The Indians ended the second day of their warm-up match against Sussex in a strong position at Hove, but not without moments of uncertainty and drama. VVS Laxman and Yuvraj Singh dominated the first session before a post-lunch collapse, triggered by Ollie Rayner and Saqlain Mushtaq, forced Rahul Dravid to declare the innings on 388 for 7.
The Indian bowlers took time to hit the right lengths but managed to prise out wickets regularly as Sussex ended the day on 146 for 5, trailing by 242 runs with five wickets in hand. Only Michael Yardy showed resistance during a gritty 53. Sreesanth, who missed the one-day series against South Africa because of flu, was particularly impressive once he controlled his line, generating prodigious outswing with the new ball. Ranadeb Bose, who hasn't played a Test yet, also made an encouraging start.
The Indians began the day on 281 for 3. Laxman and Yuvraj Singh showed the same application that the Indian top order displayed on the first day and added 76 after Rahul Dravid retired hurt overnight due to a mild calf strain. Laxman, who resumed on 37, and Yuvraj were possibly competing for the No 5 spot in the Test side and both batsmen settled in nicely on a pitch that offered more to the bowlers than on the first day. Laxman made his opportunity count, and he hasn't had many recently. They batted through the entire first session and took India to 357 for 3 at lunch.
After the break, however, there was a dramatic change in the run of play as the Indians lost four wickets for 31 runs against Sussex's offspinners - Saqlain and Rayner. Saqlain, who was unpenetrative in the morning, was a different bowler with his doosras fizzing and bouncing sharply off the pitch. He consistently troubled Laxman, who had been batting nearly three hours for his 95, and finally induced an edge to slip with a doosra that bounced alarmingly from a good length. He received solid support from Rayner, who varied his pace, and made the first couple of breakthroughs in the second session.
Yuvraj was the first to be undone by spin, charging down the pitch to Rayner in the first over after the break. He didn't get to the pitch of the ball, was beaten by the turn, and failed to reach his crease before Andy Hodd broke the stumps. Mahendra Singh Dhoni tried to play his naturally forceful game but never looked comfortable. He too was done in by Rayner, trapped in front by one that pitched on leg and straightened to hit him on the back leg.
Chris Nash stodged his way to 9 off 62 balls after tea before bursting out of his shell. He slashed Sreesanth through point for a couple of boundaries before hitting Bose for three consecutive fours. One ball later, Nash tried to pull Bose but top-edged a catch towards short cover. Karthik ran from point, mis-judged the catch but managed to hold on after juggling twice to give Bose his first wicket on the tour
Laxman tried to pick up the pace with wickets falling at the other end and pulled Rayner through midwicket to move into the nineties. Saqlain, by this time was at his mesmerizing best, and Anil Kumble and Sreesanth were clueless against his variations. He had succeeded in making a solid Indian innings look shaky against spin, in England. When Laxman fell on 95, Dravid decided that it was time to let his bowlers have a shot at the Sussex batsmen.
Sreesanth struck an early blow for the Indians by dismissing Richard Montgomerie as Sussex went into the tea break on 32 for 1. He bowled a hot-and-cold spell, mixing perfect outswingers with far too many wide balls. He eventually pitched the outswinger on a perfect length to Montgomerie and induced the edge to Dinesh Karthik at third slip. RP Singh also struggled to control his line although he extracted bounce and seam movement away from the right-hander with the hard new ball.
Chris Nash stodged his way to 9 off 62 balls after tea before bursting out of his shell. He slashed Sreesanth through point for a couple of boundaries before hitting Bose for three consecutive fours. One ball later, Nash tried to pull Bose but top-edged a catch towards short cover. Karthik ran from point, mis-judged the catch but managed to hold on after juggling twice to give Bose his first wicket on the tour. Sixty six for 2 swiftly became 75 for 3 when RP Singh struck Carl Hopkinson on the boot with a yorker.
Sussex's situation could have been worse had a bit of uncertainty gone India's way. Yardey was batting on 9 when he nicked Sreesanth to second slip where Yuvraj took a low catch. Yardy, not convinced that the catch was clean, stood his ground and the umpires, without the option of calling for the TV umpire, eventually ruled him not out. He cashed in on his reprieve, nudging and pushing his way to 53 before Anil Kumble forced an edge to Laxman at first slip just before stumps.