India desperately hoped for rains, or at least the sunshine, this morning. The drizzle had stopped hours ago and the covers were removed minutes before the players had walked in. But the grey cloud cover still hung over Nottingham. It was overcast at Trent Bridge and the fresh English bowlers were getting the 48-overs-old ball to move a lot in the air and bit off the pitch too.
Murky atmosphere, late reverse swinging ball and skilful pacers operating from both ends — the series was finally witnessing those fabled English conditions and the Indian batsmen were certainly not at home.
Stuart Broad had dismissed the two overnight batsmen. Virat Kohli falling to his stock ball, the one that came in and Ajinkya Rahane was caught behind to the variation, the one that straightened.
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This was followed by the turning point of the game. England skipper Alastair Cook denied Broad his third wicket of the morning, the game of its excitement and, probably, England a possible chance to take a 1-0 lead in the series. He dropped MS Dhoni’s knee-high catch at first slip. There is more about how Cook’s costly lapse spoiled England’s perfect trap to exploit a Dhoni batting weakness.
But first how India wriggled out of the tight corner. Ravinder Jadeja and Stuart Binny, the all-rounders who were not certain selection choices before the Test, overcame the pressures of retaining their place in the side to focus on the moving ball. Jadeja scored just 31 but it was his more than two hours of defiance that broke the English hearts. As for Binny, he looked the most comfortable batsman on the day. After Dhoni got out, Binny, like Jadeja, didn’t stonewall. Like it happens in most such situations, India didn’t dig a hole.
Rather Binny attacked. With each Binny boundary, the English hopes faded and by a little before tea it was clear that India was safe.
It was a place not very away from the danger zone that India was in when Jadeja had Dhoni for company. The two batsmen — known more for their shorter-version exploits — were adopting an old tactic to counter the reverse swing generated by Broad and James Anderson. Both stood outside the crease and even moved forward to cut the swing. Cook was placing, those by now familiar, unconventional field placements. Jadeja and Dhoni were constantly playing and missing but surviving.
Prior does a Dhoni
Posing a new challenge to the pair, Prior stood up to Dhoni when Broad was bowling. Actually, he was doing a Dhoni on Dhoni. The Indian skipper had Prior caught, off Bhuveshwar Kumar, when he had stood next to the stumps.
The England wicket-keeper’s new position forced Dhoni to return to the crease. This made it difficult for him to play his pet shot ‘the flick’ off the front foot to the covers. Against the moving ball, danger seemed round the corner for Dhoni. On the third Broad ball that was neither short or full, the Indian skipper poked and the ball flew to Cook in the slips.
The hands were in place but the cherry popped out. Had Dhoni got out, Binny would have to play under tough conditions a lot longer than he did.
Just after lunch, the sky cleared and the sun was out. The Test then was reduced to a farce. The Indian lower-order batsmen got batting practise.
England too did the smart thing. With the next Test just a few days away, England didn’t use the front line bowlers. After bowling long spells, they needed rest. Moeen Ali and Joe Root bowled spin that Binny, Jadeja and Bhuvneshwar milked.
The final act saw Cook take to bowling. He even got the wicket of Ishant Sharma while alternating between pace and spin. It’s easy to guess he would have preferred to hold the Dhoni catch than Sharma’s wicket.