The Telegraph
Monday , December 17 , 2012
Since 1st March, 1999
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Time is running out for India to square series

Pragyan Ojha celebrates after dismissing Nick Compton, in Nagpur, on Sunday. (PTI)

Nagpur: After a rare declaration, which came even before crossing the opponent team’s total, India, perhaps, had sensed hope in the horizon when Kevin Pietersen was dismissed early into his innings.

The visitors were 94 for three, with Alastair Cook, Nick Compton and Pietersen down. An overall lead of just 98 runs at that time meant an opportunity for India, to try and make further inroads and push for a resultů The only way to save the series.

But the final session on Sunday was unlike that of Saturday, when wickets had tumbled, which in turn had shifted the balance of the match.

On Day IV of the final Test, at the VCA Stadium, Pietersen’s departure hardly had any effect over the Englishmen, who were just focused on negating the time factor which would help them draw the match and win the series.

Jonathan Trott (batting 66) and Ian Bell (batting 24) played out the critical last hour with ample confidence, adding an unbroken 67 for the fourth wicket to take England a step closer to their goal.

The duo’s steady batting ensured no more hiccups, as the visitors now need to bat out around two sessions or so in the final day to cancel out any chance of an Indian victory and thus register a Test series triumph in India after a really long time.

At stumps, England were 161 for three, with an overall lead of 165 after India declared at 326 for the loss of nine wickets.

A twist in the tale, on the final day, appears unlikely as India still need to get as many as seven England wickets before setting off for the run chase.

Besides, contrary to what had been predicted and assumed earlier, spinners are yet to be classified as deadly on this pitch. The task for the Indian bowlers, therefore, remains a tedious one.

The Indians’ strategy in the first hour of the fourth day was inexplicable.

While the match situation demanded them to score as quickly as possible and overhaul the England total — or get closer to it — India managed only 29 runs, batting for as long as 62 minutes.

Given their approach, it appeared as if India were playing a Ranji Trophy tie, where securing a first innings lead would assure them of the crucial points.

England, for obvious reasons, had no problem in allowing Ravichandran Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha pick up two or three singles every over. In other words, the Indians played it into England’s hands.

Even declaring at the overnight total of 297 for eight would have been a better idea as it would have given the Indian bowlers an extra hour to have a go at the England batsmen.

After the declaration was finally announced, with India having played out 12.5 overs, England expectedly began their second innings at snail’s pace. Going into lunch, they put up only 17 runs on the board, off 13 overs.

Captain Alastair Cook took as many as 27 deliveries to open his account, while Nick Compton, too, was happy blocking at the other end. Cook finally perished, off the bowling of Ashwin, but not before he had already consumed 93 deliveries.

The captain, though, was again a victim of an umpiring error. While there was a fair bit of distance between his bat and the ball, umpire Kumara Dharmasena nodded in favour of the bowler, ruling Cook out caught behind.

Ojha, the only bowler who looked to create doubts in the English batters’ minds, trapped Compton leg before with a full delivery that didn’t have much turn.

But overall, one must say that the Indian bowlers failed to force the issue. The Sunday afternoon, however, was not entirely a dull and drab affair.

At the start of the 38th over of England’s second essay, the ball slipped out of Ravindra Jadeja’s grip and rolled outside the pitch, bouncing more than twice. Dharmasena called it a no-ball. But Trott then smartly walked towards the ball and smacked it along the ground for a boundary. A word or two were exchanged between Trott and the close-in fielders which charged up the 20,000-odd-crowd.