Made to order
Here's the irony of it: the Indian bowlers were always going to need conditions to be really English to have a shot at dismissing England cheaply. They got their way today. Rahul Dravid won a toss he perhaps wouldn't have minded losing for he was forced to choose to bowl whereas he prefers batting first, but it gave his bowlers the perfect conditions: the air was heavy, clouds hovered around, there was a nice breeze blowing, and the pitch was juicy. In fact, it could be said their day could have ended even better had one of their bowlers not sprayed it around.
RP Singh got the most important wicket of the day and he induced a genuine edge from Ian Bell, but he was also the most profligate, straying both in line and length. That was a shame for he had been India's most impressive bowler at Lord's, where he bowled within his limitations. With eight wickets in the bag, he was perhaps seduced by his own wicket-taking potential and ended up not doing the job normally assigned to the third seamer: the job of keeping it quiet.
And in fact, it had seemed like a familiar story at tea. After being reduced to 47 for 3, England had ended the session at 94 without further loss with Alistair Cook and Paul Collingwood latching on to some loose balls. They added 47 in 9.2 overs and England's run rate that point was nearly four. The momentum had turned, and an hour more of that and it could have been England's day.
In fact, it was an indictment of India's leading bowlers that Sourav Ganguly opened the attack after tea but India were fortunate that he was up to the task. There had been a doubt before the match whether he would play and an even bigger doubt over whether he would be able to bowl for he had been afflicted with a stiff back. But in conditions that suited his kind of bowling, he was excellent, bowling a length that did not allow the batsmen the luxury of either driving or cutting.
With the ball nipping around all day, he demanded caution. He was India's second most economical bowler of the day, just a shade behind Sreesanth, and for the second time in the series he nabbed Alastair Cook, who looked England's most assured batsman, leg before. Hawk-Eye showed the ball going over, but it was a wicket well earned.
In many ways, it was the most crucial period of play for India. The 15 overs after tea produced only 18 runs and fetched two wickets. Ganguly's spell read 7 overs, 3 maidens, 11 runs and 1 wicket. It was as good a spell as you could ever expect from him.
|RP Singh got the most important wicket of the day and he induced a genuine edge from Ian Bell, but he was also the most profligate, straying both in line and length. Which was a shame for he had been India's most impressive bowler at Lord's where he bowled within his limitations. But with eight wickets in the bag, he was perhaps seduced by his own wicket-taking potential and ended up not doing the job normally assigned to the third seamer: that of keeping it quiet|
India were also grateful for an opening spell befitting a new ball bowler in Zaheer Khan. He had let his team down woefully in helpful conditions on the opening day of the Lord's Test but here he looked dangerous from the first over, both slanting the ball across and cutting it in.
Andrew Strauss fell to a bad shot - and despite his first-innings half century at Lord's he has looked England's weakest link - but the ball that got him was just the kind of ball that was likely to get him. The fullness drew him tentatively forward and the movement found the edge. Strauss has an impressive Test record but he hardly has a stroke in front of the wicket. The Australians dried up his runs during the Ashes by bowling full to him, and the rest of the world is beginning to get wise to his limitations. Sometime soon England's selectors will have to start looking at options.
The ball that found Michael Vaughan's edge was a peach. Zaheer had been slanting it away from him and had pinged him on the head with a short ball. Then there was the one that straightened off the pitch, forcing Vaughan to offer his bat. Zaheer was always menacing, apart from the second spell, when he went for runs against Paul Collingwood and Cook.
Ganguly's effectiveness also hid Sreesanth's patchy bowling. As always, he bowled some good balls, but he often bowled wide on either side for batsmen to be bothered to play. He beat Bell several times outside the offstump but in reality none of those balls was close enough to get the edge.
At stumps India, in capturing seven English wickets for 169, had justified their decision to bowl first but the harder job lies ahead. The conditions are expected to stay the same and England have the bowlers to exploit them. If England manage to take their score near 200, it will not be as meagre a total as it might seem.
Given that more rain is predicted on Sunday and the drainage facility at Trent Bridge isn't anywhere close to what it was at Lord's the weather could yet again be a significant factor. But it must be said that it has also been a blessing. A glut of runs had been predicted for the series. But so far the contest between the bat and the ball has been thoroughly absorbing. High first-innings scores rarely produce thrillers. India have won the first day, but this match has just begun. It is full of possibilities.
Sambit Bal is the editor of Cricinfo and Cricinfo Magazine