More than the outcome and its eventual implications on the Test series, the first Test match between India and England is bound to be remembered for two things—first, the innings of great substance by a young boy trying to find a foot in International cricket, and second, the display of patience and extraordinary skills by someone who’s at the top of his powers.
India won a crucial toss (by the way, all tosses in this series are going to be extremely crucial and will have a serious bearing on the outcome of the match) and as expected batted first on a barren strip. There was no bounce, pace or lateral movement off the surface, and the English team did India a great service by not picking another frontline spinner to share the workload with Swann. While it’s mostly logical to play your best four bowlers, in conditions that are radically against 3 of your best 4 bowlers, you must rethink and play horses for courses. At one point during the Indian innings, it was depressing to see English fast bowlers operate, for the outcome was inversely proportional to their efforts. No matter how hard they hit the pitch, the ball rarely bounced above the waist height.
But, none of this is to take anything away from Cheteshwar Pujara, who displayed great maturity for his young age. He stroked an unbeaten double century without lifting a single ball in the air. This is remarkable for a player in this day and age of slam bang T20 cricket. While many of his peers will earn millions through lucrative T20 leagues, Pujara will earn respect of millions through his impeccable technique and discipline.
Once India had posted 521 on a rapidly wilting pitch, it was always a herculean task for the English to make a match of it. In addition to the assistance from the pitch, form (in India) of both Indian spinners and English batsmen’s well-known inadequacy against the turning ball loaded the dice in India’s favor. England’s first innings reinforced the belief about their proficiency (or the lack of it) against spinners. Once India enforced the follow-on, everyone hoped for an early finish except Cook and co., for they had other plans. Cook led the English response in the second innings and, perhaps, played the series’ defining innings for his team. He showed immense resolve and patience to keep Indians at bay. The key to playing well against spinners on turning pitches is to move decisively and play positively. By moving decisively I mean the footwork needs to be spot on, for you need either a long forward stride to reach to the pitch of the ball to smother the spin or you must go deep inside the crease to shorten the length. And by playing positively I mean showing the right intent, which means respecting the good balls and punishing the bad ones. It’s rather impossible to survive on turning pitches by just defending everything, for one ball would jump or turn viciously. It’s imperative to keep scoring, which in turn keeps the bowlers honest. Alistair Cook did all of the above and more to instill the much needed belief in his team that the English batsman can play spinners in India.
Cook has added much needed spice to this series. Now, it’s up to his teammates to follow suit in the second Test.
This article was first published in Gulf Times
This entry was posted on Monday, November 19th, 2012 at 4:04 pm
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