3:34 pm - Wednesday November 4, 2015

India struggling to stay in Third Test

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MS Dhoni

In a match that is within England’s grasp, India is struggling to stay afloat. When monumental occupation of the crease was needed, the visitors’ leading batsmen were a fleeting presence.

It was an outcome that emerged from three factors — James Anderson and Stuart Broad’s penetrative bowling, the batsmen’s tentativeness and a startling failure to exhibit restraint when spinner Moeen Ali came into view.

At close on the third day of the third Test here at the Ageas Bowl, India scored 323 for eight in its first innings, still 246 behind England’s 569.

M.S. Dhoni (50 batting) and an aggressive Ravindra Jadeja battled the second new ball and the Saurashtra all-rounder caned some fours but once Anderson trapped him plumb in front, India suffered another blow. The skipper now needs to stretch his fifty on the penultimate day.

The visitors need another 47 to avoid the follow-on but most modern captains, wary of tired bowlers, never enforce it.

At various points on Tuesday, India’s batsmen dug in and still found varied ways to deflate their team’s cause.

A sombre air hung right through the visitors’ innings, just like the solemn note that was struck before play as both teams observed a minute’s silence in honour of cricketers-turned-soldiers, who died in World War I, a 100 years ago.

Sometime in the afternoon, a rearguard action seemed imminent.

Ajinkya Rahane (54) and Rohit Sharma (28) joined forces after Murali Vijay (35), Cheteshwar Pujara (24) and Virat Kohli (39) put the building blocks in place and then allowed the edifice to crumble. The Mumbai duo added 74 runs for the fifth wicket and it was an alliance that hit the high notes through Rahane’s bat.

The England attack tried to bounce but Rahane literally stood tall and punched through the off-side and pulled. An erratic Chris Jordan was punished and though Chris Woakes teased the edge a few times, Rahane survived.

His partner Rohit lofted Ali for four and India found its bearings until the spinner spun a surprise either side of tea. Both batsmen tried to scatter Ali and found waiting fielders.

Prior to this mix of comfort and chaos, a lot rode on Kohli. Stepping in with previous scores of 1,8, 25 and 0, he buckled down and had his luck.

He slashed at Jordan’s wide and short delivery and watched the ball graze a leaping Alastair Cook’s finger-tips at first slip. But Anderson’s deliveries, masquerading as temptations near the off-stump, were hard to resist. The bottom-hand came into play and the edge was taken.

In the morning, resuming at 25 for one, India had to counter Anderson and Broad. Despite their defensive phases, Pujara and Vijay also found moments of relief.

With the field in, the slightest margin of error, drew the drives from them. Pujara struck a straight one off Anderson and later against Jordan, Vijay threaded the gap at cover. Tragically for India, both fell while trying to take evasive action.

Broad’s bouncer followed Pujara’s swaying head and just as the batsman seemed to have weaved away from harm’s path, his glove came in the way.

The speedster had his wicket and debutant Jos Buttler nailed his first catch in Tests. Vijay was set up with a medley of deliveries that nipped away and darted in and Broad triggered a doubt in the mind of India’s most prolific scorer on this tour. An unsure Vijay tried to shoulder arms but the ball kissed the bat and crashed into the stumps.

In a span of 40 deliveries India slumped to 88 for three and its ‘let’s-save-the-Test’ anthem became strident especially during Broad’s spell of 6-1-19-2.

In the overs leading to lunch, the visitors found some hope in Rahane’s luck — he gloved a snick off Ali but the appeal was turned down.

In the evening, all that remained was India’s desperate bid to save the contest and hang on to its tenuous 1-0 lead. There were no such headaches for England and even an injured Ian Bell is recovering well, according to ECB officials.

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