England finishes on 113 for three

Thursday morning was yawn-inducing even after the clock ticked past 10 a.m.

The sky was grey and there was a steady drizzle. Unhindered, the fans, holding their sandwiches and umbrellas walked into Old Trafford, the fourth Test’s venue.

If the series was on the razor’s edge at 1-1, the atmosphere inside was initially dreary. But once play commenced after a 30-minute delay, eyes were rubbed in disbelief as India wilted against James Anderson and Stuart Broad (six for 25) and its score-sheet was blotted with six zeros.

It didn’t fit into India’s history at the ground where Sachin Tendulkar scored his maiden Test ton in 1990 and Sandeep Patil slammed six fours off a Bob Willis over in 1982!

The ground was alive, though it is not a word that you would associate with India’s batting despite M.S. Dhoni’s 71 and his crucial partnerships with Ajinkya Rahane and R. Ashwin.

On a day in which it crumbled to eight for four in 5.1 overs, India finished with 152 and scalped three England wickets.

At close on the opening day, the host scored 113 for three.

Bhuvneshwar Kumar knocked back Sam Robson’s off-stump and Varun Aaron had Alastair Cook caught on the pull. Ian Bell and Gary Ballance then evaded pressure with a bouquet of fours off the seamers and when Ashwin was pressed into service after 21 overs, Bell hoisted him for six.

Aaron, however, nailed Ballance in the last over.

Three changes

Earlier, India made three changes as Gautam Gambhir, Ashwin and Aaron replaced Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma and Mohammed Shami. Dhoni opted to bat despite the overcast conditions and Murali Vijay and Gambhir emerged together.

The former played out a maiden from Anderson and the latter, returning to Tests after last playing one in 2012 December, clipped a run off Broad.

It seemed nice, the crowd applauded, the openers did their customary glove punches and the sun emerged. If ever there was a calm before the storm, this was it.

Keen to wrist a single towards the leg-side, Gambhir realised too late that Broad’s delivery was angled across and edged to Joe Root at gully.

India was eight for one in 3.1 overs and that score froze while three more wickets fell.

Vijay was snuffed out by a peach as Anderson swung in at a length that the batsman had to play and the ball kissed the bat and headed to Cook at first slip.

Kohli fails again

Next-man Virat Kohli was fatally drawn to Anderson’s delivery, a shade outside the off-stump and Cook again exulted.

India’s nightmare continued when Broad lured Pujara into the drive and Chris Jordan caught at fourth slip. In a span of 13 deliveries, India had scored none but lost four wickets.

Statistically it wasn’t India’s worst start as in a Test at Headingley in Leeds during 1952, the visitor was reduced to zero for four with Fred Trueman and Alec Bedser running amok.

It was a minor consolation before Dhoni and Rahane restored some normalcy. When Rahane drove Broad in the eighth over, it was India’s first four.

Dhoni, meanwhile, threaded a few behind the wicket, did a walk-about at the crease just to unsettle the fast bowlers and chipped Chris Woakes past mid-off.

Just as the 54-run fifth-wicket partnership was blossoming, Rahane perished to Jordan. India was 63 for five at lunch but the hangman’s noose stayed tight even in the afternoon.

Before the break, Ravindra Jadeja, reached the pitch with ‘boos’ ringing in his ears as the fans, fiercely loyal to home-town hero Anderson, turned nasty. Once play resumed in the second session, much to the locals’ glee, the southpaw fell to Anderson.

It fitted into India’s inept batting though Dhoni, displaying patience and the big shot, shared a 66-run seventh-wicket partnership with Ashwin (40), who played with assurance.

The duo and the tail fell before tea and it all rests on the bowlers to thwart England’s bid for a considerable lead.

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