India v England, 4th Test, Nagpur, 1st day December 13, 2012

Pietersen leads England on tough pitch


England 199 for 5 (Pietersen 73, Prior 34*, Root 31*) v India
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

India's strategy of beating England on sharply-turning surfaces had left them 2-1 down with one to play so in Nagpur it was time to find another way. It was not pretty. Plan B was to drive England to distraction on the slowest, lowest, shabbiest pitch imaginable. It might yet work, but Test cricket, not in the best of health as it is, is a little sicker for it.

That England came out evenly after the first day owed much to the self-denial of Kevin Pietersen, a quality with which he has rarely been associated, especially during a prolonged feud with England last summer which put his international career in jeopardy. But Pietersen yearns to end a largely unhappy year with a rare England Test series win in India and while others struggled he was a veritable professor of decorum. It is precisely because he had to work uncommonly hard that England will believe they are very much in the game.

His 73 from 188 balls ranked among his slowest Test half-centuries but it was an innings of great purpose for all that and prevented England from becoming entirely becalmed on a tedious day when the run rate ground forward at two an over. Turgid cricket was inevitable on a sub-standard surface that demanded a defensive outlook from both sides as India sought a victory to level the series and dissipate gathering criticism of the captain, MS Dhoni and his coaching staff.

Pietersen apart, England, needing to accumulate, largely gathered dust. Joe Root, a surprise debutant at No. 6, would understandably regard it as gold dust as he grafted for an unbeaten 31 in an unbroken stand of 60 with Matt Prior which stabilised England's mood by the end of the first day. Root, a patient technician, was well suited to such denial. TV viewers in England, who had roused themselves for a 4am start, may have nodded off long before then, but crease occupation could be vital on a pitch that started dry, abrasive and heavily cracked.

Pietersen fell early in the final session, flicking Ravindra Jadeja, India's debutant, to short midwicket - an area where Ishant Sharma also twice come close to dismissing him. The wicket was the highlight of a quite unforeseen day for Jadeja, who also drifted his slow left-arm onto Jonathan Trott's off stump when he misjudged a leave on 44, and who was generally met with such caution that he had 2 for 32 in 22 overs when Dhoni briefly honoured him with the second new ball. As the fourth-ranked spinner, he could not have expected that.

Even allowing for the different characteristics of pitches worldwide, this surface was inadequate for Test cricket. For Sharma, the sole representative of that increasingly endangered species, an Indian quick bowler, to find such persistent low and uneven bounce on the first morning of a Test was a travesty; the only question was how much it was by accident or design. Praveen Hinganikar, the curator, had no reason for satisfaction.

Sharma reduced England to 16 for 2 by taking the wickets of Nick Compton and Alastair Cook in his new-ball spell. It was vagaries in bounce that accounted for Compton, Sharma managing to get a short one chest high and drawing Compton into a defensive edge to the wicketkeeper. It was the vagaries of umpiring (mediocre throughout the series) that did for Cook as Sharma's hint of inswing was enough to win an lbw decision from umpire Kumar Dharmasena even though the ball was clearly missing off stump. Sharma had come close to an lbw decision against Trott in his previous over and that might have helped.

For England to find that they must repel India's challenge in the absence of Cook, their ultra-dependable captain, must have come as quite a shock. In the first three Tests he had batted 1,565 minutes, 1,164 balls and scored 548 runs. He did not adorn those figures very much at all, managing a single off 28 balls. His departure brought India hope.

The two wickets lost by England in the afternoon session were more self-inflicted, brought about by the pressure applied by India's quartet of spinners on a ponderous surface that allowed minimal first-day turn. Dhoni was left to play a waiting game, dispensing with slip or men around the bat for most of the day, and arresting the run rate with ring fields until gifts fell into his lap.

On several occasions, Trott and Pietersen, raised up on quick, bouncy South African pitches, made as if to pull a short ball before playing defensively on the crouch as the ball ambled towards them whenever it chose. Their third-wicket stand of 86 with Pietersen provided England's only concerted response, but after Trott allowed himself to be bowled, Ian Bell's unimpressive record in Asia continued as he punched a near half-volley from the legspinner, Piyish Chawla, to short extra cover.

On a pitch where the ball repeatedly died on pitching, lbw is in play for any bowler maintaining a strict wicket-to-wicket line. Even as they strangled England's innings, India must have seen enough to rue selecting four spinners instead of providing some fast-bowling support for Sharma. Steve Finn, omitted because of disc trouble in his back, was the type of tall, hit-the-deck bowler who might have been particularly effective and England could rue his absence.

Although Trott occasionally swept India's spinners to good effect and Pietersen, who was anxious to play positively against the spinners, muscled one or two shots down the ground, it was grim fare. Only a few thousand had turned out to watch it - this modern stadium on the edge of town echoing to the smallest crowd of the series. Those who stayed away were fortunate. Yawns all round.

David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Richard on December 14, 2012, 16:44 GMT

    @ On the Boundary - yes , I agree wholeheartedly that we need more excitement in this match in the next few days - Sehwag being clean-bowled in the first over , how's that for starters , eh ?

  • Mark on December 14, 2012, 13:36 GMT

    @JG2704 That is true, but you have to have a high boredom threashold and batsmen are generally getting out when they make a mistake. Loved Graeme Swann's approach: it is just what was needed. This is how he should bat always. You can keep your wicket, but I notice that the comments yesterday that India would rack up 500 in quick time have vanished.

  • John on December 14, 2012, 12:56 GMT

    @CricketingStargazer on (December 14 2012, 11:28 AM GMT) Funny thing is that Prior and Root looked untroubled by the pitch and Swann made it look like "What's all the fuss about" . I wonder if the less complicated your game is the more you're likely to succeed? I think Bumble made a good point in that at present (and it might change) it's generally not too hard to keep your wicket in tact but not so easy to score at a rate - esp from the off. Root and Prior looked genuinely gutted when they got out - like they felt they could have both scored tons.

  • Mark on December 14, 2012, 11:28 GMT

    @JG2704 I note that the Indian runrate today has been only a tiny fraction faster than the English runrate was yesterday. It is a tough pitch to score on fast... end of debate.

  • narsimha on December 14, 2012, 10:41 GMT

    SOLIDSNAK- YAA baring 3-0 win over ENG IN UAE on rank turners nothing noteasable , how ever u r team fared better than IND in ENG in last year but our record vrs ENG, AUS, SA WI IS FAR SUPERIOR THAN U R TEAM AT HOME & AWAY WE WON MORE MATCHES IN AUS, SA, WI THAN U R TEAM we had 3 series wins in ENG, WI , BARING LAST TOUR WE ARE THE only team from subcontinent which challenged AUS during tjhier hay days, ENG, AUS won series in PAK but could not had similar seccess in INDIA infact in last 3 decades this is first time an ENGLISH team dominating INDIANS IN INDIA ,full credit to them, our players never indulged in othrs metters i dopnt know from where did u gather this infirmation , IND fans might have comented inthat way but what about scores of demeaning coments by u r fans on our greats we never said such things on u r players .

  • Syed on December 14, 2012, 6:41 GMT

    If we make pitches like these it will kill cricket. See how few people are there in the stadium. It is important to see a good game of cricket not how one side manipulates to take advantage. High time ICC intervened and had neutral groundsmen just like neutral umpires otherwise we say bye bye to a good game of cricket. I don't care who wins so long as we see quality cricket on the field.

  • Dummy4 on December 14, 2012, 6:20 GMT

    the debate on India Pakistan in oversease conditions is not so old. but if we compare both sides, Pakistan dont have and they also do not claim to have the greatest players, they dont have Sachin, Virat, Sehwag, Dhoni or Ghambir. they have not played at home ground for years now, they even dont make pitches for specific teams, their players have let them down with match fixing and grouping in the team and many more fuss, they dont claim to be the best side in the world, they dont claim to have best domestic cricketing structure, but the only thing they do is "GO AND TRY TO WIN". India always try to defeat others rather to win, and while doing so they get defeated. So team make a change in your mental approach and you will feel the defference. Pakistantoday and in past by no match has player like India had, Dhoni was successfull because he wanted to win, he always looked at his strengths rather focussing on other weakness. so if you want to win then just simply try to win.

  • Yasir on December 14, 2012, 5:31 GMT

    @g.narsimha->dude indian team is no different than Pak.But our recent performance was far better. While india got thrashed by the Aussies 4-0,We won a match against them in England.That was a 1-1 draw..While India was getting thrashed by England bu 4-0,we won a match against them not long ago.So dont just say this UAE fortress stuff.I remember India was once proud of its fortress aka their home ground.Now you cant even defend yourself in your own fortress yet trying hard to focus on other team performances.Btw what have you achieved in Aus,SA & Eng?Ever won a series there?

    PS->When we did white wash England in UAE..Your great Indian players said that it was a no big deal.Now it was a great time to back up those big words but team India got nothing except humiliation from this series.Dhoni thought that if Pakistan could do it,we can do it as well.Living in those dreams Dhoni forgot something ie Reality that got thrashed by England in England & now got thrashed by England in India.

  • John on December 14, 2012, 5:28 GMT

    @g.narsimha on (December 14 2012, 03:51 AM GMT) And exactly the same thing happened when Pakistan hammered us with Indian fans celebrating the Pakistan victory like it was their own. Loads of comments. I guess it's different when the boot's on the other foot

  • John on December 14, 2012, 5:28 GMT

    @Cricfan_99 on (December 14 2012, 00:30 AM GMT) How is it cowardice re England players? Is it not sensible for players who are finding the unfamiliar conditions tough to try and dig in? MSD had had few close in catchers and had fields set back - should the emphasis not be on him to try and force the game?

    @ Syed Hassaan Ahmed on (December 14 2012, 01:10 AM GMT) Good response.Rather you didn't mention the UAE series but I know you were doing it by way of putting a point across as opposed to a gloat at the Eng fans

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