India are looking down the barrel with a lead of just 31 runs with only three wickets in hand. England, on the other hand were magnificent in all departments of the game.
The Cook-Pietersen partnership continued with the same flourish and flair. They waited for the short balls and were given plenty of space to get easy singles.
Dhoni was lost for ideas and instead of curtailing the runs and asking the bowlers to keep to a tight line and length, experimentation was the order of the day.
Cook continued with his game plan without hindrance, whereas Pietersen played like a true champion. He reached his century and looked as if he was toying with the bowling. This was on a drying third day wicket barely rolled and tailor-made to assist the Indian spinners.
Dhoni did finally get a breakthrough just before lunch and then opted to take the new ball. At one stage he did the unbelievable. In eight overs he made five bowling changes. There did not seem to be any spark in the Indian bowling and fielding till Pietersen’s dismissal. It looked as if the Indian team was left to their fate.
India, however, did do well to restrict the lead to only 86 runs and with their strong batting line-up in Indian conditions, England must have thought that the lead was not a substantial advantage.
The match was poised for an Indian game plan. Curator Sudhir Naik had answered the Indian captain’s call for a turner and 225 to 250 runs would be a difficult task to chase. England once again strategised and outfoxed India. The spin bowling of the accurate Panesar and Swann had all the Indian batsmen groping and plodding. The same turf that looked like a slow turner now looked like a deadly snake pit. Gambhir was the only player to push and plod through it. Sehwag and Pujara had no answer to the turn and bounce and Tendulkar was caught plumb in front of the wicket. Yuvraj and Dhoni perished defending and Ashwin’s heave to a turning ball from Panesar, just an over before the end of the day’s play, signified that the power of intelligent thinking had been buried elsewhere rather than between the ears.
England’s close catchers were sharp and threatening and both Panesar and Swann bowled a great line and length. Their top batsmen understood the importance of playing late, being positive in defence and occupying the crease. They have shown the importance of planning and strategising. The 4-0 whitewash and revenge seems a far away possibility as India are facing defeat. Miracles have happened in cricket and as Vijay Merchant always told us, “the game is not over till the last ball is bowled.”
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