Friday, 15 August 2014

England surge; India crumble

Friday, 15 August 2014
Today, India's batting collapsed again. It has now been four innings in a row with a score under 200, and today's was the worst of the lot as they could only muster 148 - and that was including a counter-attacking innings of 82 from Dhoni, containing 15 fours and a six. The next highest score was Murali Vijay's 18. This time round it only took four balls for the first wicket to fall, four balls for the misery to set in. Vijay was the only one of the top five to make double figures - even Rahane falling for a duck this time - and again India were five wickets down before lunch with the prospects of a series-levelling win disappearing before them. Some small slices of luck came their way to prevent being dismissed for under three figures - an edge behind by Dhoni so slight that even the fielders didn't pick it up, and Bell dropping a regulation slip catch from Sharma. Dhoni's answer was to come out swinging, and he did find success, but even then it was not enough to save the innings. A last wicket partnership of 58 may have taken some of the sheen off for England, but it will be difficult for them to complain with India's total of 148.

Where it could be argued that at Old Trafford, England's supporting pair of bowlers in Jordan and Woakes eased the pressure on India, being more expensive with the ball and not offering the same wicket threat, here came more of a team effort among the bowlers. Jordan's first two overs saw two wicket maidens - a sequence of four wickets in 14 balls when added to his two in two to finish off the last test - and then picking up the wicket of Kumar after lunch. Woakes was also in the wickets either side of the break, finally finding himself with some luck and removing Vijay, Ashwin, and Aaron. The pair took six wickets between them, and also both bowled seven maidens out of the fourteen they each bowled, maintaining the pressure after the opening spells of Broad and Anderson. It was a long time before India's run rate made its way above two an over, only Dhoni's attack able to lift it there. Though Jordan was at times inconsistent (though mostly unpunished), England will nevertheless be pleased with the pair's display - after looking like the weak links in the attack at Old Trafford and Southampton, here they took the main spoils in another strong bowling display.

England's batsmen didn't necessarily find it easy going either, but found luck more on their side. Cook survived a couple of close LBW appeals, and should really have been out with one going on to hit the middle stump. Robson also had the odd streaky shot, one going through where fourth slip might have been. It was good to see a solid opening stand from England, something that has been missing this summer with the pair struggling for form. It will also have done a world of good for Sam Robson, who has been the latest player under scrutiny after his struggles with the bat - particularly around the off stump. To have made a start and survived over night will give him an opportunity to build an innings on what looks to be a sunnier day tomorrow, in what could be make-or-break time ahead of the next test tour to the West Indies and the Ashes series in the summer beyond. Likewise, Alastair Cook will be hoping to take his opportunity and end that ever-growing run without a century. The pair were not bogged down in the way India had been, Robson in particular often finding the boundary, and made their way to the close of play at 62/0.

It leaves England once again in a thoroughly dominant position, well and truly favourites to take this final test and wrap up the first series win of this 'new age'. For India, it continues a horrible turn of events since their victory at Lord's; in many ways it feels like completely different sides are now playing. What could have been an exciting series between two young sides with much to prove on a world stage has since turned one-sided, India's struggles as bad as they were in 2011. Problems can be found in several areas - the batting has been frail, players like Kohli and Pujara not filling their boots; team selection a revolving door - the question of whether to go for five bowlers or four looking a constant issue; Dhoni's captaincy at times questionable - for example his insistence on leg slips. For now, it is advantage to England once again.

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