England’s bowlers didn’t need to aim at the stumps to run through India’s top order on Tuesday. James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Moeen Ali could get their name on the scorecard by targeting the helmet grill, pitching the ball outside off-stump or even by looping a tame half-tracker heading down the leg-side. Cheteshwar Pujara gloved a drone-like Broad delivery that chased his head, Murali Vijay dragged a ball by the same bowler to his stumps while Virat Kohli was out as he hung out his bat to a Anderson away going ball. India, on Day Three, had failed to show restraint as they forgot to bring their Test-match temperament to the field.
After the early damage by the pacers, Moeen Ali dealt a couple of soft blows with his innocuous off-spin that were more traumatic for the Indian dressing room. First Rohit Sharma played a shot that answered the often-asked question: Why has he played just six Tests so far? Five minutes before tea, Rohit, aiming for the vacant long on boundary, hit a tossed up Ali ball into the hands of mid-off. In an eerily similar dismissal, Ajinkya Rahane, five minutes after tea, hit a rank long-hop by the same bowler with the toe of his bat to short mid-wicket. A couple of obnoxious shots, after the inspiring spells in the morning, had made the England bowlers look more menacing than they actually were.
India finished the day at 246/8, needing 47 more runs to avoid the follow on. Mahendra Singh Dhoni, unbeaten on 55, had for company Mohammed Shami (4) as he tried to pull India out of trouble. The tourists scored over 100 runs after the fall of their last specialist batsmen. Like so often in the series, India were banking on another lower-order revival. This time, though, the usual rescuers — Ravindra Jadeja (31) and Bhuvneshwar Kumar (19) – too had departed early. At best from here on, India will do well to salvage a draw and keep their series lead.
It wasn’t the pitch or the English bowlers who were responsible for India’s misery. That goes to the collective failure of their batsmen to make a good start count in what soon turned out to be a dismal day. Two 30s, a couple of 20s and a 50 from the ‘Top 6’ on a scoreboard isn’t good reading. It’s an embarrassment for any team that aspires to reach the top of the Test rankings. Every Indian batsman that took the field today looked at complete ease with the bowling and at peace with the conditions. Yet, they somehow found ways to get out. Too many cameos don’t fit into a Test match script.
This was a day when wickets fell around the break, the period of play where coaches coax players to be extra cautious. Pujara, after surviving two crucial sessions, the difficult final hour on Monday evening and the about 60 minutes this morning, once again looked set for a big knock. The emphatic straight drive that he hit off Anderson seemed like conclusive evidence of the No.3 finally being on the verge of recording his first 50 of his series. But with the first drinks interval a few balls away, he was slightly slow to move away from an in-coming Broad ball. And it was all over for Pujara.
After the first break, Vijay was to get out against the run of play. The opener had looked solid all morning. He swayed from Anderson’s surprise short balls and waited in his crease for the late in-swinger. He had leaned into a ball pitched on his pad and scored a gorgeous boundary through mid-wicket. Vijay seemed set for a long innings. But it too turned out to be an illusion. Drawing his bat a bit late, he was out played on.
Still there was hope as Kohli was looking very comfortable, not long after he took the crease. Post lunch he scorched an extra cover drive to the fence.
Once again hope floated around the Indian dressing room. It lasted till Kohli couldn’t stop himself from playing a ball he should have left. And with India playing an extra batsman in Rohit, the Indian fans didn’t quite head to the exit.
With two Mumbai boys – Rahane and Rohit – building a partnership, it was hard to give up on India. It looked like a great story of two old friends rescuing India. Rahane’s backfoot play was eye-catching while Rohit was graceful in everything he did. They took the score from 136 to 210 and that’s when it all came tumbling down.
On his dismissal, Rohit’s long stare was the image of the day. It had looked all so simple for him. But now he had thrown it all away. The same could be said about India at Rose Bowl on Tuesday.