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India makes bright start on a batting wicket

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SO NEAR…: Dinesh Karthik looks forlorn as he walks back to the pavilion at The Oval on Thursday.
SO NEAR…: Dinesh Karthik looks forlorn as he walks back to the pavilion at The Oval on Thursday.

S. Ram Mahesh

Dinesh Karthik misses out on a hundred; Ganguly gets second awful decision in as many Tests

London: India, looking to close out its first series win in England since 1986, couldn’t have asked for a better start. Rahul Dravid called the toss right on Thursday — a day that grew progressively warmer, bringing out panama hats and strengthening queues at beer counters.

The strip at The Oval, a shade of mottled white, hadn’t the screaming pace some expected, though it did quicken as the day wore on.

It had bounce; only the 6ft 7in Chris Tremlett, however, reared unstinting lift.

Good conditions

So good were the conditions for batting and so exquisite much of the strokeplay that India raced to 189 for one, at a run a minute, before England dragged it back a touch.

Dravid (55) and Dinesh Karthik (91) were dismissed within ten runs of each other; their 127-run partnership had supplied India’s batting spine.

Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly then added a holding 77 before the latter received his second awful decision in as many Tests.

Tendulkar (48) and V.V.S. Laxman (20), who reached 5000 Test runs, kept the second new ball out, as India finished with 316 for four.

Interest on the morning of the third Test centred on how much the new ball would swing.

Both Ryan Sidebottom and James Anderson found movement in the air, but it was more ghostly shape than corporeal curl.

Illusion

Anderson, through the day, used his action and the width of the crease for illusion: he directed the ball into the right-hander, making it hold its line in the last one-third of its flight.

Sidebottom, though accurate within reason, wasn’t the persistent menace he was at Trent Bridge.

India took 21 balls to score. Slowly, like a kettle on a stove, the innings warmed. Wasim Jaffer cut Anderson behind point before off-driving him.

It was the first on a day for classical driving: Karthik, Dravid, Tendulkar and Ganguly left behind their versions.Anderson then bounced Jaffer — the ball cut back, and the opener dropped his gloves.

The next bouncer wasn’t as constricting. It offered to move away. Jaffer leapt unhurriedly at it, upper-cutting it over third-man for six. Silence reigned.

Karthik, meanwhile, was utilitarian, working at keeping his front pad inside Sidebottom’s line, pushing to off and playing down to third-man.

Jaffer was beginning to look distinctly aristocratic. But, a change of plan after the drinks break accounted for him.

Michael Vaughan dispersed gully to third-man, and third slip to square leg, as Anderson dug it in.

Jaffer falls

Jaffer pulled the first from under his chin. In looking to repeat his upper-cut six, however, Jaffer fell. He turned around to find Kevin Pietersen — inspiring the same kind of dread the dorsal fin spotted off the Cornish coast did — sharking around to complete the catch.

Thus ended a 62-run opening stand.

Dravid’s determination was apparent. He punched Anderson through cover for his first runs — almost a backfoot flat-bat four — and cut, savagely, over slip. Sidebottom’s angle was harnessed to work to leg.

Monty Panesar’s half-hour spell before lunch was negotiated without trouble.

But, the left-arm spinner almost had Karthik at the start of the second session — beaten in flight, Karthik couldn’t keep a drive to ground.

It went quickly to short extra cover where Andrew Strauss dropped it.

On 58 then, Karthik revealed an attractive side. He had done admirably in the morning not to hang back to Tremlett: every full ball was countered with a firm forward stride.

What were pushes turned now to flowing drives.

Stirring stuff

Both Anderson and Tremlett were subjected to the high-elbow-led drive on bent knee. Panesar was persuaded inside-out over cover for six.

This was stirring stuff, but Sidebottom surprised Karthik with a bouncer before serving him a wide ball that travelled on the angle.

The opener’s waft didn’t register on Snicko. The English appeal, however, was certain. As was umpire Ian Howell.

Dravid had been removed earlier. A fast outswinging yorker landed by his toe, having defeated the on-drive in the air, and knocked back middle stump.

Tendulkar and Ganguly survived a crucial period either side of tea. Anderson hunted Tendulkar’s ribs; a leg gully scavenged.

Tendulkar chose to wear it on his body, unflinching at impact, as he kept his bat out of harm’s way. When the line and length shifted, Tendulkar brought out the cover drive.

Merchant’s foresight

Tendulkar mastered his ego, preferring to look awkward and vulnerable to risking the hook. He collected singles off his hip, tucking behind square with a merchant’s foresight.

Ganguly, as ever, batted with a gambler’s incredible nerve, squirting through gully in between driving Sidebottom with the swing and lodging Panesar in the pavilion.

Prior drops Tendulkar

Matt Prior dropped Tendulkar on 20, diving off an unsettled base in front of first slip. Sidebottom’s wretched luck endured — Vaughan pursed his lips, venting anguished air.

But, England, if not Sidebottom, had a change in fortune: Ganguly was adjudged leg-before by Howell despite edging the ball onto his pad.

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