If Lord’s resembles a museum, Rose Bowl looks more like a mall. Billboards and brands peep from each corner of this Test venue that has a food court and play zones. This child-friendly sporting venue has a giant wrought iron cage where children stroke sponge balls with their plastic bats as their parents watch the game peacefully. These games played by pre-teen cricketers have lusty hits, dropped catches, fielders casually strewn around and bowlers rolling their arm in no particular order.
On Day Two, during the English innings, the game on the central square didn’t seem very different from the kiddy Test going on beyond the boundary line. Indian captain MS Dhoni added some freaky bowling changes to his usual fancy field placements as England batsmen benefitted from lapses by tired Indian fielders.
Ian Bell (167), Gary Ballance (156) and Jos Butler (85) didn’t waste the opportunity to score the easiest Test runs of their career in very quick time to help England declare at 567/7 and give India the unenvious task of batting for 14 overs in murky conditions after two draining days on the field.
Opener Shikhar Dhawan didn’t survive. The strain of being in the slips, crouched for close to 163.4 overs waiting for the edge, and even dropping one, reflected in him nicking a James Anderson ‘round the wicket’ ball. Ironically, unlike him, Alastair Cook didn’t floor the ball. India, at close, were 25/1, Cheteshwar Pujara and Murali Vijay weathering the storm kicked up by a very charged Anderson.
one sided action
The intense action of the final hour was refreshingly different from the one-sided contest that was witnessed all through the day. It was a bizarre day on the field when India’s all three pacers went for 100 plus runs, while left-arm spinner Ravidra Jadeja was the most expensive at 153. The least bowled bowler, Rohit Sharma, was the most economical. Behind the stumps, Monday proved to be a non-working day. Dhoni missed a stumping while Dhawan and Ajinkya Rahane joined Jadeja in the butter-fingers club.
Amid this chaos, Dhoni came up with some confusion of his own. In the past, Dhoni has been blamed for having a ‘Test freeze’ when things are not working for him on the field. After the Lord’s win, Dhoni seems to be buzzing with unconventional ideas during an impasse. The jury is still out which of the two was better, since the result haven’t been different.
After standing five yards behind the stumps to left-arm spinner Jadeja, he once again forced the thinkers of the game to get into another huddle. Dhoni, the captain, gave the world a new way to shuffle the bowlers. He juggled with his three pacers by giving them one-over spells and two overs break. This would mean that batsmen would face the same bowler from a different end in a space of four overs. This was followed by a slight variation of his original idea.
Here, he would constantly change his pacers while bowling Jadeja from one end. While the experts around the ground shook their heads in disbelief, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, during his merry-go-round, took two of wickets – Joe Root and Moeen Ali – in the process giving Dhoni a couple of comeback lines in the ‘art of eccentric captaincy’ debates.
While all this was on, Bell got the opportunity to score his first ton since August last year. Adding 142 with Ballance, he exploited the dead track and the tired Indian unit. The wicketless first session set the tone of the day. Bell dealt two vital blows as he attacked Dhoni’s two most reliable bowlers – Kumar and Jadeja. He drove Kumar and lofted Jadeja. Before tea, Bell hit a couple of sixes and fours in the spinner’s over and England had their foot firmly pressed on the pedal.
Debutant Butler couldn’t have asked for an easier start to his Test career. By the time he walked to the field, the Indians had given up. He would hit nine fours and three sixes in his 83-ball 85. Dhoni, who had dumped his fancy ideas long back, now seemed to be waiting for Cook to make the next move. Actually, every eye in the stadium was on the England dressing room balcony, where Cook sat. After
Butler’s dismissal, the declaration came.
After the ‘cage cricket’ like Test, the final hour brought to mind the other ‘play area’ prop – the rock climbing wall. Pujara and Vijay playing, missing, edging looked like kids tied with ropes and powdered hands, trying hard to balance on the foot holds.