Ishant heckled as Robson, Smith flay rusty Indians
Indians 333 for 4 dec (Dhawan 60 [ret hurt], Pujara 57, Gambhir 54) drew with Leicestershire 349 for 5 (Robson 126, Smith 101, Redfern 58)
Angus Robson, the younger brother of England's new opening batsman Sam, and Greg Smith hit run-a-ball centuries as their 221-run second-wicket stand ensured a chastening time in the field for the Indians' seven-strong fast-bowling attack on the final day of their first warm-up match against Leicestershire.
Both batsmen played with gusto and freedom to allow Leicestershire to dominate the day which saw the morning session curtailed to just 13 overs after rain interrupted play after an hour, but it did not matter to the Robson-Smith combination as they scored at almost six runs an over. The pair added 178 runs in the middle session comprising 30 overs.
It has been a fine week for the Robson family with Sam registering his maiden Test century at Headingley exactly a week ago against Sri Lanka. This was the younger Robson's highest score of the season which had previously included six fifties. He expects a phone call from his brother ahead of the Test series - for the odd bit of information about the Indian bowlers - and his only regret was that this was not a first-class fixture.
"It's been a pretty special day," he said. "Mum and Dad have been here. It's funny how it works out, two Saturdays in a row they've seen us make hundreds."
Ten days ago Smith scored a century at his home ground in the T20 Blast against Nottinghamshire. He also has a Championship hundred this season and reached the landmark today with consecutive sixes against the left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja. Both straight hits went crashing into the sightscreen at the Bennett End with the first one even creating a dent.
But a deeper dent was created in the opposition bowling camp. The Indians might say it was the first day on the job for the bowlers, but at times it became embarrassing. Ishant Sharma, one of the three players from the current squad to have played Test cricket in England, and the bowling captain by default in the absence of Zaheer Khan, failed to make any impact and effectively became a figure of ridicule for a group of Indian fans at the Bennett End, who endlessly heckled him each time he walked back to his bowling mark.
Ishant, who had taken consecutive five-wicket hauls in the two-Test series in New Zealand in February, India's previous series in the longest format, was listless for most of his three spells. He started with a no-ball in the morning session which had to be immediately called off as the rain arrived and upon returning he delivered two further no-balls as his first over went for 11 runs. His first spell of four overs leaked 41 runs and he overstepped six times.
As he retreated to long leg Indian fans were not afraid to offer some advice. "Put some effort. Bend down," one fan shouted. As he lined up to deliver another over, Ishant would not have missed the annoying scream coming from the crowd: "How many fours are you going to give this over?"
It might have been amusing to the ear, but the Indians may have found the impatience of their fans a little bit irritating. Barring Ishant, none of the other quicks had ever bowled with the red ball in England. And it showed straightaway.
It was overcast right through Saturday and the Indians might have fancied taking advantage of what they perceived as helpful conditions. Bhuvneshwar Kumar, whose primary strength is swing, struggled to find the right length throughout his solitary spell of seven overs which went for 46 runs including ten fours, all of which came at the hands of an aggressive Robson.
Later Robson said that he took advantage of the fuller lengths Bhuvneshwar bowled while attempting to swing the ball. He felt the Indians started with intensity, but grew "tired" as he and Smith stretched the partnership. He also felt that while the bowling attack was inexperienced, it was their lack of knowledge of him that played into his hands.
"The lengths they bowled this morning were fullish and I was looking to drive as I usually do," he said. "After I faced the first couple of overs of Kumar I felt he was a skiddy sort of a bowler and the best way to take him on was to drive him and hit him for a few fours. He swing it around a lot and I felt that If I was stuck around in my crease I was just sitting ducks."
The key to succeed in England has always remained the same: pitch on lengths that make the batsmen play and move the ball enough to bring the slips into play. Today the Indians created just a handful of such opportunities. One of them was plucked spectacularly by Ajinkya Rahane early in the morning session when he intercepted an outside edge from Leicestershire captain Matthew Boyce who was troubled by some away movement from Pankaj Singh.
Pankaj, along with Mohammad Shami and later Varun Aaron, were the pick of the Indian bowlers as the trio bowled at a good pace and created some doubts for the batsmen.
With another three-day match against Derbyshire starting on Tuesday, the Indians will ideally want to get an idea of their lead pack of bowlers for the first Test at Trent Bridge on July 9. They did, however, get a late boost when Ishant took two wickets in three balls in an aggressive over he was allowed to bowl in fading light.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo