For the first time in this series, England captain Alastair Cook won the toss and took the opportunity to bat first. Having opted for an unusual combination of three spinners and one seamer, it was India’s lone quick bowler Ishant Sharma who put England on the back foot with two early wickets. Cook followed Nick Compton back to the pavilion after getting a bad decision, and the tourists reached 61-2 at lunch. After Jonathan Trott fell for 44, and Ian Bell contributed another low score to his disappointing series, it was Kevin Pietersen who set about taking the fight to India. Having reached his 50, he succumbed to impatience and was caught off the bowling of Jadeja for 73, but this was enough to move his side towards posting a respectable and competitive score. An intriguing day ended with England on 199-5, but with two batsmen in Matt Prior and debutant Joe Root well set on 34* and 31* respectively, the match appears to be delicately balanced.
If India’s selection of three spinners was unorthodox, at least one of England’s two changes was unexpected. Steven Finn’s unfortunate injury opened up a spot for a quick bowler, and the selection of Tim Bresnan could be seen as the safer option ahead of Graham Onions. If this had been the second or third Test of the series then Onions may have had more of a chance of making the side, but with England leading 2-1 and with one Test to play, they were always likely to go with experience. That said, the inclusion of Joe Root for his first England appearance did raise a few eyebrows. Samit Patel, the man to make way, has had a poor series and contributed little, but Jonny Bairstow is entitled to feel a little aggrieved at being overlooked. Root is a top prospect who should have a long international career, and will eventually move up the order from his current position of six, but he vindicated those who selected him with a hard-fought innings that was crucial at the time he came to the crease. With James Taylor also on the selectors’ radar, there is a decent pool of batting talent developing at the moment.
India will be disappointed to have let England reach just under 200 when they looked to be on the ropes earlier in the day at 139-5. The tourists will be in no hurry whatsoever to score runs, and what was most surprising was that India seemed happy to accommodate this for much of the final session. A great deal more urgency is needed if they are to have a chance of forcing the win they need to square the series, and the need to rotate the spinners just to give Sharma a rest could pose a few problems should they struggle to make a breakthrough on day two. Root was impressive in his maiden Test innings, and with the experienced Prior at the other end there is no reason for him to play any differently tomorrow morning. This is a valuable partnership for England, and following Cook’s rare failure and with Pietersen not managing to convert his fifty into a hundred, it is important that the remaining batsmen get their side as close as possible to 300.
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BIOGRAPHY: Mohamed Salah