• India v England, 1st Test, Ahmedabad, 2nd day

England faltering in trial of spin

The Report by David Hopps
November 16, 2012
England 41 for 3 (Cook 22*, Pietersen 6*) trail India 521 for 8 dec (Pujara 206*, Sehwag 117, Yuvraj 74, Swann 5-144) by 480 runsScorecard and ball by ball details

File photo: On day two in Ahmedabad, Cheteshwar Pujara made his first Test double hundred (ESPN is not carrying live pictures due to curbs on the media) © Associated Press
After the certainty of Cheteshwar Pujara's unbeaten double century, England's fallibility against spin bowling once more was all too apparent. India have plotted turning pitches, opened the bowling with a spinner and in 18 overs of gathering mayhem struck three times in the closing phase of the second day. Initial evidence at least suggests that England's Asian nightmare is about to continue.

One of those three wickets was a nightwatchman - James Anderson, who prodded the left-arm spinner, Pragyan Ojha to short leg - but that was small consolation. Nick Compton batted reasonably securely on debut until R Ashwin, who had opened the bowling, found sharp turn to bowl him through the gate. Jonathan Trott also fell to Ashwin for a fourth-ball duck, a cast-iron push forward and another catch at short leg off bat and pad.

What a contrast this was with what had passed earlier. England knew little of Pujara before the series: a bit of a recce in a warm-up match, a few shots watched on a laptop, a provisional theory or two about how best to get him out and a worried expression or two from statisticians unable to deliver megabytes of data.

England know lots more about Pujara now. When India declared, to leave England 18 overs before the close of the second day, Pujara had batted in accomplished fashion for more than eight-and-a-half hours. But they still do not have much idea how to get him out. Not on low, ponderous surfaces like this, at any rate.

When Anderson took the first wicket by an England seamer, in the 158th over, there was an emotional argument for throwing the laptops in the skip, but England's management stared into them with the staunch, glassy-eyed futility of a touring party under enormous pressure. The scorecard showed them that Graeme Swann, valiantly bearing an onerous responsibility as England's only specialist spinner, had maintained an immaculate line, bowling in traditional offspinner's style, to finish with 5 for 144.

Pujara's progress will have had the connoisseurs purring. He has played in stately and composed manner, producing a masterpiece of strategic thinking. Rahul Dravid has retired to England's relief and they have walked straight into another India batsman with an insatiable appetite for batting. It is understandable how to an Indian eye he might occasionally resemble VVS Laxman, but his mindset is pure Dravid. He bats more elegantly but, like Dravid, has no need for flourish or frippery. The man himself, looking on from the commentary box, could not fail to be mightily impressed.

Swann apart, for England there was no encouragement. The ball refused to deviate, in the air or off the ground, for a hard-pressed seam attack as India's first innings moved inexorably forward. After the Sehwag-fuelled start on the first day, India ground on, their rate slowing. By the declaration, they had added a further 198 at 2.82 runs per over.

Pujara had rounded off the first day by driving Anderson crisply through mid-off for four, a satisfying finale, but one which left him on 98 not out. England sensed an opportunity.

Stuart Broad allowed him a comfortable leg-side single to move to 99, and hammed up a vociferous lbw appeal for a ball pitching outside leg; Swann bowled an intelligent maiden. But he picked off another single in Broad's next over to reach his second Test hundred and celebrated with a quiet air of contentment. When he later reached 200 by steering Anderson past gully, the crowd were ecstatic at the success of one of Gujurat's own, but Pujara struck you as the sort of level-headed man who does not dance easily in company.

His restrained innings, characterised by subtle placement and a sober mind, was a model of restraint and orthodoxy. How England must regret Anderson's inexplicable misjudgement when Pujara was eight, dashing forward too far at mid-on as he misjudged the flight of Pujara's leading edge against Tim Bresnan. The decline in England's fielding has been marked for some time and, as Anderson showed again, it is afflicting both the best and the worst.

The most romantic story of all failed to materialise. Yuvraj Singh made a successful return to Test cricket after treatment for cancer, but there was no comeback century, that hope ending when he was unhinged by a groin-high full toss which he whacked obligingly down to long on in the fourth over of the afternoon. Patel had the good grace to look sheepish.

Yuvraj entertained, though. His skip down the pitch to strike Swann straight for six was the shot of the morning and was followed by a sweep that fell short of six by inches. Fifteen came from the over; if India broke Swann, England really were in trouble. They never did, but Yuvraj, as a left-hander, had an appetite for Patel, an inconsequential second spinner. His place at No. 6 is justified by his adroitness against spin but, in this Test, his own left-arm slows look slightly round-arm and unthreatening.

David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo

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