For India there is no place like home

The greatest thrill of live sport is we have no idea what is about to happen. When cricket gets so predictable as to be cloaked in a grim inevitability, viewing is not half as much fun.

By R. Mohan

The first India-England Test was in danger of being typecast as a reprise of several India home performances – score the big runs and throttle the opposition before you grind them into the dust. Mercifully, the England openers mustered up the courage to fight back the second time around and we had a contest that was viewable for its competitive elements.

To borrow a line from Rowan Atkinson who is said to be ditching his famous, if predictable, Mr Bean act, this is an age in which what we see on television by way of “entertainment is so advertised and so trailed that it is merely what you thought it was going to be like.” And so he says it’s fun to be watching something about which you know absolutely nothing. For the long while that Alastair Cook batted while leading England from the front it did appear as if we were watching something very new in India.

Coming to think of it, Cook’s brave batting was reminiscent of the Team England coach Andy Flower who once drew a Test in Nagpur with a battling double century. There was, perhaps, as much certainty to his well-ordered methods as in Flower’s spotless batting against spinners. There was some fear that England may even achieve the rare feat of keeping India, who have won the first Test of 21 home series, at bay. Tuning into the fifth morning was no formality as it can be if a visiting side is well beaten.

But, then again, it was a matter of one ball for a breakthrough, which came from the vastly improved Pragyan Ojha who is putting more energy into the ball than ever before. It did appear that in this Test Ojha moved ahead of Ravichandran Ashwin as the prime spin weapon, even if bowling to a generally clueless right-handed England middle order did ease his path considerably. He was spot on in this Test and thoroughly deserved his nine-wicket haul. Getting one ball to stop a shade at Prior from a noticeably slowing track was sufficient to get the break.

To Cook’s credit he fought on until making the mistake of staying back as Ojha bowled more and more up to the bat to get over the incredible slowness of the pitch. The result could be sighted soon as the admirable Prior was dismissed. Had the England captain batted on for longer in the trying conditions of the dry heat of Ahmedabad, maybe the tail would have been more resolute. The pity is the pendulum has swung completely India’s way, probably from the moment India won the toss and Virender Sehwag for once showed enough application of mind to view video evidence and shape his strategy for the early part of his innings.

Sehwag’s century and Gambhir’s comfort in home conditions were important for India to establish the foundation. Cheteshwar Pujara’s Test match temperament was even more significant because his appetite for the big score took his team to the kind of crushing total that brooks little resistance. Pujara got a look-in even when Rahul Dravid was very much a part of the Indian batting pantheon. His maturity means we may not miss the master craftsman now as much as we may have believed. It could be a different story when India tours again but that won’t be for a while now.

The manner in which Pujara knocked off the runs in the fourth innings showed once again the vast superiority of Indian batsmen in these slow pitch conditions. Seeing such gifts in the Indian batsmen, the looming fear now is England may face a whitewash unless they get their act together very soon, not to speak of their selection foible that foisted a third seamer on them in India while the conditions screamed for a second specialist spinner.

The rub of the green was not England’s. Umpiring decisions cut down Samit Patel in both innings and a majority of the marginal calls favoured the home side. The fact remains that England will have to fight very hard to stave off more defeats, especially as Dhoni’s call for the old fashioned Bunsen Burner pitches is likely to be granted. Yes, India will be coming in like a pack of wolves for the kill. But that is the way of modern cricket now – everything loaded in favour of home teams



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