Wednesday, December 05, 2012

England's Day Despite Tendulkar's Graft At Eden

It was a modest day for India at Eden Gardens. 3 of their 7 wickets were what, should baseball parlance be applied to cricket, would be called "unearned" by England. The other 4 wickets were reward for England's skillful bowling. Much in this Test will depend on how India bowl in England's first innings, as the wicket is unlikely to permit a significant second innings recovery from the batsmen. Prabir Mukherjee's wicket looked scarred at the start of play and played that way.


There has been some indifferent bounce, and some inconsistent pace in the pitch. Early in the day, a replay of one of Gautam Gambhir's special back foot defenses, we he plays the ball into the ground, showed that the ball broke the surface as it smashed into the pitch off Gambhir's bat. A few balls from James Anderson and Steven Finn died on their way to Prior, a few others were collected by the English gloveman well above his waist.

I should point out here that these vagaries in the pitch become more visible when the bowling is skillful and accurate. England's bowling was. The pressure of having to attack the stumps more than they would in England did cause Finn to stray on to the batsman's legs more than usual, but not Anderson. Graeme Swann looked less threatening than Monty Panesar. I think this is because Panesar is able to bowl at a quicker pace than Swann. This was the case at Wankhede, and in this hawkeye pitch map for Eden Garden's. To use their metrics, most of Monty's deliveries are over 55 miles per hour, while most of Swann's are under. (Ojha and Ashwin both bowl at Swann's pace more than Monty's.)

This extra pace is perhaps the reason why, when Monty beats a batsman in the flight, as he did with Cheteshwar Pujara, the batsman has less chance to recover by playing the ball off the pitch. Against Swann (or Ojha or Ashwin), batsmen still have that extra split second to make a late adjustment. Pujara, who was so immaculate in his judgment of Panesar's length, was foxed by one which Panesar seemed to release with a lower than usual arm. Pujara went back, the ball kept a little bit low, and there was no chance of a recovery.

Gautam Gambhir played another battling innings, but never looked like getting a century. He has become a very difficult batsman to watch. He seems to battle the pitch, the bowling, the field setting and himself all at once. He has now fallen twice in this series playing off the back foot to the spinner. For a top order specialist batsman, that is disappointing. The indifferent pace and bounce defeated Gambhir and he mistimed his cut shot. The ball caught the edge of the bat far earlier in the bat swing than Gambhir intended and flew to Jonathan Trott at slip. It hit him on the chest, but he held on for the rebound.

Virender Sehwag is one of the few batsmen in the world who can transcend pitches from the word go. He was dismissed in a manner (like many of his more conventional dismissals) which would be considered horrifying for a normal Test opener. With Sehwag, it was something one always suspected. Sehwag hit an on drive from middle stump, which would have got him at least LBW (more likely bowled) if he had missed. The ball was fielded on the boundary line. Sehwag seemed to think it was an automatic three, no questions asked. Gambhir seemed to think it was an equally automatic two. Gambhir would be forgiven was believing this given how slowly Sehwag ran his first run (I suspect that during that first run both Sehwag and Gambhir thought it was going for Four). As Sehwag turned for the third (at his usual sedate trot), he was watching the ball. Disastrously for him and India, so was Gambhir (with his back turned to Sehwag). By the time Sehwag saw that Gambhir wasn't running, it was too late. I don't think it matters so much whether or not there were three runs or two. The elementary error was one of communication.

Virat Kohli started carefully after Pujara was dismissed and played well until he was defeated by some expert use of the old ball by James Anderson. He fell to his first mistake - the ball took the edge of his forward prod and just carried to Graeme Swann at second slip. James Anderson had induced a similar edge off Tendulkar's bat, but the edge didn't carry to second slip.

Sachin Tendulkar came to the wicket after Cheteshwar Pujara was bowled just before the lunch interval. The great man showed a refreshing willingness to graft. He did not play a shot in anger until the hour before tea - getting his runs at a sedate pace mainly through deflection. He played straight - painstakingly so, curbing his back lift to give himself a better chance to deal with the indifferent bounce. He was done in by a very fine ball which moved away late off the perfect length. Tendulkar had to play at it. But before that ball, he had scored 76 runs, and led a recovery of sorts with Yuvraj Singh.

MS Dhoni and Ravichandran Ashwin played well late in the day, in Dhoni's case after charging out Bell-like to Swann's first ball and nearly being caught at mid-wicket.

Despite the efforts of Gambhir and Tendulkar, India will look back on their first day at Eden Gardens with regrets. They are a better line up than 273/7 suggests. It has been a below par batting day.

The Eden pitch has indifferent bounce and the occasional ball did spin more than usual. India will have to bowl well consistently, and hope that they don't run into a rampaging Kevin Pietersen again. Zaheer Khan should play a bigger role here, going by James Anderson's efforts.

A score of 273/7 on the first day more or less guarantees a result in Kolkata. Its getting to the point in the series where mistakes, especially unforced mistakes, are likely to determine the outcome of the series. Is Sehwag's mistake already enough? I think not, if only because England have to bat 4th in this game.

India cannot beat England if they keep getting Sehwag unearned, as they did in the 1st innings at Wankhede and in the first innings here. He will get a good ball and get out. He certainly won't score a century every time he bats. But he cannot keep gifting his wicket away by what appears to be casual play. I dislike making observations of this kind about cricketers, and perhaps I am being unfair to a man with more than a hundred Tests, but in Sehwag's case, a dismissal of the kind he suffered today was, one felt, just around the corner.

The bowlers will have to a far better outing than they have managed so far in this series if India are to win this Test. The pitch is misbehaving, but not egregiously so after 90 overs of play. India must bring this into play tomorrow.

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