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July 28, 2007
The Indian batsmen rammed home the advantage that their bowlers provided on the opening day and moved into a dominant position after the second day at Trent Bridge. Dinesh Karthik and Wasim Jaffer laid the foundation with a 147-run stand, the first time since The Oval in 1979 that an Indian opening pair posted a century partnership in a Test in England, and Sachin Tendulkar - who completed 11,000 Test runs - and Rahul Dravid built on it with a 97-run partnership as India ended the day on 254 for 3, a lead of 56.
England were always likely to be on the defensive once they were bundled out for 198 but even Dravid wouldn't have imagined his openers responding the way they did. Though the clouds had vanished and the pitch had flattened out, there was still plenty of swing on offer, but the Indian batsmen were up for it, and helped by some inconsistent bowling and slices of luck, were in a position from which any result other than a win will be a huge disappointment.
To be fair to England, they didn't bowl as badly as the score suggests, nor were the Indian batsmen - especially the openers - always in control. The ball passed the outside edge of the bat regularly enough to keep the slip fielders interested - Chris Tremlett was especially unlucky in a splendid spell immediately after lunch - while they might have had, on another day, at least three lbw decisions go their way as Monty Panesar and James Anderson beat the bat and rapped the pads. And while Ian Bell held on to a fine diving catch to dismiss Dravid late in the day, he was the guilty one who allowed the opening partnership to flourish, dropping Jaffer at gully on 32.
Zaheer Khan and Anil Kumble set the tone for the day, getting rid of England's last three for the addition of 29, and leaving the stage for Karthik and Jaffer to pile the runs. Karthik was easily the more aggressive and feisty of the two, going after the bowlers when they erred in direction and responding in kind when Ryan Sidebottom offered a mouthful late in the afternoon session. Always on the lookout for runs, he spanked the fast bowlers through extra cover when they pitched it up and smashed Panesar over the off-side cordon to ensure he didn't settle into a rhythm.
Jaffer was more circumspect, though he unfurled some gorgeous strokes too - a cover-drive off an Anderson outswinger was a peach, and a superb down-the-pitch, lofted drive off Panesar spoke volumes about his confidence levels.
India were also helped by England's profligacy with the ball. Mixed with the jaffas were enough hit-me balls, and others which drifted harmlessly outside off, easing the pressure on the batsmen. Anderson in particular was guilty of bowling too many deliveries that didn't require a stroke. By the time Jaffer finally gloved a vicious one from Tremlett - the first delivery of a new spell - India were already within 51 of England's total. Jaffer and Karthik have now put together three century stands in seven innings - they'd added 153 against South Africa at Cape Town and 175 against Bangladesh at Mirpur - and average 88.50 per partnership.
Karthik was flummoxed by Panesar off the first ball after tea, setting the stage for India's two most experienced players to take centrestage. Neither batsman has been in the greatest form, but Dravid was off the blocks in style, timing the ball crisply and driving on both sides of the wicket off both pace and spin. Tendulkar took more time to get his eye in, and was involved in a small face-off with Anderson, who hit him on the grill with a perfectly directed bouncer. It dented the grill, but hardly ruffled Tendulkar, who gradually got into his stride with some magic of his own.
Moving onto the front foot with a long and decisive stride, he creamed Anderson through the covers, and then repeated it with Panesar to bring up 11,000 runs, only the third to do so after Allan Border and Brian Lara. He finished the day on 57, and looked set for many more on the third day. Surprisingly, though, Dravid went into his shell, scoring just three in his last 19 deliveries before driving too early and spooning a catch to short cover. Panesar got just rewards for his persistence, but in the overall context of the game, that only slightly marred what has been an outstanding day for India.
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