But India loses the plot in the last session of the day
M.S. Dhoni brought back memories of the late M. L. Jaisimha. Not by his batting style but the mode of dismissal.
Jai was run out on 99 against Pakistan five decades ago. Dhoni repeated the act in a session that saw England restore its position against an improved Indian response on the third day of the fourth Test here on Saturday.
Conviction returned to Indian batting with Dhoni and century-maker Virat Kohli bringing cheers with their committed show. England toiled hard and the Indian batsmen came to terms with their responsibility, realising part of their potential to emerge on even terms as the final Test entered a vital phase.
Kohli’s third Test century and Dhoni’s knock gave India the strength to defy the English attack which suffered in the absence of adequate support for James Anderson. With Steven Finn missing the burden hampered Anderson since Tim Bresnan proved a weak replacement.
The Indian batsmen needed this relief, temporary though, since Anderson returned at the fag end to pick up a wicket. Graeme Swann claimed the other two.
The buzz this morning was infectious as fans came in large numbers to motivate the Indian pair in its battle of survival. Attrition marked the contest even though England was guilty of slackness in its attack.
Anderson was a shadow of his aggressive self and Bresnan and Monty Panesar ineffective.
If India, resuming at 87 for four, finished the day at 297 for eight, the credit should go to Dhoni and Kohli, who contributed with a remarkably fresh approach after a dismal run in the last two Tests at Mumbai and Kolkata. Youth and experience combined to bring tenacity to the Indian camp which was so demoralised after the early success that England had achieved on the second day.
The pace of cricket was slow but understandable. The pressure was on India and doubly more on Dhoni and Kohli. Their run-famine had exposed the middle-order’s brittleness but it had to end at some point. It ended on a pitch that aided their efforts.
The ball did nothing even as England tried everything possible to tighten its grip on the match. Dhoni and Kohli stood up with the kind of discipline expected of players of their calibre.
India’s batting today was far more purposeful and the confidence came from the fact that England was not at its best. True, four early wickets had placed India under immense pressure but England was unable to maintain the same intensity on the third day.
To the visitors’ shock the pitch had eased out and the ball came on to the bat nicely. Not to suggest the batsmen could take their chances. They had to remain circumspect and yet look to score. Kohli revels in such situations and Dhoni too grabbed the opportunity.
They displayed contrasting batting style. Kohli was sure of what he wanted to do and backed himself to play a few shots even in the formative stage of the innings. Dhoni was tentative but determined. It would be unfair to suggest he was batting to save his place in the team but he certainly had a reputation to protect. He had talked of leading from the front and he lived up to his word.
England made its intentions known early when an attacking field greeted Kohli and Dhoni. A slip, silly point, point, silly mid-off, cover and mid-off was the temptation to invite the two batsmen take the liberty of exploring the on side.
Compulsive stroke-players both, Dhoni and Kohli frustrated the English attack by opting to grind.
A difficult task it was but in keeping with their resolve. Gradually the fielders were scattered and the Indian batsmen, having identified their target, achieved it before losing the plot in the last session.
Dhoni’s footwork was minimal yet certain. His back-lift was curtailed but earned great returns. Kohli, bat twirling in his hands and feet dancing, grew in stature.
Runs did not come in a canter but they came at a slow pace. Once he had gauged the pitch and the attack, Kohli indulged in the company of Dhoni, who would have notched up his sixth Test century. Their fifth-wicket stand of 198 runs in 507 balls gave the Indian batting its character.
Having defied England in the first two sessions — 59 runs in the first and 81 in the second — India lost four wickets in the final 14 overs.
Kohli’s vigil was terminated by Swann while Ravindra Jadeja never promised.
Dhoni took on Alastair Cook but failed to beat his throw and his scamper for the 100th run was transformed into a trudge back to the dressing room.
Piyush Chawla was foxed by the turn, something alien when he had bowled.
It was an intense day of cricket that culminated under floodlights.