Nagpur, day three: India 297-8

It’s not fair to say that one could have skipped the first five hours of today’s play and not missed anything, but it isn’t completely inaccurate either. MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli batted very well; they had clearly paid attention to how the pitch had played on the first two days and they both curbed their attacking instincts in favour of slow, gradual build up. It was exactly how they had to play and although England bowled well in the first session all they managed to do was keep India down to 59 runs in 32 overs. England caused brief problems at various points, but could not find the breakthrough until very late and largely because of the patience and discipline shown by India. It was impressive batting in any circumstance, but given how far India have been from showing anything like this kind of fight or application all series it was all the more remarkable.

England by no means bowled poorly for most of the day. Just as there were brief periods where the caused problems there were also some periods, mostly with the new ball, where they had trouble keeping India tied down. But by and large they did what they could; after it looked like the pitch was starting to do a bit last night there was no sign of any sort of life today. It was simply a slightly more emphatic version of what it was on the first day: slow and with nothing in it for either bowlers or batsmen. A reasonably interesting match has developed so far, but that is fortunate and this wicket is not good enough for Test cricket. A Test wicket must have something in it. England actually deserve a lot of credit for continuing to fight so hard even into the last hour. After bowling for five hours with no help and looking rather sore Jimmy Anderson bowled some unbelievable deliveries late in the day, one of which got him his fourth wicket of the innings. It was a fantastic effort.

I seem to be in the minority in thinking that Tim Bresnan also bowled well today. He was as tight as any of the other bowlers and looked threatening more than any of the other bowlers bar Anderson in the first two sessions. He got the ball to swing and troubled the batsmen particularly in a spell before tea in which he came close to an lbw twice and then just barely missed a caught and bowled. I don’t think he is the best choice in a three-seamer attack; as I said after the first Test against the West Indies I think he needed to spend more time with Yorkshire this summer and he has never looked as good as he did before his injury. But it was not ridiculous to have selected him for this Test and there is nothing to suggest that Graham Onions or Stuart Meaker would have done a better job on this pitch. Bresnan was not even England’s worst bowler today, that was Monty Panesar. Which is not to say that Panesar bowled poorly, he didn’t, but he was the only one to never look threatening. With all the tweets going around about Bresnan going 74.4 overs without a wicket it was mysteriously never mentioned that Panesar had just one wicket, a tail-ender, in his last 70.3 overs.

England would have hoped for most of the day that just getting one wicket would instigate a collapse. And this is exactly what happened, though the plan probably did not involve waiting until the last hour of play. It was far from an ideal circumstance for Ravindra Jadeja to make his debut and he never looked comfortable in his innings of twelve. But the more unexpected casualty was Dhoni. He was in the nineties when Kohli was out and the increased pressure and subsequent loss of Jadeja kept him from really scoring. He stayed in the nineties for over an hour and the pressure finally told when he tried for a single that wasn’t quite on and was run out. Even as an England supporter who has been quite harsh about the way Dhoni has led his side in the past I feel for him. He surrendered in the last Test but here he promoted himself and played a real captain’s innings to keep his side alive in the Test. He lost patience just a little bit too soon, however.

Overall this was still India’s day, but the four wickets before stumps mean that England are back on top in the match. But what India have at least done is kept the Test close. India still trail by 37 and although one could see them get a lead close to fifty if Ashwin bats well it is more likely that they will end up within about twenty runs of parity in one direction or the other. They should try to get as many as possible; I don’t think making England bat as soon as possible is really to their advantage as has been suggested. They are going to have to get the runs at some point and they might as well do it now before the pitch has a chance to break up (though it may not), whilst England’s bowlers are a bit tired and at a time when they can use those runs to apply pressure to England’s batsmen. Either way England are probably going to have to bat for about four sessions to secure the Test, but it will be easier to start that early tomorrow and doing so will give them a chance to still win the Test instead of just batting to save it.

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