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England fight to stay afloat

- Ojha takes 5, Ashwin 3 as visitors follow on

Ahmedabad: Just 3.1 overs of England’s second innings were completed when play was interrupted, as the pitch needed some repairing. Among the groundsmen who were summoned, there was one who had a hammer in his hand, probably to fix the loose chunks on the wicket.

But the hammer had two symbolical interpretations for England. Either it was to hammer home the point that the visitors, after a meek 191-run capitulation in the first innings and following-on, had already lost the match, virtually that is.

Or it was to hammer out the dent in the visitors’ confidence so that they can, at least, put up a valiant fight in the second innings.

Well, the Alastair Cooks chose the second option as they finished Day III on 111, without loss, in 38 overs of their second innings.

They had lost four wickets in 34 overs, in the morning session. They are still 219 runs behind and there are still two more days to go, but England now are playing more like the No.2-ranked Test team.

Cook was playing like a captain, unbeaten on 74 off 124 balls. And debutant Nick Compton would surely make grandfather Denis proud with his 146-minute vigil at the crease, batting on a patient 34.

Together, they portrayed a different England in the second essay as compared to the first. If the second innings saw the real England, then the first innings team must have been from some other land.

Pragyan Ojha and Ravichandran Ashwin, who appeared almost unplayable in the first innings sharing eight wickets between themselves — Ojha 5/45 and Ashwin 3/80 — were dealt with intelligence.

It’s not that there weren’t any chances. Ojha could have had both the openers. Virat Kohli dropped Compton on 23 and then umpire Aleem Dar didn’t budge to a convincing leg before appeal when Cook was on 37.

But the other half of the day was an entirely different story. Read on…

On Saturday morning, such was Ashwin and Ojha’s hunger for wickets that it seemed as if they had skipped breakfast.

In front of them, Cook and Kevin Pietersen (17), the overnight not out batsmen, looked like children in their daddies’ shirts — misfit for any serious purpose, especially Pietersen, who came with the pre-determined ploy of jumping down the track against the spinners.

The floodgates opened in the 15th over of the day when Ojha’s sharp turn off the track beat Pietersen’s bat to crash on to the stumps.

But what happened next was cricketing equivalent to a fire-fighter burning his own house.

Ian Bell, the next man in, danced down the pitch in the very first delivery he faced to be caught by Sachin Tendulkar at mid-off. His bravado, or rather the lack of it, foretold England’s plight… Puzzled, petrified and punctured.

As Dhoni’s men, four at least, surrounded the batsmen, it was only a matter of time before England had to pad up for the second time on the same day.

The day also saw quite a few catches being dropped and the umpires goofing up at least six decisions. Not at all appreciable, but then that’s Test cricket at its best… It’s a test for everyone.

Sunday’s first session will be a crucial one. It will be a choice between the hammer and the anvil. Let’s see which team opts for what…