked the spinners with some lofted shots, one of which fetched him the half century. He looked set for a century when he mistimed a Patel full toss. But in the 151-ball knock, he succeeded in proving that he belonged to this level. Question marks over his fitness have been put to rest.