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Eden pitch a smash hit, but India miss it

James Anderson at the Eden, on Wednesday. Picture by Gautam Bose

Calcutta: A little after the players had retreated to the dressing rooms and dusk had settled on the Eden green, a wry smile flickered across Prabir Mukherjee’s lips.

Having battled the Board and captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni during the last fortnight, the veteran curator had made it clear that he was in no mood for charity.

Dhoni didn’t quite get the turner that he had demanded. Instead he was meted out a wicket where everyone worth his salt would benefit. More importantly, none complained after the opening day.

“This is a wicket which will have something for everyone,” Gautam Gambhir didn’t mince his words.

If Dhoni was lucky with the coin for the third consecutive time in this series, his top and middle-order ensured that the advantage was negated through an exhibition of lack of temperament and some poor shot selection.

Except for Gambhir’s 60 and Sachin Tendulkar’s 76 — the Master’s first half-century in his 11th innings since the 80 in Sydney in January — none of the batsmen withstood the challenge as India crawled to 273 for seven at the close.

That there was something in the wicket for those willing to bend their backs was vindicated by James Anderson’s fiery spell after lunch. Both Sachin and Yuvraj Singh were lucky to have come through unscathed in those five overs during which the England pacer showed his mastery over reverse swing at an alarming pace.

The mild afternoon breeze, blowing from the western side of the ground through the only opening amid the layers of concrete, did help him in his endeavour, but he also displayed his mastery over his craft and skill in this session.

There were a couple of edges that flew wide of the slip fielders. Virat Kohli wasn’t so lucky though as his snick off Anderson flew low and straight to Swann. He has found some unlucky and some horrible ways to be dismissed in this series. Perhaps the learning curve in home conditions isn’t complete yet!

The presence of bounce was evident as early as in Anderson’s second over of the day when one darted across Gambhir’s face. But Anderson didn’t have to invoke fear, he showed his control over the reverse swing in picking up two wickets and a third with the second new ball.

Once Virender Sehwag and Gambhir got entangled in a horrible mix-up going for the third run, resulting in the former’s run out, and Cheteshwar Pujara misjudged the length of Monty Panesar’s arm ball, it was left to Gambhir and Sachin to shoulder the responsibility.

Gambhir weathered the early storm confidently till slicing one to first slip. Much like Sachin, Gambhir didn’t commit the same errors that had cost them dear in Mumbai and was not playing from his crease.

This subtle change did prove to be useful in tackling the wily Panesar. The runs though dried up after lunch with Panesar — who bowled a 21-over unchanged spell since the eighth over in the morning while dismissing Pujara and Gambhir — troubling the batsmen with his variations in pace and flight.

This wasn’t the most convincing of Sachin’s innings but once he had got the start, he looked to make the most of the circumstances. There was an intense battle between an accurate Panesar and a desperate Sachin trying to prove a point. A batsman determined not to yield to the left-arm spinner for a third time.

Throughout the most of a gripping day, Sachin looked to prove those wrong who have been thinking that he was living on borrowed time. Most of his 13 boundaries were through delectable flick of the wrists and nudges behind the wicket before being undone by Anderson’s late movement.

In his first spell in the final session, Sachin prodded at the first ball after the drinks break for Matt Prior to bring an end to the 202 minutes of resolute batting.

In between Yuvraj undid all the good work when he drove uppishly to short extra cover. Yuvraj had shown the zeal to take on Panesar and Swann and it included a straight six of the left-arm spinner.

England benefited from taking the second new ball in the last hour of play under lights. Dhoni and Ravichandran Ashwin (21) looked like surviving the last four overs when Anderson broke through the offie’s defence.

What could have been a satisfying day for the home team, had been soured by the ineptitude of the batsmen.