By Ashis Ray
Nottingham, July 9 :
There is rarely, weather-wise, such a thing as an invariable day in England. Wednesday in this city historically famous for Robin Hood and his merry men, it came fairly close to being one. And India capitalised on it.
Still, the summer sunshine was interspersed by occasional cloud cover and a brisk breeze – this ground being next to the river Trent – buffeted in from the pavilion, though as a contradiction, two of the first three Indian wickets fell to bowlers operating against the wind.
Incredibly, the groundsman gifted a dry, docile pitch to the tourists. Therefore, it was a no-brainer for Mahendra Dhoni when he won the toss. In hindsight, a second spinner rather than four seamers may have been a shrewder XI.
Having quite comfortably weathered the morning session, India lost the precious wickets of Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli almost immediately after lunch. The first a victim of not getting to the pitch of the ball, the other of playing away from the body.
India must beware the English quicker bowlers, other than Liam Plunkett, will pitch it up and invite the drive. The visiting batsmen, therefore, need to ensure they are full forward rather than half forward, so as to convert such balls into half volleys and avoid hitting in the air (as Pujara did to short midwicket).
Plunkett, on the other hand, will be utilised as a foil to James Anderson and Stuart Broad. He is quicker and will bowl shorter to test the Indians around the ribs.
Shikhar Dhawan, who was the first to depart, needs bring his bat down more fluidly instead of in a jerky manner. By pushing hard at deliveries he is almost guaranteeing snicks will carry, as it did in this instance. But as he testified in New Zealand last winter, this Delhi left-handed is a good learner. A more relaxed approach could fetch him plenty of runs in what might be, climate-wise, an “Indian summer” in England.
The importance of playing yourself in after a break cannot be over-emphasised. Pujara, having looked largely in command before lunch, flicked injudiciously.
Enter Kohli, who the Sunday Times described as the world’s best batsman. The great expectation, though, was rudely belied as he perished in the slip cordon before getting his eye in.
In contrast, the less heralded Murali Vijay, after a streaky start batted beautifully. His 50 came off just 68 balls. He on-drove in style and square cut with savagery. By cashing in on the conditions he demonstrated a good temperament.
Then, to his credit, once India lost the valuable wickets of Pujara and Kohli, the Tamil Nadu opener sensibly dropped anchor and shepherd the less experienced but promising Ajinkya Rahane before the latter mistimed a pull to be caught at silly point.
After 106 for one at luncheon, it was an attritional advance in the afternoon. India scored no more than 71 runs in the second session. But they crucially, they kept the quartet of English seamers at bay.
A five Test series is a marathon. What matters is the finish. In what was envisaged to be a challenge for the inexperienced Indian batsmen – a hard wicket and the generally swing friendly environment of Trent Bridge – the strip, at least, has pleasantly surprised them.
In Gavaskaresque method, Dhoni’s side should first ensure they don’t lose this test. It will of course be a bonus if England in the current fragile state of mind present a victory to India.
The square for the 2nd test at Lord’s could be slow and to Indian batsmen’s liking; and the ones for the 4th and 5th tests at Old Trafford and The Oval could progressively turn. The Rose Bowl, however, is likely to be a pacy pitch.