Ahmedabad: In eight-and-a-half hours, approximately, you can fly from Heathrow to John F. Kennedy airport in New York. The touring Englishmen might be well aware of that.
But on Friday, at the Motera, Alastair Cook and his men found out that almost in the same time period, eight hours 33 minutes to be precise, a single Indian, single-handedly can squash dreams that were sown in honest fields of hard preparation. And that was achieved without brute force… Just with dedicated resolve, wielding the bat both as a shield and a sword.
Cheteshwar Pujara’s stay at the wicket, 513 minutes spread over two days, has almost wiped out one possible result from the ongoing first Test of the four-match series. England are not going to win this Test.
Courtesy Pujara’s unbeaten 206, Mahendra Singh Dhoni felt safe enough to declare the innings on 521 for eight. And then Ravichandran Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha got down to business.
At the close of play, England were 41 from three. Cook and Kevin Pietersen were batting on 22 and 6, respectively. Nick Compton (9), James Anderson (2) and Jonathan Trott (0) will not play any further role in England’s first innings.
But let’s not deviate from Pujara. As he became the 19th Indian to score a double century, one could see chairman of selectors Sandeep Patil and his colleague Vikram Rathour stand up and clap in appreciation from the Indian dressing room.
True there was nothing in the pitch for most of the England bowlers, but that didn’t mean that it was a cakewalk for the batsmen. Remember, even a Sachin Tendulkar didn’t score much. Watching Pujara bat — patience flavoured with technically flawless strokeplay — is almost like watching Mughal-e-Azam in these days of Son of Sardars.
The term ‘a true Test cricketer’ has been stripped of its elegance. Often, it means someone who is not good in the limited-overs format. But Pujara is a rare player whose every move oozes the serenity of Test cricket.
While Pujara made the day his own, Yuvraj Singh missed what could have been one of the greatest comeback innings in the game. He began the day with élan, but was a tad late on a Samit Patel full toss, handing a simple catch to Graeme Swann at long on. His 74, with six fours and two sixes, could easily have been stretched further.
The opening session on Day II was identical to Day I, minus, of course, Virender Sehwag. It didn’t have the swish of silk, as it usually is when Sehwag is around, but the heady mix of Pujara’s assurance and Yuvraj’s flamboyance made its essence felt, as runs were not on the recession list.
For the England bowlers, early breakthroughs were necessary, to stop the Indians, and more importantly to ensure that their batsmen didn’t spend the entire day out in the sun, baked and ready to be devoured by the Indian spinners. They failed and the Ashwins had their feast.
If cricket came with the luxury of buying wishes with credit cards, the visitors would have paid any amount to get a wicket on Friday’s first session… Because they failed to cash in on a fresh day, and instead resorted to appealing for non-existent leg befores, as if the umpires had gone for a vacation and a local dhokla-shop owner, who could be easily convinced, had taken over the job.
The Broads and the Swanns went on and on and Cook was left wondering if making him debut as a Test captain in India was a conspiracy of the ECB!
Like lunch had helped England regroup and re-plan on the first day, on the second day captain Cook must have had some cerebral cereal at lunch as he came out a different leader, willing to do things a tad differently.
He began the post-lunch session with two part-time spinners — Pietersen and Patel. The move worked as Yuvraj fell.
Then, it was not long before Dhoni’s attempted sweep rolled back to dislodge the stumps. But this time it was off specialist Swann, his fifth of the innings. But when it was tea time, India were 502 for six — a score as refreshing as the tea itself.
Later, Ashwin’s couple of wickets along with Ojha’s one served as the icing on the cake for the Indians. England’s 18-over stay at the wicket on Friday, contesting the turning ball on a turning track, was much like a rat’s resistance when caught by the cat.
The writing is on the wall and the Cooks must have read it… Perhaps, they would need at least an eight-hour sleep to cleanse their minds of that fear!