• India v England, 1st Test, Ahmedabad, 3rd day

Compton and Cook rebuild for England

The Report by David Hopps
November 17, 2012
File photo: On day three in Ahmedabad, Alastair Cook and Nick Compton are digging in in a bid to save the Test (ESPN is not carrying live pictures due to curbs on the media) © Getty Images

Alastair Cook has laid the foundations for a captain's innings, as England closed on 111 for 0 after being asked to follow-on by India in Ahmedabad.

England faltered alarmingly in the first innings, being fired out for 191 in pursuit of India's 521 for 8. India skipper MS Dhoni had no hesitation in asking England to follow-on but they were frustrated by some solid batting from Compton and captain Cook.

While Compton was extremely circumspect in compiling 34 not out, Cook looked to work the ball around and eased his way to 74 not out at stumps. England trail by 219 but they are at least showing some fighting spirit.

Ahmedabad has suffered a steep drop recently in the number of vultures circling the city, but those not affected by urbanisation and poisoning will find plenty to encourage them as long as England's malady against spin bowling persists.

India took England's last seven first-innings wickets by tea, with their spinners R Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha hunting down eight wickets in the innings, and as the follow-on was confirmed, a lone vulture loomed ahead as if in expectation of a quick kill.

England sorely needed a remedy second time around that might not save the Test but would pronounce themselves still redoubtable opponents in the three Tests to follow. Cook and Compton provided it with a contemplative, unbroken stand of 111 as the spinners failed to find the same purchase second time around.

India still lead by 219 runs with two days remaining, but here at last was an England batting pair, neither of them natural players of spin, working earnestly to come up with their own individual solutions. Cook was a captain leading by example, the more expansive as he picked off the bad balls; Compton, although more cautious, showed impressive resolve on debut.

Ojha came close to dismissing both, having Compton dropped in the gully on 23 by Virat Kohli, a tough chance by his boots, and seeing Aleem Dar refuse a convincing lbw appeal when Cook was 37. The BCCI will not accept DRS until it is 100 per cent efficient. Instead they got Dar, a fine umpire having a bad day, operating at a percentage he will wish to remain unrecorded.

England have no problems with spin. Psychologically, they have to say that. The evidence, though, remained contrary in their first innings as Ashwin and Ojha, taking four wickets on an exacting morning, became the latest combination to harry them to destruction in Asia.

Ojha, looping up his left-arm slows at a gentle pace, bowled Kevin Pietersen and had Ian Bell caught in the deep first ball - one of the most misconceived dismissals by an England batsman since Mike Gatting had a dabble at the reverse sweep in the 1987 World Cup final.

Ashwin accounted for Cook, whose accession to the England Test captaincy has come at a most unpromising juncture. Cook's methodical resistance took him to 41 before Ashwin caused him to reach for one that turned and edge to Virender Sehwag at first slip.

It was a gruelling morning for two highly-experienced umpires and with no review system in place the fear of giving a faulty dismissal in favour of the spinners seemingly soon crept into the consciousness.

Patel, on four, looked stone dead, when he played across a delivery from Ashwin and was struck in front of middle. You did not need a predictive path, which the BCCI disallows television from showing, to know that Dar had erred. When Dar did give out Patel lbw to Umesh Yadav, in a flirting appearance of pace bowling, you did not need a predictive path to know that the ball was slipping down the leg side.

There had been enough clues on the second evening, never mind the past year, to suggest that England would face a troubled morning and so it proved to be. Ashwin and Ojha bowled splendidly on an increasingly responsive surface, finding more turn than Graeme Swann had achieved in what was virtually a single-handed assault for England on the first two days.

Right from the outset, England were up against it. Pietersen was at his most frenzied, bent upon using his feet to the spinners, but if he was constantly on the move it was not necessarily in the right direction. He nearly yorked himself in Ojha's first over and had to dive back into the crease as Gautam Gambhir tried to run him out from silly point. In Ojha's next over, he charged again and MS Dhoni missed a leg-side stumping.

When umpire Tony Hill turned down an lbw appeal from Ojha, he faced an interrogation from bowler and captain alike as to whether Pietersen had played a shot, probably on the grounds that a player of his quality could not conceivably miss the ball by such a distance.

It all ended when Pietersen, this time remaining in his crease, tried to stay inside the line of the ball and was bowled, missing one that turned only slightly by quite a distance. Left-arm spin gets into his head and likes what it finds.

Bell's first-ball dismissal was mental frailty dressed up as aggressive intent, an attempt to dance down the wicket to strike Ojha down the ground ending in a mis-hit off the bottom of the bat to Sachin Tendulkar at mid-off. To call it rabbit-in-the-headlights stuff was an insult to rabbits. It has yet to be proved that a rabbit sits in its burrow proclaiming: "I am going to be a tough rabbit, I am going to be an adventurous rabbit. I have no idea about the speed of the car or the lie of the road, I am going to take on this car from the start, come what may." Or maybe they do and they are the ones that get splattered.

Cook and Patel, although finding few scoring opportunities, did at least have the wherewithal to try to unravel India's spin-bowling mysteries. Cook's tendency to fall over on leg stump was probed, but he survived it, swept with certainty at times, and was the one England player who could be dismissed with pride intact.

England could also have lost Matt Prior to an inviting full toss when he pulled straight to deep-square leg where Zaheer Khan was unable to hold a running catch. England were at least spared that embarrassment.

Prior marshalled some late-order resistance against the old ball - 94 for the last three wickets - until he became the fifth victim for Ojha, bowled seeking a boundary to raise his fifty. Swann, the best player of spin in England's lower order, found himself coming in at No. 11 and faced two balls, his chief involvement to check with India if they intended to make England bat again.

David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo

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