The game of cricket on a flat wicket for six hours on the fourth day of this Test match may have lacked any appeal to the partisan crowd at Motera. But for England — which trailed India by 330 runs on the first innings — playing to the gallery was not a priority. It went about the task in hand with fixity of purpose and lent the game contours of a contest.
Alastair Cook (168 batting, 505m, 341b, 20x4) led from the front showing a stout heart, immense resolve and steady nerves to stretch the confrontation against the Indian attack right through Sunday and achieved the objective of England avoiding the ignominy of defeat by an innings. Matt Prior (84 batting, 203m, 190b, 10x4) shared the responsibility with the captain for nearly three and half hours.
So far Cook and Prior have added 141 runs to put England up by 10 runs with five wickets in hand, but batting coach Graham Gooch while applauding Cook’s splendid effort said India is still fancied to win the first Test.
There were bright moments for the home team though when England’s first innings tormentor Pragyan Ojha removed Jonathan Trott and Kevin Pietersen and thereafter Umesh Yadav produced a splendid burst. He won back to back leg before decisions from Tony Hill and suddenly the home team found itself on firm ground to force the issue by stumps. But Cook stood like a rock and Prior not only offered his captain confident support, but also forged a substantial partnership and eventually sending the ball to the cover fence off Ojha for England to get credit runs in the match half an hour before close.
The home team began operations with seam in the form of Zaheer Khan and spin in the form of R. Ashwin. There were no hints that the whims of the pitch would cause innumerable concerns to the left-right combination in the middle. The two had had a measure of the Indian bowling for nearly two and hours in the post-tea session last evening.
Debutant Nick Compton was prepared to consume time and inclined to cut out frills. Cook and Compton played two maiden overs and soon Ashwin brought umpire Aleem Dar into the picture when he appealed for a leg before.
This has not been a match skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni would like to remember for his work behind the stumps; he fumbled a stumping when Compton stepped out. The lapse though did proved to be costly as Zaheer Khan hit Compton low on his front pad and got the breakthrough.
Compton’s departure was a setback, as England still required to make 207 runs. India needed a clutch of wickets to bring England under pressure and on this count Jonathan Trott spent 47 minutes in the middle before Ojha — replacing Ashwin after the latter’s spell of 9-1-19-0 — struck, evoking an edge from Trott’s bat that stuck in the big gloves of Dhoni.
Kevin Pietersen is known to be a bunny to left-arm spinners as borne out by the fact that the likes of Daniel Vettori, Shakib Al-Hasan, Sulaiman Benn, Paul Harris, Rangana Herath and Abdur Rehman have dismissed him many times.
Ojha bowled him in the first innings and could not conceal his delight when for the second time in as many days he had him bowled around his legs and actually hitting the right-hander’s off stump.
Ojha was wicketless bowling three overs from the pavilion end, but when switched to the press box end, he just seemed to produce the magic.
India made further progress when Umesh Yadav dismissed Ian Bell and Samit Patel leg before and England at 199 for five seemed to have run out of luck. Yadav struck in the 77th over, though Patel may have been a trifle unlucky for the second time. Meanwhile Cook proceeded to complete his 21st Test century four minutes short of four hours.
Thereafter it was just the sight of Cook blocking the ball with dead bat, playing straight and cutting and sweeping on odd occasions; he began at 74 and ended the day at 168, playing for almost eight and half hours in all.
He showed monumental patience and Prior was a picture of confidence.