Calcutta, day two: England 216-1

The second day of the Calcutta Test will be remembered mostly as the one on which Alastair Cook set two records. Upon reaching 88* not out he became the youngest player in history to 7,000 Test runs, displacing a certain Sachin Tendulkar. Twelve runs later he became the first Englishman ever to score 23 Test centuries, passing the record of 22 that had been set by Wally Hammond over seventy years prior. And for good measure the hundred also meant that he extended his record with now a hundred in each of his first five matches as captain.

Cook did offer one chance in his innings; during a difficult spell after lunch he edged a ball from Zaheer Khan low to slip where it went through Cheteshwar Pujara’s hands to continue a poor Test for him. But Cook settled down against the spinners, including lofting a straight six off Ravichandran Ashwin, and looking in command thereafter. He and Nick Compton, who made his maiden Test fifty in the innings, did a fantastic job taking singles and squeezing out extra runs as well. Neither really took the attack to the bowlers or crashed boundary after boundary, as one would expect, but England still scored 99 runs in the afternoon thanks to some relentless running between the wickets. It even brought out a few replays of the Sehwag run out from yesterday on the BCCI broadcast and the contrast was stark.

One of the effects of this style of play was that India appeared to give up again. It is something to which they are very much prone; we saw it many times in Australia and England last year. Once Cook and Compton got well settled and scoring fairly freely India did not seem to have any plans to get a wicket and were utterly lacklustre in the field. Even after Compton played a poor shot to give his wicket away (albeit with a very small umpire error also involved) India did not pick up the energy and go after Jonathan Trott at all. One ball spun sharply and beat the edge of Trott, but other than that he was allowed to settle in for the hour before stumps and he made it to 21* overnight. India are still (exactly) a hundred runs ahead, but they seemed tonight like they were bowling for a declaration and it is the same thing that we saw in the last three Tests in England and two of the Tests in Australia. They just don’t seem to have any fight when things start going against them and in a situation like this it is a very bad trait to have. They are by no means out of this match after only two days, but if they do not turn their attitude around tomorrow they will be and out of any chance to win the series to boot.

The only criticism of what was otherwise a dominant performance by England today was the bowling to the last wicket partnership this morning. After getting Khan and Ishant Sharma out cheaply and early England reverted to the tactic of doing everything they could to get Dhoni off strike so they could bowl to Pragyan Ojha instead. India managed to put on twenty for that partnership including two huge sixes from Dhoni and in the end it was he who got out anyway. The Indian batsmen had struggled throughout the innings, but England simply decided not to try to get one of them out at the end and gift him some runs. It was very frustrating and if they had just bowled at Dhoni in the first place there is every chance they would have bowled India out for under three hundred. It may be a minor point in the grand scheme of the Test, but it is something I would like to see England approach better in the future.

Tomorrow could see England take a strangle-hold on this Test if India do not perform better than they did for most of today. India need to make sure England do not bat through the day and they probably need a wicket with the new ball when it becomes due about half an hour into play. If Cook and Trott see the shine off the second new ball though and continue to set a platform then India will have the problem of Kevin Pietersen. I often become frustrated with Pietersen’s approach, but if he comes in with England almost 300-2 and the Indian attack toiling then it will be the perfect time for him to play one of his aggressive innings and India could find themselves in a massive hole very quickly. They must dislodge Cook or Trott early enough to still have a decent chance at Pietersen.

In the Test at the Eden Gardens in February of 2010 South Africa were bowled out for 296 in the first innings before India responded with over six hundred and ultimately an innings victory. A lot could still change, but England have given themselves a chance to recreate the pattern of that Test and they need to keep their heads tomorrow morning and continue pushing toward a huge score.

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