The Telegraph
Sunday , December 9 , 2012
Since 1st March, 1999
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Nine go down, like ninepins

Calcutta: With a stoic expression on his face, the trudge to the dressing room seemed like an eternity. Graeme Swann’s delivery landed on the usual line outside the off stump, and as Sachin Tendulkar lunged forward, the outside edge went to Jonathon Trott at slip.

A sigh descended at the Eden as the 35,000-odd turnout went speechless at half-an-hour past noon. A few tried to rush towards the iron fencing near the B-block to take a closer look at The Master, but were shooed away by the police.

A paddle swept four, a ball earlier, had raised hopes of something special in what was likely to be his final Test innings here. But Swann spun magic to rattle the Indian top-order after lunch.

From 86 without loss, India lost six wickets in 17 overs in the second session for the addition of only 59. The trauma continued in the final session before Ravichandran Ashwin showed his consistency with the bat and the last two wickets frustrated England for 118 minutes.

England have all but consigned India to back-to-back losses with the final day remaining. The hosts are just 32 runs ahead and it will be interesting to see if Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha can continue beyond the first hour on Sunday.

A fortnight back, none dared to whisper that England would make a comeback in the series. India were eyeing revenge in designer pitches after the humiliation in England.

If Monty Panesar proved to be England’s trump card in Mumbai, Alastair Cook’s men have carried the momentum into the third Test.

There was very little hope of India saving this Test, but what has stunned all is their manner of capitulation. The top and middle order, like in the first innings, failed to show the patience and determination to bat on this wicket.

That survival wasn’t impossible was proved by Ashwin, who remained undefeated for four minutes short of three hours.

The simple truth is that the Indians haven’t learnt their lessons from the Mumbai debacle. The virtues of Test cricket are absent and the proliferation of one-day cricket is weighing heavy on the batsmen’s technique.

Let’s stop boasting of our envious home record and admit that we are a very ordinary Test side. Our bowling is one of the worst in the world, the fielding deplorable and the batting lacks application.

The morning session, though, belonged to India, the only time in the Test that they showed dominance. England lost their four overnight wickets for only 14 runs and extended their lead to 207 before Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir tore into the attack.

Both the openers survived once each, but there was no stopping the flow of runs. Sehwag was shaping to make the pitch look like a belter as he raced to 49 in 56 balls and Gambhir was bent on destroying the psychological edge that Monty Panesar enjoyed.

Then all hell broke lose. Swann turned the first ball after lunch between Sehwag’s bat and pad to knock the off stump to start the slide. England had sniffed the kill and there was no looking back.

Cheteshwar Pujara was then run out after the batsmen hesitated and couldn’t beat Ian Bell’s direct hit from short mid wicket.

Gambhir survived briefly when replays showed that he hadn’t edged a low catch off Swann. Luck however ran out in the next over as the lefthander drove a wide delivery from Steven Finn to Matt Prior. Sachin then fell for five.

Yuvraj Singh couldn’t keep his bat down to one from James Anderson that kept low and crashed onto his stumps. By then both Anderson and Finn were reverse swinging at an alarming pace and panic had set in.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni followed one tamely outside the off stump. Virat Kohli was set up nicely, Finn forcing him to the back foot with one that came in and then getting the next to move away. Kohli, like an obedient student, nicked it into Prior’s hands.

Only Ashwin showed the temperament needed during his unbeaten 83. He was waiting for the loose deliveries and picking the gaps nicely, taking full advantage of an attacking field. Even the second new ball couldn’t disturb his concentration.

Ishant Sharma hung around for 75 minutes to put on 38 for the ninth wicket and then Ojha showed the same dour approach in an unbroken 43-minute partnership that has so far added 42.

On any other day, the applause once India managed to wipe out the deficit could’ve been mistaken for an Indian victory. But then there was very little for the spectators to cheer.

There wasn’t much jeering either. Perhaps they were stunned by the turn of events!

Only the Barmy Army, sitting to the right of the Club House, played their band full throttle. They will party hard into the night and for the next few days too.