It was a unhappy Independence Day for India at the home of cricket.
An overseas test victory is a precious commodity for BCCI’s India. They have achieved this a paltry seven times in 89 years of touring England. If they lose the current 2nd Test, the finger could conceivably point in the direction of Rohit Sharma.
Only pyrotechnics from Rishabh Pant on the fifth morning stood between India and defeat, as play was abandoned because of bad light, with eight overs still to be bowled by England on the fourth day. India’s lead of 154 with only four wickets in hand looked inadequate on a wicket which may not be overly difficult for batting on the final day.
Sharma is one of India’s premier batsmen; a man in form. Mark Wood’s extra pace lends itself to the hook shot, but this needs to be executed selectively. Sharma hooked the express bowler for six to wipe out the first innings deficit. England now placed three men on the boundary – at long leg, square leg and midwicket. Incredibly, he repeated the shot to be caught at square leg. Sharma has been injudicious in this fashion twice in four innings.
Even after four days of cricket, the pitch hadn’t deteriorated much in the 2nd India-England Test in a best of five series. Barring a couple of balls from Moeen Ali keeping low at the Pavilion End and the delivery that dismissed Cheteshwar Pujara rearing at the Nursery End, it hasn’t misbehaved much.
Ajinkya Rahane played a stellar innings, but didn’t appear to be reading Ali’s straighter ball. Eventually it was one such top-spinner that had him snicking. Three overs later, the off-spinner struck again, straigntening one to Ravindra Jadeja from around the wicket to knock back the left-hander’s off-stump.
Pujara and Rahane with a partnership of exactly 100 stabilised the situation, after India had lost their openers and skipper Virat Kohli for 55 – the lead then merely 28. The crisis demanded caution. Pujara emphasised this by consuming 35 balls to get off the mark. However, he had sufficiently settled to pull Wood for four, before the very next ball rose awkwardly and inwardly. The Saurashtra man was unable to avert gloving the ball to a short second slip.
(Senior cricket writer Ashis Ray is a broadcaster and author of the book ‘Cricket World Cup: The Indian Challenge’)