Ahmedabad day two: England 41-3

The second day of the India v England series could have actually been worse for England. They did not get the early wickets they wanted and in fact did not get any wickets in the morning session at all. But after that they bowled a bit better and got a lot luckier in the afternoon and first part of the evening session to get four wickets. India declared on ‘only’ 521-8. That’s still a big score, of course, but there have been more than one time in this match in which India looked like they could comfortably get to six hundred if they so chose. But England were lucky to even restrict them that much. Yesterday Graeme Swann undid Virat Kohli with a brilliant delivery and England did induce a few chances that went down. Today Yuvraj Singh contrived to get himself out to a full toss from Patel, MS Dhoni gloved a sweep onto his stumps and Ravi Ashwin edged a wide long-hop from Kevin Pietersen behind. If one wanted to really give England credit then one could say that the Singh wicket was the product of choking off the runs before that, but that would be very generous. The only wicket England really took was that of Zaheer Khan and that hardly counts.

England never did get Cheteshwar Pujara out either. He played a fantastically composed innings for 206* and looked not only like a proper Test player, but a like-for-like replacement for Rahul Dravid at number three. It is certainly very good news for India as he looked like he would be able to play even outside the subcontinent. What will really annoy England though is that their misjudgement/drop yesterday ended up costing 198 runs. Pujara was one of only three batsmen to go past fifty runs in India’s first innings and although that was mostly due to careless batting England still should look back and think that India could have been closer to 323-9. Obviously everything else would not have gone exactly the same, but I think it is still illustrative of how the fielding has to improve.

Of course as much as England would have liked the bowling to have done better the real question was always going to be the batting and that got off to a poor start. Alastair Cook and Nick Compton looked okay against the spinners for a while, but there was quite a bit of turn and bounce and eventually one got through Compton. He left a bit of a gate which should not have happened, but mostly it was a good ball and he had played fairly well up until then. It was disappointing, but far from a disaster. But then England sent in Jimmy Anderson as a nightwatchman. This has been their policy, but it is much like their dogged refusal to play five bowlers: questionable, but so well established it seems pointless to argue. Against two spinners getting turn Anderson lasted about as long as one would expect a number eleven to last. Trott had to rush in to bat anyway, was out quickly and by the time it was all over it was a disaster.

It was certainly an inauspicious start to England’s batting on the subcontinent and England are now in a spot of bother in the Test. But there are some positives. Losing wickets late in a day is no guarantee of how things will go afterward; it happens all the time outside of the subcontinent too. One of the wickets was also the nightwatchman, so England are effectively still 39-2. It’s still not good, far from it, but nor is it as bad. And England do still have plenty of batting to come. Cook is still there having fought through the mini-session and Ian Bell and Matt Prior are still to bat. I would not rely on them, but there is also Kevin Pietersen at the crease and Samit Patel is in form.

Five hundred and twenty-one is still a long way off, but the follow-on total of 322 is much closer. I would not say that I am confident that England will get there, but they cannot be ruled out on the evidence of only 18 overs just before stumps. Avoiding the follow-on is only the first step and if England fail to do so I think they will almost certainly lose. But if India do have to bat again then they will not have a lot of time to force a victory. It’s a bit far in the future; India are still strong favourites and England have to just focus on getting a good score. But they still have a chance to get a draw out of this match.

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