Gambhir comes up with a gutsy 60; England takes the day’s honours
The Eden Gardens was not even remotely close to a theatre that once hosted some intense cricket drama. It was half full and the pitch, a subject of fierce debate, was relegated to the background. The stage was now left to the players. They adapted, thrived and gave some joy to those who continue to believe that Test cricket is the ultimate assessment of a player’s potential. Sachin Tendulkar, to the relief of his supporters, came up with an innings that partially helped him arrest his stream of recent failures.
Tendulkar made runs, 24 short of a century; so did Gautam Gambhir, a gutsy 60, and India finished the opening day of the third Test against England at 273 for seven with Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Zaheer Khan at the crease.
Electing to bat, India was confronted by a pitch that was slow. A couple of deliveries climbed menacingly at Tendulkar but batting essentially remained a cautious exercise. Stroke-making demanded discipline. It was a surface that played true and compelled the batsmen and bowlers to be at their combative best. One hopes the pitch will hold strong as the game progresses.
It was a pleasant sight when Gambhir chose to step out. It often indicates his good form when he leaves the crease but the left-handed opener was involved in a silly run out that saw Virender Sehwag make an early exit. It set the trend for the innings as India concentrated on thwarting the English bowlers with emphasis on grinding the attack and not dominating it.
Gambhir and Tendulkar struck contrasting postures. Gambhir, as is his wont, tended to be flashy, taking a chance, signaling his aggressive instincts profoundly. Tendulkar was not Tendulkar. He was scratchy and tentative in the formative stage of the innings until he decided to open up in the afternoon. His presence at the crease had to match his stature. He contacted air a few times, was hit on the pads and looked unhappy with his methods. But importantly he hung in. The resolve to guard his wicket was paramount. He had set a goal and was not going to budge.
Gambhir was refreshing in patches. His association with Sehwag promised much but they ironically forgot to communicate when exploring the third run, an inexplicable error between the two, known to read each other’s mind when batting in the middle. England accepted the gift gleefully since the seamers, James Anderson and Steven Finn, strove to make a dent.
When left-arm spinner Monty Panesar came on to bowl in the eighth over of the day, the English mindset became too apparent.
Panesar was in a mood to compete. Variation may not be his forte but he knows the gains of a nagging line. He is always at the batsmen and Cheteshwar Pujara discovered it early.
As Panesar pushed the ball, the pace surprised Pujara, who misjudged the length and was embarrassed by the sound of ball crashing into the stumps. Pujara never looked a batsman in form.
He was followed by Gambhir in the second session when the batsman played a cut, an unwise shot against an inspired Panesar. Gambhir, who mostly hit boundaries off cover and square drives, was in no position to force the cut this time.
The dismissal of Virat Kohli highlighted the English preparation. His edge flew low to slips and Graeme Swann completed a superb catch. Anderson had bowled to a plan and India faced a challenge when Yuvraj Singh joined Tendulkar.
It was a critical phase and the onus, for the umpteenth time, rested with Tendulkar. A hesitant Tendulkar was not good advertisement for the Indian innings but there was hope as long as he stuck it out.
There was support from a faltering Yuvraj until they left in quick succession.
Yuvraj presenting extra cover fielder with a sitter did not speak well for the left-hander’s temperament. All this while, Tendulkar had weathered Anderson, the most impressive bowler of the day.
The Englishman, moving the ball both ways, commanded respect during his duel with Tendulkar.
The Indian took just two boundaries off him and ultimately succumbed to Anderson’s guile with the old ball, the reverse luring him into an ambitious but disastrous prod, epitomizing India’s batting this day.