India’s lastest spin pair in Ravichandran Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha put England in a spot of bother at 41 for three on a somewhat worn out wicket on day two of the first Test at Motera here on Friday.
It look 13 overs and three balls for India to strike the first blow after Cheteshwar Pujara carried India to 521 with a majestic unconquered double century. Once Ashwin ended debutant Nick Compton’s 50 minute misery a minor procession followed, with Ojha causing the downfall of James Anderson and Ashwin snaring Jonathan Trott.
There was plenty of excitement and action around the batsmen in the closing minutes with Pujara and Gautam Gambhir converting catches.
Alastair Cook must have felt very anxious with wickets tumbling at the other end and the sight of Kevin Pietersen charging out first ball to Ashwin would have done little to calm his nerves.
The possibility of enforcing the follow-on must have already entered the thoughts of the home team and the first session on Saturday should offer further insight into that particular viewpoint. Ashwin, who raced to 50 Test wickets quicker than any other Indian, and Ojha must be hoping that their whims would be obeyed by the pitch and their fingers.
The second day’s story was of Pujara’s. For close to a decade and half Rahul Dravid, India’s impregnable wall at No. 3 for several Tests, had scored heavily against England. Stepping into that position Pujara showed that he has the wherewithal, wide repertoire of shots and ambition to sustain his predecessor’s excellent work, to begin with on Indian soil.
Dravid though scored heavily in England in conditions that are amenable to pace, swing and seam than the seemingly dust bowls of India — his 13 Tests there fetching him 1376 with six centuries and four half centuries.
Pujara matched the patience of the England bowlers, won the battle of wits and proceeded to impose himself upon the opponent with authority in a marathon effort that stretched well over eight hours under the hot sun.
Once again he showed a staggering appetite for runs as he combined the roles of an honest workman and a splendid stroke player to take India to an unassailable position.
His range of shots — superb driving of the front foot and forcing shot of his back, delightful cutting and equally efficient onside stroke play caught the attention. To top these was a matchless display of temperament that ensured that the India innings revolved around him after the departure of Virender Sehwag on Thursday.
He and Yuvraj Singh resumed the India innings (at 323 for 4) and adopted a watchful approach with the second new ball just four overs old.
The entire first day had been a fruitless exercise for the three seamers (44 overs and 193 runs) and England captain Alastair Cook realised the futility of running a pace attack from both ends and ushered in Graeme Swann straightaway.
Even on a pitch on which the ball did not hasten through, Swann showed fortitude and cunning to pick up all the first four Indian wickets.
If Pujara and Yuvraj were wary of looking for strokes early, it was perfectly understandable. There were four men around Yuvraj (two slips, a short leg and the wicketkeeper) and also a short mid-off.
There was a brief hold up to fill in footholes at the pavilion end after which Swann sent down his second successive maiden over. Pujara whipped Stuart Broad (the ninth ball he faced) and brought up his second century in four hours and ten minutes, facing 190 balls and with 13 hits to the fence.
Attention, however, was riveted on the big left hander. After paying due respect to Swann, Yuvraj took on the bowler. He first him straight over his head for a six, then swept him to wide of mid-wicket before finally finishing off with a merciless pull off a short and wide delivery that also came at good height.
Pujara meanwhile cut Swann wide of slip before surviving a vociferous leg before appeal that umpire Tony Hill did not pay heed to.
By the first drinks interval India added 44 runs and soon Yuvraj took two steps ahead and freely swung Samit Patel in the vast open space between long on and square leg to reach his half century.
When the long interval arrived after two hours, Yuvraj looked poised to make his comeback a memorable effort, but soon after resumption his hefty shot off a Patel full toss was snapped up by Swann.