England crawled and clambered their way to a position of comfort as India frittered away an opportunity to stamp their authority in the fourth and final Test here on Thursday. An unlikely rearguard action from debutant Joe Root and veteran Matt Prior saved England the blushes on a surface that became the talking point of the day in more ways than one. The two produced some invaluable runs for the unbeaten sixth wicket as England ended the day at 199 for five, a score that looked a distant possibility when they came together at 139 for five.
England lost no time in announcing their ascendancy in the Test. Kevin Pietersen, the star of the day for the visiting side, declared they were in a position of strength by stumps. “Run-scoring was incredibly difficult, particularly against Ishant Sharma. We’ve two pacers, not one,” Pietersen remarked. India need to win the Test to save the series.
Incredibly, India chose to go in with one pacer and four spinners on a wicket that is staying low and turning slow. Only time will tell if MS Dhoni made the right decision but going by the turn of events on Day One, it did not appear to be an inspired call. India badly missed a new-ball partner for Ishant.
It would perhaps be easier to get an LBW verdict against a Pakistani batsman from umpire Shakoor Rana than score runs here. The low bounce off the pitch seemed to disconcert the visitors, who were in double mind whether to come in front or stay back. Batsman after batsman came and got rooted to the crease struggling to get going. Alastair Cook, who had scored 548 runs in 1,164 balls and 1,565 minutes before this Test, epitomised the batsmen’s struggle. He managed only one run in 28 balls. Similar was the struggle of Ian Bell, who too needed as many balls for his one run.
Ishant bowled 19 overs on the day and kept the batsmen on a tight leash. The gangly pacer reduced England to 16 for two in a fiery spell in the morning. He kept the batsmen on the back foot and managed to bring the ball back at a reasonably good pace. Openers Cook and Nick Compton found it hard to negotiate the pacer who sent both back by 11th over. Another pacer would have provided more bite to the attack.
Of the spinners, Ravindra Jadeja, making his debut, stood out claiming two wickets but the lead pair — Pragyan Ojha and R Ashwin — had a barren day. Piyush Chawla chipped in with one wicket but he was far from impressive.
For England, Pietersen (73, 188b, 10x4) was the saviour. The vicissitude of the pitch failed to dilute the vehemence in his determination and the solidity in his technique. With India unleashing four spinners, he played them as elegantly as the Swiss make their watches. He played the inside-out shots to spinners with consummate ease and was unlucky to have missed a century.
Later, England had batting stars in Root and Prior, who played with a lot of application. Root showed exemplary skills to negotiate the spinners. He has added 60 for the sixth wicket with Prior and India’s chances in the Test would depend how soon they break the stand on Friday.