When Kevin Pietersen fell for 73 to leave England on 139-5, a score of 250 plus seemed highly unlikely. With that in mind, a first innings total of 330 was a fantastic result for the tourists, and the late pressure exerted on India’s top order means that England are strengthening their grip on this match. Joe Root, Matt Prior and Graeme Swann all made fifties and also took up valuable time, protecting further against the threat of a defeat that would square the series. In response, India’s top four were all removed as Jimmy Anderson (9.0-2-24-3) produced a superb spell of bowling to reduce them to 87-4. A low scoring match normally discounts a draw, but England will have to decide how to play their second innings depending on how they bowl on day three. If India fail to replicate their opponents’ fightback, then they may well find themselves facing a daunting run chase against England’s in-form spinners. If they are able to achieve parity, then England may choose to play a little more conservatively and take up as much time as possible; a win, after all, would be a bonus, and is secondary to ensuring the series is clinched.
The second half of England’s first innings was underpinned by a highly impressive debut knock from Yorkshire’s Root, who showed patience and poise in compiling his 73 from 229 balls. He was eventually out coming down the wicket to Piyush Chawla, but by that time he had already demonstrated the potential that the England selectors have seen in him. With two series against New Zealand to follow this one, this innings may have guaranteed him a chance to stake a claim for an Ashes spot next summer. Injuries permitting, Anderson will be one of the first names on that team sheet, and his bowling here was of the highest order. He is swinging the ball both ways, and his development over the past few years has seen him learn how to regularly contribute, even when the surface is not ideally suited to his bowling. He is unquestionably England’s go-to bowler, and on his day there are few better in the world. If he is able to stay fit, Ian Botham’s record of 383 wickets may come under threat.
When Gambhir fell to Anderson for 37 with half an hour remaining, India captain MS Dhoni decided to move himself up a spot in the order to number six, above debutant Ravindra Jadeja. Rather than demoting Jadeja, it appears Dhoni felt that he needed to lead by example and ensure that his side reached the end of the day without losing any more wickets. This they managed to accomplish, and the captain now needs to turn in a big score – and more importantly build a big partnership with Virat Kohli – to ensure there is still a chance of winning this Test. With some saying that losing the series could signal the end of his captaincy, it was a bold move from Dhoni. A 243 run deficit remains, but if Dhoni and Kohli are able to play positively and chip away at England’s total, they can have a big say on the outcome of this match. India’s fans love a hero, and Dhoni will set out to make himself just that.
The third Indian wicket to fall was that of Sachin Tendulkar, and there is a growing feeling that this will be his final Test appearance. He has struggled for much of the past 18 months, and he had made just two before Anderson got one to nip back in to the little master and squeeze through the gate. It would be a great shame for him to bow out off the back of a poor run of form, but very few are able to drag themselves away at the very top. Ricky Ponting has gone through a similar situation of late, culminating in his retirement, and Tendulkar may also feel that a dream send off is not in prospect. He will have another chance to bat in this match, and it is not out of the question that he could ride to India’s rescue once more. In reality however, he does not look comfortable at the crease, and his one score over fifty in this series was ground out rather than crafted. Few would begrudge him a final flourish, but if this does not happen and he does choose to bow out, there will be a great deal of time spent looking back over a truly remarkable career.
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BIOGRAPHY: Mohamed Salah