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Match reports

India v England, 2012-13

A review of the third Test, India v England, 2012-13

Suresh Menon
15-Apr-2013
At Kolkata, December 5-9, 2012. England won by seven wickets. Toss: India.
In the days when India merely made up the numbers, their supporters would soften the blow by divorcing team results from individual performances. Gradually, things changed and, by 2009 - when they went top of the Test rankings - there was no longer any need to look for the positives cherished by the losing captain. But after successive 4-0 defeats abroad, India were reverting to type.
England, for so long hapless tourists in this part of the world, were doing the opposite. Suddenly, Indian cricket had once more become full of old-style consolation: Rahul Dravid's three centuries in England, for example, or Kohli's maiden Test hundred at Adelaide. And anyway, went the argument, India were still kings at home. They had the spinners and, in Zaheer Khan, the master of reverse swing, praised during this game by Anderson, who had copied his practice of hiding the ball from the batsman's view until the last minute. And, of course, India had the batting, with Pujara the latest exemplar.
This Test put paid to all such consolation-within-consolations, for it proved Mumbai was no one-off. Anderson reversed the ball better than any Indian and, for the second match running, Swann and Panesar outspun Ashwin and Ojha. Batting with authority and purpose, Cook looked good for a triple-century, but had to settle for 190, in the process extending his own world record to a hundred in each of his first five Tests as captain. Only four other visiting batsmen - Everton Weekes, Garry Sobers, Ken Barrington and Andy Flower - had scored centuries in three successive Tests in India. Cook was batting differently, too, and later gave the game's shorter formats the credit for his extra aggression.
At times, as he lofted India's spinners, there were gasps from his countrymen in the crowd. India had passed 600 in each of the three previous Kolkata Tests, but now squandered an important toss by making only 316. Against an attack that included Sharma, drafted in as a second seamer to balance the line-up in place of Harbhajan Singh, Cook then put on 165 with the adhesive Compton and 173 with Trott. That helped take England to 523, a total bettered at Eden Gardens among visiting teams only by West Indies (twice - in 1958-59 and 1987-88). And when India lost nine second-innings wickets wiping off the deficit, Sehwag sighed: "Only God can save us now." More practical believers wondered whether God wasn't, in fact, biased towards those who helped themselves. Ashwin's imitation of the boy on the burning deck brought him a fine unbeaten 91, but he was in the team as an offspinner - and, in his main job, he was a let-down.
The public spat between Dhoni and Prabir Mukherjee, the Eden Gardens groundsman who had described the captain's call for a turner as "immoral", kept pre-match discussions moored at a low level. The track chosen was brown, unlike the grey pitches which flanked it, and the bowlers' run-ups were still visible from the Ranji Trophy match played on it barely a fortnight earlier. In the end, though, it wasn't the pitch, or its refusal to turn from the start that defeated India, but a better organised England side coming to terms with their own demons in a country where they had not won a series since the days before their captain could even crawl.
India's consolation was no real consolation at all. Tendulkar's first fifty in 11 innings was a scratchy knock, serving to highlight his determination but also his decline. When Panesar had asked him to sign the ball with which he had dismissed him for his first Test wicket in 2005-06, Tendulkar had written on it: "Once in a blue moon, never again". But he had already been proved wrong. And now his struggle against Panesar's left-arm spin, inside-edging and slicing attempted drives, was symbolic. The gap between the two standing ovations Tendulkar was receiving per innings - one walking out to bat, the other returning - had been getting smaller, so his 76 here, which took him past Sunil Gavaskar's Indian record of 2,483 Test runs against England, at least provided temporary respite. Yet he could do nothing about a delivery from Anderson - the first after the drinks break on the first evening - that reversed just enough to take the edge. And for those who see significance in such things, the Indian flag on a building outside the stadium was at half-mast.
That wicket reasserted England's early grip on the match, which had been helped by a terrible piece of running between Gambhir and Sehwag after they had raced to 47 in ten overs on the first morning. England never let go and, at stumps on the second day, were 216 for one, with Cook dominant on 136 - his 23rd Test century, to overtake the national record he had equalled only 11 days earlier in Mumbai. He was not yet 28, prompting many to believe that at least some of Tendulkar's batting records might one day be his. Cook also went past 7,000 runs in his 86th Test, faster than Viv Richards, Ricky Ponting and Greg Chappell. He was also the youngest to reach the mark, at 27 years 347 days; Tendulkar was seven months older. And Cook's fluency allowed Compton to find his form in his own time and with his own methods, though he was unlucky to be given out leg before on 57: replays showed the ball had brushed his glove as he swept Ojha.
India's big chance had already come and gone when Cook, on 17, edged Zaheer Khan low to first slip, where Pujara couldn't hold on - another area where Dravid was being missed. When Cook finally fell, having batted eight hours 12 minutes and faced 377 balls, it was refreshing to know that the superman who loomed large in the nightmares of Indian bowlers was in fact human after all. He had never been run out in first-class cricket, but now Pietersen turned Zaheer into the leg side to Kohli, the Indian fielder most likely to pull off a direct hit. Backing up, Cook motioned to regain his ground, only to flinch - bat in the air, and still out of his crease - as the throw whizzed past him on to the stumps. He knew instantly he was out, and later called it a "brain fade". Only Arthur Morris, Garry Sobers and Younis Khan had been run out in the 190s in Test cricket before; only Mike Gatting and Graeme Fowler, in the same game at Madras in 1984-85, had scored more for England in a Test innings in India.
The last four wickets fell quickly on the fourth morning, yet there was no hint of the drama to follow when India went to lunch at 86 without loss, 121 behind, with Sehwag in battling form. Swann sneaked the first ball after the break between his bat and pad - and soon, as they struggled for breath, India were reeling at 122 for six. Pujara was run out by a brilliant throw from Bell, before Anderson and Finn, finally recovered from a thigh injury and chosen ahead of Stuart Broad, bowled superbly. It was the session that decided the Test - and, it transpired, the series. Finn bowled with pace, angling the ball in to the batsmen, troubling them with bounce, and inducing edges with the one that held its line. Anderson's control of reverse swing precluded any Cook-like vigil from the Indians. And Tendulkar's brief stay was up when he misread a straight delivery from Swann and edged to slip.
But to the delight of a gratifyingly large crowd, Ashwin kept fighting, driving the new ball and shielding last man Ojha to avert an innings defeat and a four-day finish. Their stand was worth 50 on the final morning before Ojha fell to Anderson - the off bail taking an age to topple after being kissed almost imperceptibly - giving the fast bowlers six wickets to the spinners' three. England needed 41 for a 2-1 lead, but slipped to eight for three, including Cook, who became only the second batsman - after England's Archie MacLaren at Sydney in 1894-95 - to be stumped in the first over of a Test innings. But Bell, back in place of Jonny Bairstow, settled the issue with Compton.
Clearly, India were not handling transition well. Many of those who had helped place them on the pedestal had retired. And those who remained, such as Tendulkar, Harbhajan and Zaheer - who was immediately dropped for the Fourth Test, along with Yuvraj Singh - were floundering. The fielding had also gone backwards, and the many justifications of fielding coach Trevor Penney painted India as a team in denial: "We don't need specialists," he said, loyally backing the stragglers. A banner in the crowd read: "Dhoni, we will stand by you." But India needed more than loyalty.
Man of the Match: A. N. Cook.
Close of play: first day, India 273-7 (Dhoni 22, Zaheer Khan 0); second day, England 216-1 (Cook 136, Trott 21); third day, England 509-6 (Prior 40, Swann 21); fourth day, India 239-9 (Ashwin 83, Ojha 3).