CRICKET / The host reaches the meagre target to take a 1-0 lead in the four-Test series
: Virat Kohli’s firm, straight hit to the boundary off Graeme Swann handed India a convincing nine-wicket victory in the first Test at Motera here on Monday.
Earlier, in the absence of Gautam Gambhir — who was on his way to the team hotel here after attending his grandmother’s funeral in New Delhi — Cheteshwar Pujara opened the innings, used his bat like a flail, hammered shots in front of the wicket, cover and mid-wicket and India raced past the winning target.
A 10-wicket win appeared on the cards, but Virender Sehwag, who allowed his partner much of the strike, fell to a fine catch by Kevin Pietersen, just inches in front of the long-on fence.
England set a target of just 77 and employed James Anderson for two overs and spinners Graeme Swann and Samit Patel. Sehwag and Pujara made short work of the target despite the presence of a leg side trap — with only two on the off side and the wicket-keeper.
After all the uncertainty of a win with Alastair Cook standing like a stumbling block on Sunday evening, India eventually wrapped up the match in the first hour after lunch on the fifth day.
The result fell in India’s favour after the pugnacious Pragyan Ojha brought an end to the Herculean undertaking from the England captain. The persevering left-arm spinner made the first drinks interval refreshing, much to the relief of his colleagues on the field.
With the overnight pair of Cook and Prior refusing to take risks, Ojha’s nagging length from around the wicket finally rewarded him with the wicket of Prior; he pushed the right-hander back and forced an error which resulted in an easy return catch.
Ojha had achieved some sort of accuracy to keep the hard-hitting and assertive Matt Prior in check after he was tossed the ball and asked to share the opening spell with seamer Zaheer Khan.
Causing the dismissal of five England batsmen in the first innings had put him in a confident frame of mind, even though he and his spin partner R. Ashwin had to toil for more than three hours after Prior joined Cook on Sunday afternoon.
Seamer Umesh Yadav said on the fourth evening that it was after a lot of ‘mehnat’ (hard work) that he managed to get the wickets of Ian Bell and Samit Patel and that the surface had become really flat, a point of view shared by England batting coach Graham Gooch. Ojha did not lose focus, stuck to his task and reaped rich dividends. It took almost an hour to break Cook’s will.
Ojha found a way to cause that momentary lapse in concentration and technical soundness and hit the off-stump much to the delight of his teammates.
Cook had guarded his citadel for nearly nine and half hours.
The four-hour duel between the Indian spinners and England’s sixth-wicket pair was pulsating before the left-arm spinner scored a victory in the form of Prior’s wicket when the right-hander was nine short of a century. Thereafter Cook departed.
Tim Bresnan, Stuart Broad and Swann made the home team wait for more than one and a quarter hours before substitute Ajinkya Rahane pulled off a diving catch to bring an end to the England innings at the stroke of lunch.
Swann attempted a few reverse hits and sweeps off Ashwin — introduced 25 minutes before lunch — but eventually lost his middle stump.
England added 66 to its overnight total of 340 and left India a meagre target which Sehwag and Pujara achieved with ease to set off fireworks among the supporters.