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The Bulletin by Anand Vasu in Mohali
March 9, 2006
On a pitch which did not really have much in it for any breed of bowler, under overcast skies with a cool breeze blowing, through interruptions for bad light and rain, India slowly but steadily wrested the initiative from England, ending the first day with four wickets, conceding 163 runs off 50.3 overs.
India, who went into the match with five bowlers in the hope of pressing for a result, lost the early advantage as Andrew Flintoff won the toss and chose to bat. Rahul Dravid, swapping his five bowlers around, managed to prise out wickets at regular intervals, but he'd be the first one to concede that it was loose cricket on the part of England's batsmen more than spectacular bowling by the Indians that brought about dismissals.
England began well enough, with Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook seeing off a brisk opening spell from Munaf Patel, who appeared a touch nervous having his first bowl in Test cricket. England's openers had eased themselves to 35 without so much as being beaten when Irfan Pathan, in the middle of an eight-over spell struck twice in succession.
Andrew Strauss, who had concentrated well to get to 18, found a short, wide delivery too tempting to resist and unveiled an expansive cut shot, but only managed an edge. Mahendra Dhoni, diving well down to his left, picked up a sharp catch in front of first slip. One run later England were 36 for 2 as Cook tried to work a full delivery that was shaping into him to the on side and was trapped in front of the stumps.
India's joy was temporary, though, as Ian Bell and Kevin Pietersen set about consolidating. There were no risks taken, although Pietersen was not averse to playing the odd big shot, as he did against Piyush Chawla when he launched a legbreak over the ropes at midwicket. It was an impressive debut for Chawla, the 17-year-old legspinner, who only sent down five overs in the day, but was at no stage overawed by the occasion or the opposition. His curling legbreaks were pitched well, and he had enough confidence to slip in a googly in the middle of his spell.
Bell and Pietersen had added 81 for the third wicket, and Bell had just played a particularly pleasing cover-drive for four, when an error in judgment resulted in the fall of the third wicket. A red-faced Bell could only look back in embarrassment as he shouldered arms to an Anil Kumble googly that pitched just outside off stump and took the top of off. Bell was calm and composed at the crease for 38, and his first mistake had cost him his wicket.
Pietersen continued to accumulate the runs, and even a break in play as a drizzle followed the players' trooping off for bad light, did not stop his progress. Patel, the other Indian debutant on show, impressed in the final session, reverse swinging the ball at decent pace. A yorker sent down at 144.7 kmh - a sight not seen on the speedgun against an Indian bowler's name in recent times - was just kept out by Paul Collingwood even as the ball trickled past the stumps. Soon Patel had his first Test victim when Pietersen drove on the up at a delivery that shaped back a touch and presented the bowler with a return catch. Pietersen, with 64 had done the bulk of the scoring for England, and Patel's fist pumping, hair-flailing celebration, with teammates clambering all over him was well justified.
When play was finally called off, after yet another interruption for bad light, at a little over 5pm, England were 163 for 4. India, who are playing five specialist bowlers in a home Test for the first time since 2000, when they did so against Zimbabwe at Nagpur, will be pleased that they have got the bulk of the England batting out of the way. England, though, will not be wildly disappointed, for they still have Collingwood and Flintoff at the crease.
When play gets under way half an hour early on the second day, both teams will have a crucial first session to see off, if weather permits. The forecast is not great, with a high chance of showers, but India, keen to force a result in this game, will be hoping to get in as much play as possible.
Andrew Strauss c Dhoni b Pathan 18 (35 for 1)
Cut a wide one but only managed an edge. Well caught low in front of first slip
Alastair Cook lbw b Pathan 17 (36 for 2)
Missed a full delivery and trapped in front
Ian Bell b Kumble 38 (117 for 3)
Shouldered arms to a straight one on off stump
Kevin Pietersen c & b Patel 64 (163 for 4)
Drove on the up and popped a simple return catch
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