Dreadful start puts England on back foot

Sat, Nov 17, 2012, 00:00

England made a hapless start in their efforts to save the first Test, despite an eight-and-a-half-hour demonstration from Cheteshwar Pujara of the skills they need to do so. India’s 521 for eight declared owed much to Pujara’s tour de force 206 not out, and more than a little too to the adventure of Virender Sehwag with his hundred on Thursday.

The upshot on day two at the Sardar Patel Stadium was new England captain Alastair Cook and debutant Nick Compton’s first task, in pursuit of an opening stalemate in this four-match series, was to come through 18 overs unscathed. Cook survived. Compton, nightwatchman James Anderson and Jonathan Trott could not stay with him.

England were confronted immediately with Ravichandran Ashwin’s variations, and spin at both ends by the 10th over when slow left-armer Pragyan Ojha joined in. A big off-break was too much for Compton to give Ashwin his 50th Test wicket, in record Indian time. Anderson went bat-pad to Ojha an over later, and then Trott fell to Ashwin.

Pujara had earlier ploughed on to a maiden double-hundred in his sixth Test. He shared a fifth-wicket stand of 130 with Yuvraj Singh (74), and put on another 66 for the seventh with Ashwin. Graeme Swann took his wicket tally to five but at a cost of 144 runs. The pitch has yet to deteriorate – and therefore their prospects of closing out a draw should stay viable.

It was not until early afternoon that England had any respite. Yuvraj clubbed a Samit Patel full-toss to Swann in the leg-side deep, and then the off-spinner put himself back in the wickets column too when Mahendra Singh Dhoni deflected a sweep down on to his stumps. Pujara was less co-operative in an innings which would encompass 389 balls.

Kevin Pietersen had Ashwin edging a cut behind, but it was not until Zaheer Khan speared an attempted drive at Anderson to Trott at backward point that the first wicket at last fell to pace. Shortly afterwards Dhoni decided it was time for England’s batsmen to be tested.

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