India's batsmen take tight grip of Mohali Test
England have now had over a day to rue the first innings collapse that allowed the Indian batsmen to get on with the job of slowly overtaking the inadequate total. The way those batsmen have gone about their task, there is no reason to believe that England will not have a considerable length of time yet to contemplate further the folly of losing six wickets for 14 runs.
That is to take nothing away from the discipline of their bowling that, for much of the day, kept the scoring rate hovering just above the two an over mark. To say that all they had to show for their efforts were the wickets of a nightwatchman and a makeshift opener is not giving due credit to for a brave performance.
Anil Kumble played the role of nightwatchman to perfection. The opening overs of the day are reckoned to be the time when conditions are most favourable for pace bowling. Kumble navigated his side through those dangerous times and, with every ball he faced, he was drawing fire from the bowlers and helping the ball itself to deteriorate from its pristine condition.
Matthew Hoggard, James Ormond, Andrew Flintoff and even Mark Butcher had been given a go with the ball when Nasser Hussain made a double change. Craig White made an appearance in the attack at one end, debutant Richard Dawson at the other.
Dawson saw no great degree of turn, but did see the ball bounce to his liking as a 6' 4" off-spinner. It was his twelfth ball in Test cricket that Kumble attempted to cut, got a thickish edge and James Foster, also making his first appearance in a Test match, safely did the rest. There was much jubilation in the England camp. It was as well that they could celebrate then, for the next opportunity to do so was a long way down the track.
Rahul Dravid joined Deep Dasgupta, the wicket-keeper who only took the opening berth in an emergency and who continued in his slow and careful way. He had no need and possibly not the repertoire to force the pace. Dravid too was watchful, with the English bowlers displaying an admirable discipline.
Hoggard got a ball to lift and come back to strike Dravid a painful blow on the elbow when he had three and, with 30 added to his personal tally, there was every reason for Dravid for leave the field for good. The batsman played at Flintoff as the ball went down the leg side, touched it through to Foster's left glove and from there to the floor. The tariff has yet to be finalised.
Dasgupta had moved to a cautious fifty from 159 balls. It was an invaluable innings if not, perhaps a memorable one for the quality of attacking strokes. But who would question the value of a sound defence in an opener? That defence faltered when he had 75 when Flintoff was again the bowler and, this time, Butcher the culprit in the slips.
By now, after tea, the batsmen were beginning to lift the tempo. Dravid moved to his fifty from 126 balls with a glorious straight drive off Hoggard. Dasgupta's response was to slice the same bowler to the third man boundary to bring up his hundred. Playing in only his third Test and his first on home soil, the 24 year-old had taken 82 overs to get there but he was the hero of the hour as the scoreboard showed him on exactly 100.
The concentration might have slipped for a moment at this point, entirely understandably it should be said, for that scoreboard had no reason to change before White found a straight one that might have come back just a little to bowl Dasgupta. Makeshift opener or not, he had done a wonderful job for his side and deserved the generous applause from a crowd that could have been thanking him for his efforts and for getting out when he did.
The fall of his wicket allowed Sachin Tendulkar to come to the middle. Hussain had not taken the new ball, delaying it until there were nine overs of the day remaining. Flintoff had the thrill of seeing the outside edge of the little master passed twice, and with consecutive balls, no less.
However, as the natural light faded and the floodlights were brought on, they only served to illuminate India's firm grasp on the game. Although the bowlers kept going valiantly to produce a set of highly commendable figures in terms of economy, the thought of Dravid resuming on 78 and Tendulkar on 31 on a fine surface for batting should give them food for thought.
An inexperienced attack might well be in position to learn an awful lot on the third day unless it strikes quickly and consistently. India lead by 24 with seven wickets in hand, Dravid and Tendulkar at the crease and power to add.