First step to redemption, India go 1-0 up

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Cheteshwar Pujara (AP) Cheteshwar Pujara (AP)
SummaryHaving smacked the winning boundary down the ground, Virat Kohli walked over to bump gloves with Cheteshwar Pujara.

Having smacked the winning boundary down the ground, Virat Kohli walked over to bump gloves with Cheteshwar Pujara. Neither batsman was part of India’s Test squad on their tour of England last year, but both were aware of the shadow that series had cast over this one.

India had lost all four Tests by massive margins, as well as their number one rank in the longest format. However much the team may have spoken of taking the return series a session at a time, and not looking too far ahead, they would have thought, from time to time, about reversing that scoreline.

For three days at Motera, everything went India’s way. Sehwag got a century after two years. Pujara hit a double, and seemed to be slipping Come back strongly to end England fight, quicks, spinners share honours quickly into the shoes of Rahul Dravid, India’s only successful batsman in England last year. Yuvraj returned to Test cricket with a fine half-century. The spinners confounded England’s batsmen, and left them following on, 330 behind.

Day four, therefore, was a reminder — to the players, if they needed any reminding, and to fans — that winning a Test match, never mind winning a series, never mind 4-0, would call for a lot of hard work. The pitch slowed down, the spinners tired. Alastair Cook and Matt Prior played wonderfully to ensure India would bat again, and instill hope among teammates that England could yet save the game.

But that wasn’t to be. In the ninth over of the fifth morning, Pragyan Ojha dropped it slightly short of good length, the ball stopped on Prior, and he spooned it back to Ojha.

India had waited more than 60 overs for that wicket; the next one came in less than four overs. Ojha got one to stay a little low and, Cook, who had batted calmly, authoritatively, for a magnificent 176, lost his stumps.

Of the three wickets that remained, Umesh Yadav and Zaheer Khan took one each, making the Indian seamers’ combined tally seven for the match, in 72.3 overs. England had chosen three seamers in their squad, trusting what was supposed to be their area of strength, but between them, James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Tim Bresnan bowled 72 overs and only took one wicket, that of tailender Zaheer. They failed to achieve the amount of reverse swing the Indians managed, and looked second best even on the speed gun.

Captain M S Dhoni highlighted the role of his fast men in India’s victory. “Zaheer Khan put in a lot of effort. We’ve seen Umesh improve, he’s bowling real quick,” he said. “The contribution of the fast bowlers was really important. They gave us the breakthrough when it was really needed.”

The performances of Ojha, Zaheer and Umesh made day five the highlight reel of India’s impressive bowling through the match. And in his unbeaten 51-ball 41 in the brief fourth-innings chase, Pujara provided another glimpse of the riches he can offer Indian cricket.

During his first innings double century, Pujara, though looking the most comfortable of all Indian batsmen against Graeme Swann, had mostly played the offspinner with care. This time, he spanked six fours in Swann’s 7.3 overs. The contest between these two might well be the one to watch in the three Tests that remain.

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