Early in the second session, India lost four wickets in 21 balls to go from 344 for 5 to 346 for 9. That got together the tailenders — Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammed Shami. The surprise collapse came with a buzz that swept across Trent Bridge. (Full Coverage: India tour of England)
The groundsmen were getting ready to powder the pitch during the innings break. The Barmy Army was headed out for a refill to lubricate their parched throats after they lustily cheered the English surge. And in the commentary box, they had already started discussing Alastair Cook’s form.
The fall of the final wicket, most thought, was a formality that the on-fire English bowlers would complete quickly. New to these shores, Bhuvneshwar and Shami were merely No.9 and No.11 for most locals. And it was only when Bhuvneshwar, yet to open his account like his partner Shami, refused to take a single did the crowd actually notice him.
First they raised their eyebrows and then they tried to find his batting record. But India’s new ball bowler had a batting plan that no one around believed in. Except for his bowling partner Shami. The two held their nerves in a crucial period of play to give India the edge.
In a bizarre post-lunch session of ups and down, where individuals from both sides experienced bouts of frustration, India emerged stronger. Indian skipper MS Dhoni’s run out on 82, Stuart Binny’s disappointing Test debut with the bat and Ishant Sharma’s embarrassing ‘leave’ to a ball that hit the top of off-stump would have left the Indians scratching their heads.
But the 111-run partnership between Bhuvneshwar and Shami made English tear their hair. The 229-ball association was a lesson in farming the strike, playing the ball on its merit and mentoring a lesser-batsman. The late fightback saw India score 457. Shami wasn’t finished as he dealt one more blow with the ball. He had Cook bowled from behind his legs. England finished at 43 for 1, still trailing by 414 runs.
For their comfortable position in the Test, India should thank the odd-couple. Bhuvneshwar with the pads looks the part. He has an easy, loose stance. He waits for the ball and does not reach for it. He has a solid defence and most importantly, the supple wrists that swing the ball can also work the ball around the field. Shami, meanwhile, can’t be confused for anybody but a tailender who has limited patience and a big slog sweep. Bhuvneshwar knew his partner pretty well. So he took Shami under his wings when he was new to the crease. For about 10 overs, he would defend the first four balls and take a single off the last two.
Running out of ideas
Cook, meanwhile, was sticking to his creative fields. He would try 7-2, 8-1 and other placements. Like he had done to India’s top order batsmen, he was once again trying to induce edges or get the batsmen to mistime shots.
Against Bhuvneshwar and Shami, the ploy didn’t work. The two offered a dead bat to the balls pitched on the stumps and left the rest.
Maybe, the direct attack to stumps would have been a better idea. Liam Plumkett aimed for the ribs, Broad concentrated on the 4th stump, Anderson on the legs and as for off-spinner Moeen Ali, it didn’t matter. The slow bowler went for 97 in 18 overs as he mostly bowled round the wicket to right-handers, a tactic that defied logic. Though, it was Ali who ended the partnership. It was Bhuvneshwar, and not Shami, who was out hitting a shot off Ali.
But the frame that captured the day was a diving Cook at slips failing to stop Bhuvneshwar’s tap to the third man that helped India cross 400. Several times during this game India had threatened to reach that figure but England had pushed them back. The 400 had looked achievable when Murali Vijay, unlucky to be lbw on Thursday for 146, and Pujara were at the crease on Wednesday.
One got the same feeling again during the Vijay-Dhoni partnership. On both occasions Anderson broke the partnerships. Who would have thought India would start dreaming of reaching 500 with their No.9 and No.11 at crease.