England learn little on frustrating day
England XI 521 and 118 for 0 (Trott 61*, Compton 54*) lead Haryana 334 (Dewan 143, Bresnan 3-67, Meaker 3-72) by 305 runs
Like studying for a maths exam by brushing up on the names of the Tudor monarchs, England will have gained little benefit from the third day of their game against Haryana. On a pitch that bears no comparison to that on which the Test will be played and against opponents with little in common with those in their national team, England were obliged to spend four sessions in the field under a hot sun. They could be forgiven for having moments when they wished this was a three day match rather than four.
The day was not completely wasted. England's bowlers, the second string though they are, will have all benefited from a thorough work-out, while Rahul Dewan enjoyed a performance he will never forget by becoming just the second Haryana batsman to carry his bat in first-class cricket. His unbeaten 143 helped Haryana to a total of 334 - their highest total this year - and ensured that his side avoided a rout. Only two other men passed 17.
Later, with England 188-ahead but eschewing the chance of enforcing the follow-on, Jonathan Trott and Nick Compton opened the batting and, utterly untroubled, posted an unbroken 118-run partnership to take their lead to 305 with a day remaining. But, offered only a diet of unthreatening seam bowling, they will have learned little from the experience. They faced just two overs of spin.
The conditions on offer in this match will bear little relation with those in the Test. While this game is being played on an even-paced pitch offering nothing to bowlers, the pitch in the main stadium - this game is being played on the 'B' ground - has been re-laid as recently as September. The clay content in the surface has been changed - from pond clay to farm clay - and reduced - more sand has been added - with a view to it breaking up more quickly. While no-one can predict with any certainty how a new pitch will play - there has been no game of any note on it as yet - it appears that batting could become far more difficult as the match progresses. Winning the toss and batting first would appear to offer a disproportionate advantage.
It remains to be seen if any of England's bowlers in this game make it into the team for the first Test. While neither Steven Finn or Stuart Broad bowled in practise, they were both able to train as planned. The England camp is increasingly confident that Finn will be fit for the Test, while they remain insistent that Graeme Swann will have returned to India in good time and that Broad, too, will have recovered. Matt Prior, having recovered from his stomach upset, was also able to play a full part on day three.
Stuart Meaker was the pick of the England bowlers on the third day, but he may have to pay his dues for a little while longer. It is not in the nature of this England set-up to fast-track any player into the side. But Meaker, called into the squad only a week ago and short of bowling since the end of the English domestic season, has been the only bowler on either side to generate anything at all out of this benign surface. Amit Mishra was caught behind off one that bounced a little more expected, Jayand Yadav was beaten for pace and Chanderpal Sani's enterprising innings - he helped add 60 for the ninth wicket - was ended when the batsman played across a straight one.
"I certainly haven't done myself any harm by taking a few wickets," Meaker said, while accepting that his chances of forcing his way into the Test team were slim. "Looking at how Steven Finn is going, he's getting closer and closer to being ready. But I look at it more long term: it's a great chance for me to show the new Test captain I can perform in these conditions and that will bode well for a future Test call."
Tim Bresnan, too, could feel satisfied with his performance. He soon dismissed Sandeep Singh, who edged a tentative prod, and will have pushed himself into contention for the Test side.
Graham Onions was not at his best. Both short of bowling and increasingly weary, he struggled with his line and was outbowled by both his seam bowling colleagues. He enjoyed little luck, though, and was most unfortunate to see Compton put down a straightforward chance at gully offered by Amit Vashisht.
England's catching - or, more accurately, their lack of catching - remains a concern. Three times the ball flew between Prior and Alastair Cook, at first slip, with Cook far from convincing in the cordon. Trott, who was the unfortunate bowler on one occasion, also put down Sanjay Budhwar at first slip, off Kevin Pietersen, the ball before he was caught at second slip. As Pietersen put it afterwards "I should be on a hat-trick."
Still, it was a special day for Dewan. Once deemed a bright enough prospect to win the Indian under 22 player of the year award (for the 2007-08 season), he has a first-class score of 254 not out to his name but, in the T20 age, has struggled to progress. While not blessed with the widest range of strokes, he was disciplined and, generally waiting on the back foot, proved particularly effective at steering anything short through point. Typically he brought up his century - the sixth of his first-class career - with a cut to the boundary off Samit Patel. He was dropped on day two when he had 14 and, on 87, might have been caught by Cook off Trott. Instead Cook failed to react and the ball sped to the boundary. Jitender Singh, who made 107 out of a total of 270 against Karnataka in 1998-99, is the only previous Haryana player to carry his bat in a first-class game.
"This attack is a notch higher than first-class attacks," he said afterwards. "All the bowlers bowled well. They bowled in the right areas and didn't give many loose balls. They were all on the money I would say. But there was nothing for them in the wicket, so it wasn't very tough to handle them."
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo