Sprinters in a walkathon
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The 93rd over of the Indian innings, 52nd of the day, 20th after lunch on Saturday, was an aberration for a few reasons. For one, it made the Twenty20 junkies, brought up on a diet of boundaries, in the stands a happy lot. Two, it brought to an end a period of 21 dot balls. Three, that anomalous stroke brought up India's highest partnership for any wicket in this Test series. With that six, the Indian captain and Virat Kohli had forged a stand of 138 runs, bettering the opening stand by Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir by a run, plotted as far back as the opening day of this series at the Motera.
Dhoni and Kohli would add 60 more to that, but runs weren't of the essence today. Survival was. So in order to save their souls and their team's, Kohli consumed 256 balls on the day, 295 over all. Two hundred and forty one of those were blocked back to the bowler. Dhoni too had similar figures — 189 dots, 246 over all. Never had they consumed so many for an innings respectively, never had India showed as much resistance this series.
Flamboyance or style, hence, had little to with the theatre on Saturday. Apart from Kohli's mighty air punch on reaching his century and the vice like grip of tension when Dhoni was run-out on 99, it wasn't edge of the day stuff. But it was Test cricket at its riveting best. "A real privilege to have been out there on the field today," said Jonathan Trott later. And out there on the field he was, with no reward for 84 overs.
During that time, India clawed back from a hopeless position in this match, and raised ambitions of a comeback in this series. But once the fifth wicket stand was broken, England made the shortest of work of Ravindra Jadeja and Piyush Chawla, keeping this match in the balance for the penultimate day. Thirty-three runs arrears of England's first innings and with two wickets in hand, the finale will now be decided on a second innings play-off over 180 overs.
The day proceeded timelessly through sessions, with the two players and the opposition on show cut from vastly different fabrics. Kohli: spongey and resistant, Dhoni: tough like horse-hide, England: innocuous as bubble-wrap — once the swellings burst, its went flat. For the first hour of the day, a few bubbles were still alive — as Alastair Cook corked up all of Kohli's scoring areas, hoping the youngster would asphyxiate. It was furthest from the truth, the move only gave India's new number five a lesson in breathing under pressure.
Yes, at first, Kohli tried fruitlessly to drive Monty Panesar through the off and dab Graeme Swann through midwicket. It didn't work. So he learned to cut. Or play from deep within his crease and allow the ball to come to him, only to meet it with a dead bat.
Dhoni was the exact opposite. He trusted his instinct to push at the ball, charging it with his forearms on pitching. Like with Kohli, it didn't give him runs but it didn't get him out either. By the first drinks of the day, India had added 26 runs in 17 overs. With little change in either of their approaches until lunch (India were going at exactly a run rate of two in 73 overs), the focus shifted to England's second new ball. Cook took it three overs after it was due, and perhaps regretted it two over later.
While Panesar and Swann may have been bowling with no reward until then, they had managed to maintain the pressure. But once the pacers had the new ball and a slip arrived in place, both pressure and runs released. Instantly, Dhoni cut Tim Bresnan in the 84th to the sweeper fence to bring up his fifty. Needless to say, it was his slowest, coming in 137 balls. With the ball coming on nicely, Kohli too took on Bresnan, driving him through four fielders protecting just that shot for four. And after he cut him for yet another boundary in the 88th, Cook brought Panesar back. The Indians were more than happy to block again.
On Saturday, Monty must've felt like Mudsudhen Singh Panesar, having bowled so long. His figures, in fact, were a microcosm of the way things unfolded. To Kohli, he bowled a 140 balls. Twelve of those were nudged for singles, five were cut through sqaure for fours and a 121 of them were blocked. Similarly, Mudsudhen bowled 12.4 overs at Dhoni, 10.4 of them were maidens. Such was the day.
(Log on to www.indianexpress.com for exclusive live and outrageously entertaining audio commentary of England's tour of India.)
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