Nagpur: Kevin Pietersen must be more upset with himself than his team.
Having done all the hard work on a track where batting doesn’t appear too easy, Pietersen orchestrated his own downfall that put the game in the balance at the end of the opening day of the fourth and final Test, here, at the VCA Stadium.
England laboured to 199 for five at stumps, on Thursday, with the onus of putting up a respectable total now lying with wicket-keeper Matt Prior (34) and debutant Joe Root (31).
As of now, both Prior and Root have shown a fair bit of resistance and resolve during their unbroken 60-run partnership for the sixth wicket. They refused to panic after the departure of Pietersen (73 off 188 balls, 10x4). India, on the other hand, failed to make the most of the gains having reduced England to 16 for two, and then 139 for five.
Twenty-one-year-old Root was particularly impressive with his off-drives and rarely showed any sign of nerves when India tried to pile on the pressure in the final session.
The visitors would only hope that the pair continue with their good work for a considerable period of time on the second day to brighten their prospects of a favourable result.
For India though, fielding three spinners along with debutant Ravindra Jadeja (2/34), has so far been effective. They were able to strangulate the English batsmen and restricted the scoring rate to just above two runs an over, on this slow and extremely dry pitch with hardly any bounce.
However, the script might well have been different had Pietersen stayed till the end of the day.
Arriving at the crease after England were jolted by Ishant Sharma’s (2/32) double blow — dismissing openers Alastair Cook and Nick Compton — Pietersen’s initial intention was to get on with the game regardless of the situation.
He took on Jadeja right away, knocking off seven runs in the left-arm spinner’s very first over.
He was stuck on nine for a while, though. But Jonathan Trott (44), at the other end, was in a positive frame of mind, which allowed Pietersen the time to regain his rhythm.
Once Pietersen took over, with two fascinating lofted on-drives — off Piyush Chawla — Trott focused more on occupying the crease and trying to give more of the strike to his partner.
Fortunately for India, Jadeja struck to break the stand before it could do any further damage. Jadeja bowled one that went on with the arm and knocked over the bails, with Trott misreading the line and offering no shot.
Minutes before tea, India chipped in with another wicket in the form of Ian Bell, whose failure against the spinners continued.
To make matters worse for the visitors, Pietersen, having spent 198 minutes at the crease, played a loose stroke to give Jadeja his second scalp.
However, to regain a firm footing on the game, the hosts need to get rid of both Root and Prior as early as possible on Friday morning.
They could well have had England on the mat after Ishant’s probing line reduced the visitors to 16 for two. After a long time, Ishant looked at his threatening best. Concentrating more on trying to bring the ball into the batsman, the pacer also made intelligent use of the short ball.
For instance, he kept it on the shorter side and in the corridor of uncertainty that caught Compton by surprise, resulting in the latter’s dismissal.
Ishant was a bit lucky though against the in-form Cook, as umpire Kumara Dharmasena raised the dreaded finger despite the fact that the England captain was hit outside the line of the off-stump.
At the same time, proper support from the other end could have helped Ishant after England, who won their first toss of the series, decided to bat.
The first innings could be decisive and India would look to restrict England on the second morning.
“The lesser number of runs we give, the better it will be for us. The ball will start turning from Day II or III. As the footmarks develop, the ball will starting turning more. We should restrict them to around 300,” said Jadeja.
Pietersen felt England were in a good position. “I think we are in a position of strength, having two seamers. I found Ishant incredibly difficult to play,” he said.