Calcutta, day four: India 239-9

Today was a day of brilliance and frustration in almost equal measure for England. The morning was the worst session England had since the first day at Ahmedabad and if one had told England at lunch that they would be have India nine down at stumps they would be delighted. But the first eight of those wickets fell in an extraordinary three hours after lunch.

The afternoon session was the one that took India utterly out of the match as they lost quick wickets and then appeared to capitulate. It was such a dramatic collapse that several interesting points got a bit lost at the time, but the one that very much did not was an incident in the innings of Gautam Gambhir. He prodded forward to Graeme Swann and appeared to have edged the ball to slip where Trott took an athletic catch low down. But the umpire waited and then went upstairs to check if it had carried. It clearly had and as that is the only thing for which the umpire can go upstairs it looked like it was going to be out. But the replay showed that Gambhir had not actually hit the ball and under the regulations the third umpire is allowed to give not out because of that. This is clearly a good thing; it would have been an utter farce if the replays had clearly shown that the batsman was not out, but he was given out because the umpire was not allowed to say so. But it is hardly less of a farce as it is because effectively Gambhir was saved by a having DRS for that one ball. There have been several howlers in the series with regard to the batsmen either hitting what the umpire thought they hadn’t or not hitting what the umpire thought they had. Why on earth then were they not allowed to go to the third umpire? If the BCCI accept that this back door use of technology is reliably why can they not use the same technology without having to pretend to check a catch?

The reprieve for Gambhir hardly mattered though. Even before that incident he had taken to wafting his bat at balls well outside off stump trying to dab them to point and missing. It came as absolutely no shock therefore when he edged one such ball behind trying to do the same thing a couple of overs later. It was another failure to convert a start and he also had run out Cheteshwar Pujara the ball before the catch incident which may start to invite some unwelcome comparisons to Shane Watson. But the rest of the Indian top order had fared either no better or even worse. Virender Sehwag played a loose drive the first ball after lunch and was bowled by an admitted beauty from Swann. Sachin Tendulkar pushed forward to a ball outside off for only five. Only Yuvraj Singh can say that he got a good ball, but he did not look like hanging about anyway. India’s captain seemed to embody their spirit by limply hanging his bat outside off to only the third delivery he faced. It was an absolutely terrible shot by any batsman, coming from the captain at such a point was absolutely appalling. The only way MS Dhoni could have more obviously surrendered is if he had actually taken a white flag out to the crease with him. And the sad part was that it felt more inevitable than anything else.

But luckily for Dhoni and India the message never got to Ravichandran Ashwin. He played a fantastic innings in Mumbai that appeared to help save India in the first innings, though it proved to be in vain, and this was very similar. He actually fought. HIs entire top and middle order had given up and mentally gone to Nagpur, but Ashwin almost single-handedly made sure they would be going there with some shred of dignity intact. It made for an incredibly frustrating last session for England who can justifiably think that they should have had a day off tomorrow. But as well as Ashwin played, England are partly culpable for their inability to finish the innings off. They seemed to relax a bit too much when the eighth wicket went down and just like they did in the first innings started to put too much store in keeping Ishant Sharma on strike. The result was a pair of grinding partnerships that have avoided an innings defeat for India and made sure the teams will come back tomorrow. Neither of those looked even possible half an hour after tea.

It is a moral victory for India, but it will still take a miracle for it to be anything but that. England need one wicket with the new ball tomorrow morning and then will have to knock off about fifty runs. Like in Mumbai, they will not be troubled and will go 2-1 up in the series. Perhaps on the way to Nagpur Ashwin can explain the concept of resistance to his colleagues.

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