The host loses valuable time by not declaring at overnight score

The beauty of Test cricket lies in its hidden vagaries, each session a challenge, a mystery, sometimes every ball a lethal bomb, every run an exciting little chapter of a tense drama. Alas, it was not remotely close to that for a long period of the day.

The excitement was contrived by a healthy and vociferous audience at Jamtha, hoping for an Indian renaissance. There was promise but things fell in an expected pattern.

The first session was drab. India seemed to bat as if draw was a victory. And then it bowled and prayed, hoping for England to make the errors. It was the umpire who erred, thankfully only once as far as England was concerned. Only the last session was taut when the home team went wicketless after almost claiming one and England, riding on Jonathan Trott’s commitment, signed off at 161 for three, an overall lead of 165.

This morning, India, resuming at 297 for eight, preferred to bat on and long; 13.3 overs to be precise. The score increased by 29 runs but the time consumed was 62 minutes. It may be debated if Mahendra Singh Dhoni was justified but, in hindsight, it did reflect on his lack of faith in the attack. The India captain obviously wanted to prevent an English domination on the fourth day.

A quick declaration by India would have presented England the opportunity to build on the lead with no assurance of an early breakthrough for the home camp. In any case, the onus was on India to pressure the opposition but England, correctly playing for a draw and clinch the series 2-1, managed to stay on course.

Errors of judgement

Two errors of judgement caused a flutter on Sunday. The first involved Alastair Cook, who was devastated by umpire Kumar Dharmasena’s ruling. An off-spinner of his time, Dharmasena was convinced Cook had edged into the gloves of Dhoni as R. Ashwin beat the batsman on forward defence. Obviously Cook had not nicked and his head-shaking reaction highlighted his dejection.

The England captain had batted flawlessly and was the key to his team’s mindset to grind the bowling this day.

The second bloomer of the day came from Kevin Pietersen. He was putting bat to the ball most times, looking to dig in, much against his character though. He loves to play his shots, leave the crease if needed.

A sizzling straight drive confirmed his intent. He was going to attack. And then he offered Virender Sehwag a hot and low chance at first slip. Ravindra Jadeja exclaimed in disappointment as Sehwag failed to hold on but the left-arm spinner was soon jumping around as Pietersen blundered by not offering a shot. His dismissal was a replication of Trott’s in the first innings.

Eventful session

The post-lunch cricket was eventful. Cook gone; Nick Compton too, at the cusp of tea. India had worked hard to stay in the contest. Ishant Sharma experimented with line and length, Jadeja with all predictable angles, Piyush Chawla made little impact and R. Ashwin remained inconsistent. Cricket was intense as England defended and defied.

The competition, bitter by now, spilled into the last session. Not exactly an engaging spectacle but gripping in phases. Each ball counted. Each run mattered. Bowlers glared and the batsmen flared too with appeals happening more in hope. One appeal, however, created a mini drama with umpire Rod Tucker within hearing distance. The heated arguments were triggered by Trott surviving a caught behind appeal. The Indians stopped in their celebrations as Dharmasena was not convinced.

This was a defining moment of the day’s play. A wicket for India could have altered the shape of the contest. England welcomed this divine assistance, Trott lived to fight another day.

Clinical batting

Trott brought a touch of old school batsmanship. He was clinical in his shot selection, covered the spin and movement adroitly, and grew in confidence once he realised the trick lay in playing to the pitch of the ball.

It was an interesting battle when he stood a few inches outside the crease to ‘kill’ any late movement that Ishant imparted.

Dhoni stood close to the stumps forcing Trott to retract. But the Indian captain could not cope with his exacting tactic and the English batsman resumed batting outside the crease, much to the chagrin of Ishant.

It was a delight to watch Trott guide England’s challenge with robust support from Ian Bell.

The pair, in its 67-run association, produced some delicate strokes that did not earn the appreciation they deserved. It hardly mattered. Trott and Bell had a role to perform.

By close, they had done a perfect job of it with the match, from India’s perspective, very much alive.

The first hour on the final day is as crucial as any in the match thus far!

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