England fight back but India on top
India's top and lower order piled on the frustration for England on day two in Mohali, building on the foundation laid yesterday by Gautam Gambhir and Rahul Dravid. The duo added India's second highest second-wicket stand during which Dravid ended one of the most publicised droughts in recent memory with a confidence-building hundred, before India's tail wagged. England wrested four wickets for 19 runs in the afternoon session and five after tea to reel India in from 320 for 1, but face a three-day rearguard.
The morning session was decisive, because the two set batsmen effectively shut England out. Dravid is the right man for a cloudy day and, while his feet looked a bit sticky yesterday morning, he started off confidently today. Gambhir set the tone with two boundaries off a wayward Monty Panesar over and Dravid welcomed the new ball with consecutive fours as James Anderson offered room outside off stump. A couple more boundaries in Stuart Broad's first over took Dravid to 88, meaning he had scored 17 runs in eight balls. Not all of those were convincing shots, and Anderson had to grit his teeth when a soft-handed edge took Dravid into the nineties.
The next 16 deliveries were tense, not least when Dravid pushed at Flintoff on 98 and admonished himself. When Dravid finally reached a hundred off his 261st delivery, flicking Anderson to fine leg, the smattering of a Mohali crowd stood to clap. The cramped Indian dressing room broke into smiles and applauded Dravid, as did a few of the England team, but there were no celebrations on the square. It was very subdued, just a raise of the bat to his team-mates. Dravid had been hauled over the coals in the media and by the public. Carrying on from the grind on day one, his batting was a testimony to his strength of mind and spirit. This morning, under trial, Dravid - though susceptible outside off - refused to be shifted.
All the while Gambhir continued his form, peppering the off side and threading the gap behind square leg with a few fortuitous drives. When the ball was dropped short or pitched up wide, he quickly latched on with cuts and slashes. The partnership, a record second-wicket stand for India against England, passed 250 when Gambhir hooked Broad through midwicket for four. A flurry of boundaries just before lunch from both batsmen - Gambhir crossed 150 - indicated a comfortable switch from abrasion to acceleration on India's part.
India had taken all the points on the opening session of the Test, but an attempt to accelerate allowed England claim the honours of a see-saw afternoon. Gambhir, who passed 1000 Test runs in 2008, chased a wide from Graeme Swann to Alastair Cook at backward point, and then Dravid mishit one to Panesar at deep mid-off for 136, scored from 328 balls with 19 fours. Next to go was Sachin Tendulkar, out sweeping across the line, just reward for a testing spell from Swann, before Flintoff put VVS Laxman out of his scoreless misery. India had lost four wickets in 11.1 overs.
Then, however, Cook muffed a sitter in the gully from Yuvraj Singh, denying Flintoff a second. Flintoff had continued his duel with Yuvraj, repeatedly angling the ball across the left-hander and testing him with the bouncer. The trap had been set, but Cook didn't reciprocate the bowler's efforts. It was another intense spell from Flintoff, clearly the best of England's stint, always probing away and typically bullish.
England's only realistic chance of staying in the game was to nip out the lower order once Yuvraj departed to the rather disappointing Panesar at 379 for 6. But barring probing spells from Flintoff and Swann, both of whom bowled with control, India were seldom bothered. Mahendra Singh Dhoni (29), Harbhajan Singh (24) and Amit Mishra (23) all contributed, and while Flintoff and Swann had helped scatter nine wickets for 133 runs, India finished with a strong total.
Jamie Alter is a senior sub-editor at Cricinfo