Test series: India fight back, need twist in tail
The critics said they were not in form, their prolonged lean patch had already put them under the scanner. But Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane got their timing perfect on Sunday, turning it around at a time when India had their back against the proverbial wall.
The task was massive given the situation they found themselves in during the first session of the penultimate day of the second cricket Test at Lord’s. But then their quality as batsmen helped them rise up to the challenge and while it weren’t the classiest of knocks from the two, it’s only because of contributions from Pujara (45) and Rahane that India remained in the game.
At stumps on Day IV, India were 181/6 in their second innings, leading by 154. Rishabh Pant (14 batting) and Ishant Sharma (batting on 4) were at the crease when fading light forced early stumps.
Notwithstanding England’s brittle top-order batting, the current numbers certainly don’t look to be too inspiring for India. A few patches are visible on the pitch with some of the balls keeping really low. But if Pant can unleash his pyrotechnics, the pressure could well be right back on England.
Having said that, Pant’s job too will be no less difficult as the bulk of the runs now need to be scored by him with no recognised batsman left to give him support. England’s bowlers too are getting most things right, being disciplined right through the day and, importantly, not having to rely solely on James Anderson for the wickets so far in the Indian second essay.
Also, they are all set to take the new ball when action resumes on the final day.
England are better placed given the current scenario, but then cricket too is a game of uncertainty.
It could have been worse for India if not for Pujara and Rahane’s resistance, which was pivotal in stretching the visitors’ lead past 150. Openers Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul couldn’t last long, falling to the accuracy of Mark Wood (3/40), easily the pick of the England bowlers so far in this innings.
Captain Virat Kohli’s issues outside the off stump were exposed for the third time in a row in this series, this time by Sam Curran with an away-going delivery. India’s lead was just 28 when Rahane joined Pujara out in the middle.
At the start, it was all about a battle of attrition for the duo. Pujara was tentative again at the start, with an edge off Anderson falling just short of the first slip when he was on nought. Taking 35 balls to open his account, the India No.3 could finally breathe easier.
Rahane too had survived a close lbw shout early off Ollie Robinson. Both batters were yet to settle down going into lunch but started looking solid and more assured thereafter.
Although India managed only 49 in the second session, Pujara and Rahane remained unscathed, which meant the rival bowlers had to work harder to knock them off. Having grown in confidence, runs came faster in the final session with Rahane outscoring Pujara and working his way to a crucial, much-needed half-century.
Pujara too looked set for a 50, till an awkward bounce, when Wood banged it short at good pace, brought about his departure much against the run of play. Questions may again be raised of Pujara’s intent with his strike rate being 21.84, but at such a critical situation, his presence at the crease was priceless.
As for Rahane, he did have a bit of trouble against Moeen Ali, who eventually got the better of him before cleaning up Ravindra Jadeja too towards the end.
But it’s fair to say Rahane did a pretty decent job, till he was beaten by the off-spinner who bowled a straighter one that found the edge off the India Test vice-captain’s bat.
Soon after, Moeen, who has an impressive record with the ball against India at home, pitched one on the right spot that turned just a little bit to rattle Jadeja’s stumps. That dismissal also reflected Jadeja’s inability to get behind the line of the ball, which was a little baffling as the latter is otherwise a good player against spin.
Earlier, Rohit and Rahul were calm, just as they have been in the previous innings. Being confident about which balls to leave, they looked to score runs only when there was the opportunity. More importantly, neither of the openers looked unsettled before Anderson after proceedings began with India trailing by 27.
But fortunately for England, Wood, who wasn’t really threatening in the first innings, rose to the occasion and dismissed both Rahul and Rohit in quick succession. Bowling a perfect line, the pacer got one to shape just a little bit away from Rahul that had the batsman caught behind.
Wood then tried the bouncer against Rohit, but the latter being a compulsive puller, he smashed it for a maximum. The very next ball from Wood was again a short one, but Rohit backed away at the last moment.
In the last ball of that over, Wood tempted Rohit once more for the pull and on this occasion, it paid off as the shot went straight to Moeen at the deep.