England close in on series win
Cricket:Jonathan Trott was England’s unshifting cornerstone as they adopted extreme measures for extreme conditions to try to close out a famous series victory in India. Trott (66 not out) appeared in his element on this uniquely lifeless pitch at the VCA Stadium, England crawling to a stoic 161 for three while India’s frustrations simmered on an increasingly ill-tempered fourth day of the final Test.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni had earlier declared India’s first innings on 326 for nine, four runs behind after half-an-hour of curiously unadventurous batting in a match England need only draw to hang on for a 2-1 success. By stumps, thanks mostly to Trott and latterly in an unbroken half-century stand with Ian Bell, they were surely just one more session of batting away from overturning 27 years of history.
Alastair Cook, in his first assignment as permanent Test captain on this tour, was in nappies the last time England won a series in India. With much therefore at stake, he and fellow opener Nick Compton set the tone as they concerned themselves with crease occupation, almost to the complete exclusion of runs.
It was symptomatic of the turgid lack of pace in this surface that, five minutes before lunch, Compton edged Ravichandran Ashwin for the first boundary of the day by either team. Cook needed 27 balls to register his first run — and when he pushed Ishant Sharma for that scampered single, having made just one too in his first innings, he had mustered two from 55 deliveries in the match.
The captain’s strike rate got even worse before marginally better in a 93-ball innings of 13, during which he became England’s highest all-time Test runscorer in India. Compton was in no hurry either, but England knew the wickets column was all-important. After Cook went, unluckily for the second time in the match when umpire Kumar Dharmasena detected an edge and caught-behind off Ashwin where video replay suggested there was none, Trott tore up the template by sweeping his very first ball for four.
England’s accumulation of breathing space remained a tense business, however, relieved just for a moment when one delivery slipped from Ravindra Jadeja’s hand and barely trickled in Trott’s direction before coming to a standstill two-thirds of the way down the pitch. He was quickly out of his crease to smash the stationary ball past square-leg, for just the fourth boundary of the innings — in the 38th over.
On the stroke of tea, England lost Compton to Pragyan Ojha. The initial scorecard entry was lbw, despite an apparent inside edge on to pad,
but the ball looped for a gully catch anyway. Kevin Pietersen escaped a sharp chance on two to Virender Sehwag at slip off Jadeja but could add only four more before the same bowler bowled him in an uncanny repeat of Trott’s first-innings dismissal as the batsman again waved through a straight ball from the slow left-armer which hit off-stump.
The flashpoint which followed soon afterwards betrayed the gravity of the situation for India, in evident danger of losing a Test series at home for the first time in eight years. Trott was given not out caught behind by Dharmasena, cutting at Ishant on 43, to the animated distress of both bowler and wicketkeeper Dhoni.
Ishant did not let the disagreement lie, following through in his next delivery to make the point again to Trott — who appeared to mouth an affectionate kiss back from under his helmet grille. When Dhoni and others persisted in making their annoyance known to the officials at the end of the over, they risked both censure — and more importantly, augmenting the cussed Trott’s determination.
So it proved as England’s number three ground on to complete a priceless 106-ball 50, and by stumps he had kept India at bay for almost 50 overs. Trott’s partnership with Bell took England from double-figures to beyond 150 — a position of relative comfort, barring a collapse tomorrow. Bell’s arrival coincided with a minor spike in the scoring rate too, and England exceeded two-an-over for the first time — halfway through the 62nd.
It was a means to an end, of course, as has been the case for much of the series — and no one with an English yen was complaining.