India will have hoped for many things from the first morning of the fourth Test; what happened on Thursday here at The Oval wouldn't have made the list.
Asked to bowl in overcast conditions on an easy-paced wicket that had just enough to keep the seam-and-swing bowlers interested, India struggled to discomfit England's openers. Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook took their team to lunch on 75 without loss from 26 overs. Rain came down in thin-wet needles during the break, and held steady.
The umpires had one inspection of the ground and several looks at the grey skies overhead, at 5.10 p.m. (local time), before deciding to abandon play for the day.
Teams that are looking to halt a three-Test losing streak often attempt to set a positive tone; India's early notes were discordant. R.P. Singh, drafted into the side after Praveen Kumar was ruled out with injury, bowled like a man who hasn't been in a first-class match since January. The left-armer's first delivery slid slowly down the leg-side, exhausted of all its energy when M.S. Dhoni flapped at it on the second bounce.
R.P. Singh did improve slightly. He began to shape the ball away from the left-handers. But it was at gentle pace (late 70s to early 80smph). The disappointing thing was that he didn't look capable of elevating his pace or intensity; the brisk-liquid action he bowled with in his prime (a matter of fitness, not age) was missing — in its place was an action that still looked effortless, but also appeared bereft of real effort.
R.P. Singh had one bright moment — a delivery opened Cook up and rapped him on the pad, but it was too high to threaten the stumps. It was a sign of what he can do when fit.
Ishant Sharma was India's best bowler by a considerable distance. The pace — mid to late 80s, once very nearly 90 — was encouraging. When his run-up is carrying him to the moment of delivery as intended, when he's hitting the crease as he likes to, he bowls at these speeds.Unlike shoulder-strong bowlers — England's Tim Bresnan is one — Ishant's pace is a consequence of his action working well, his wrist behind the ball in delivery.
Ishant broke Strauss' helmet-peak with an excellent surprise bouncer, catching the batsman between ducking, swaying, and swatting. Against a man normally assured — even trigger-happy — against the short ball, it was some achievement. Ishant's angle caused plays and misses, but he couldn't the bring ball enough when he pitched it in line for an lbw decision. Despite that, Ishant came closest to breaking through.
Sreesanth got the ball to swing into the left-hander, but he started most of these deliveries from middle and leg. Both Strauss and Cook worked Sreesanth with the drift, and soon Dhoni had either a short mid-on or a short mid-wicket in place. The field-angles didn't seem right: despite the stationing of square-leg, short mid-on (or mid-wicket), and deep mid-wicket on the boundary, both the short-tapped single and the wristed four came easy.
When Sreesanth looked to slant the ball across the left-hander, he ended up too wide or too full. Strauss, in particular, showed good balance in pushing Sreesanth down the ground. Cook, who had earlier cut a half-tracker from R.P. Singh, played the stroke of the session when he cover-drove Ishant, lowering himself to the ground in so doing.
Suresh Raina was brought on before lunch, and he gave both batsmen the easiest Test runs they'll make. As Geoffrey Boycott causticallyremarked in the press-box, perhaps Raina was trying to fog the brains of the batsmen: instead of one or two areas to hit to, they now had to process the possibilities of thirteen or fourteen.
Keywords: India tour of England