If you like your test cricket old school, and don’t mind seeing just sixty six runs in the afternoon session, today’s play would’ve been right up your alley. It was a test of patience, with two relatively orthodox batsmen digging in and occupying the crease, and the bowlers settling for control once they realised the pitch was still true. After the carnage in Dhaka, it almost made me feel nostalgic.
On the face of it, India’s 319-4 looks a fine score. However, it doesn’t really tell the whole story, especially as the hosts are still 218 behind. In reality England made Vijay and Pujara work very hard for their runs. Everyone bowled pretty well. Our spinners didn’t look particularly threatening but they showed discipline and gave Cook the control he lacked in Bangladesh. Let’s not forget that Ashwin and Jadeja needed 76 overs to take their collective 5 wickets in England’s innings. I don’t think Mo, Rashid or Ansari let themselves down.
Rashid in particular had a pretty good day. He still bowled the odd long-hop, which you’d expect from a leggie, but he threatened the batsmen more than any spinner in this game thus far. I mentioned in my piece for 1 Tip 1 Hand that Adil bowls a nice googly, so it was pleasing to see him fox Vijay with one just before the close. In fact, the Indian batsman somewhat struggled to read his variations all day. This pitch might suit Rashid because there’s quite a lot of bounce. He could be a key man tomorrow.
England’s seamers also toiled away manfully. Broad was possibly the pick of the group, which isn’t always the case on flat decks, and he thoroughly deserved his wicket at the start. Stokes also bowled pretty well and dismissed the excellent Pujara just when he looked like he might score the mother of all daddy hundreds.
Being something or a purist, I love the way Pujara plays. We might be seeing a lot of his straight bat over the coming weeks. I also think that Vijay and Kohli are pretty good to watch … as is Rahane. Although limited overs cricket seems to be more popular than test cricket in India – the crowds in Rajkot have been utterly depressing thus far – at least some of their batsmen play in a relatively classical and elegant manner.
So what will tomorrow bring? Thus far I think the game is evenly poised. Although I don’t agree with the TMS and Sky pundits that England had the better of day three – your expectations must be pretty low if you’re pleased with 319-4 – India will be in trouble if they have a bad session in the morning or afternoon.
Let’s hope we can take a few early wickets and put them under pressure. Nobody wants to see a bore draw. This game might come to the boil quite nicely on day five. Until then it’s just a waiting game before the real drama unfolds. Oh, and nobody mention Adelaide. Got that?!
Rashid might be the key man only if Cook bowls him – something he shows a marked reluctance to do.
In terms of the actual day’s play, India shaded it, after England’s comeback in the last session. I wouldn’t underestimate even Mishra’s dismissal as he is a useful lower order player. That said there are still 6 wickets needed and England will still want to try and knock these wickets over to gain a 100+ lead so that there is still the opportunity to bowl for a victory. Pretty much all the bowlers bowled pretty decently apart from a poor Stokes spell prior to lunch, pretty much, but I still think it may be a tough day ahead tomorrow either way.
In terms of the crowds, I think the problems are more specific to Rajkot than Test cricket in India generally. The NZ series was well-attended, especially on weekends. Rajkot seems to be another one of these stadiums (like the Riverside, Pallekele or the new WI venues for the 2007 WC) built miles from anywhere with poor public transport access that make one wonder if administrators and architects give a thought for what things are like for the ordinary, paying spectator.
In terms of the series, the next two matches look like they have high bunsen potential. The Second Test is where NZ were bowled out for 79 in an ODI (Mishra took a five-for) and the Third Test ragged square when SA played there.
Hameed looks rather good (& rather better than his captain in this innings); particularly so since he wasn’t given the Bangladesh series to play himself in – though the selectors might unintentionally have done him a favour by debuting him on what turned out to be a fairly innocuous pitch.
And he clearly has the shots and knows when to (and not to) use them. A bit like Boycott…