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Day one: India 323, Swann 4

karthikkrishnaswamy

Posted: Nov 16, 2012 at 0310 hrs IST
      

Ahmedabad: Virat Kohli looked back at a disorderly set of stumps, and looked down at the pitch. Moments ago, an off break from Graeme Swann had spun sharply off that strip of turf and fizzed into the gap between Kohliís bat and front pad. Swann punched the air, celebrating his fourth wicket of the day. India were 283 for four.

In the previous over, Kohli had kept out a ball from Samit Patel that scooted low and almost parallel to the Motera pitch. It was Patelís ninth over of the day. The left-arm spinner would bowl five more and finish the day with figures of 14-2-39-0. A decent enough display from someone picked to bat at number six and chip in usefully with the ball. But right through his spell, TV cameras had been trained on a bearded, turbaned form in the England dressing room.

Six years ago, Monty Panesar had made his Test debut in the first Test of an India tour. That match included two other English debutants. One was Alastair Cook, who was now, for the first time, Englandís full-time Test captain. The other was Ian Blackwell.

In that 2006 Nagpur Test, Blackwell, batting at number eight, was bowled by Irfan Pathan for 4 in Englandís first innings and didnít get to bat in their second. Over their two innings, India batted for 215.1 overs. Of these, Blackwell bowled 19, conceded 71 runs and went wicketless. He never played Test cricket again.

Patel, like Blackwell, is a useful all-rounder who bowls left-arm spin and has faced issues with the England team management over his tendency to portliness. Patelís first class batting average (39.53) is eerily similar to Blackwellís (39.57) but his ODI batting stats are far superior. He carries superb form into the Test from the warm-up games, and might yet make a crucial difference at number six.

Missing a trick?

But his bowling is only a useful addition to an attack. Itís unlikely to ever be a vital component of one, especially alongside a lone specialist spinner on a turning track. As expected, England picked a third seamer in Tim Bresnan rather than a second spinner in Panesar. At the end of a day on which their seamers went wicketless while Swann dismissed Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar and Kohli, they might have regretted this decision.

With Sehwag scoring his first Test century in over two years, India were 224 for two halfway through the middle session when Swann bowled him. Sehwagís innings was a demonstration of clever shot selection, on a slow and often low-bouncing wicket, that allowed him to play with relative restraint - he didnít carve the ball through the off side with his usual abandon - and still score at a run a ball.

That India scored 99 more runs by stumps, and only lost two further wickets, was mostly down to the serenity of Cheteshwar Pujara in the face of an England attack that bowled with heightened intensity over the latter half of the day. Initially, while Sehwag rattled along at the other end, Pujara faced more deliveries and scored more runs (55 to the openerís 32) in a second wicket-partnership of 90, while still seeming unobtrusive.

This is perhaps because of the simplicity of his defensive game. Against the spinners, he doesnít thrust his bat at the ball, and instead merely places it in the ballís path. On the back foot against the quicker bowlers, he stands upright, with bat vertical and close to his body. Except for one instance when Bresnan got the ball to stop on him and loop off his leading edge over a dozing James Anderson at mid on, Pujara was virtually untroubled in defence.

And yet, the Saurashtra boy reached his 50 in just 67 balls. He cut Swann against the turn in a manner reminiscent of Indiaís previous number three, rose on his toes to crash Anderson in front of point, and skipped down the track to twice thread Swann between short cover and mid off.

Shutters down

As close of play neared, Pujara downed shutters, unmindful of the approaching landmark, and scored just 22 in 107 balls before taking two fours off Anderson in the last over of the day to stay unbeaten on 98.

At the other end, with Swann settling into a beautiful rhythm and Anderson bowling a tight off-stump line with just a hint of reverse into the right-handers, Kohli stayed on zero for 29 balls before he got off the mark by driving Stuart Broad down the ground for four. Soon, Swann bowled Kohli, but not after he had seen Jonathan Trott drop him at slip.

With Andersonís lapse against Pujara, Priorís spilled chance down the leg side off Anderson against Sehwag, and a missed - if difficult - stumping off Swann against Gautam Gambhir, that took Englandís total of lapses to four.

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