IND vs ENG, Test 4 – Day 2: Cheteshwar Pujara secures India a priceless lead as Moeen Ali claims five for England


AUGUST 31, 2018

Brief Scorecard: England 6 for 0 and 246 (Curran 78) trail India 273 (Pujara 132*, Moeen 5-63) by 21 runs

Cricket – England v India – Fourth Test – Ageas Bowl, West End, Britain – August 31, 2018 India’s Cheteshwar Pujara in action Action Images via Reuters/Paul Childs

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND – When Cheteshwar Pujara was scratching around for form during his early-season stint with Yorkshire, amassing 172 runs at 14.33 in six County Championship outings, it might as well have been a down-payment for today’s moment of fufillment at the Ageas Bowl.

In batting for five minutes shy of six hours to make his first Test century in England, and only his second outside of Asia in a 61-Test career, Pujara first laid the foundations, then shored up the super-structure in partnership with an unexpectedly doughty tail, to secure a priceless lead of 27 with a superb unbeaten 132. 

It was the innings of a true Test-match No.3 – a player with enough faith in his own game to let the match come to him, and block out all competing emotions; elation as he and Virat Kohli eased into a 92-run stand for the third wicket that, at 142 for 2, had looked set to secure a hefty first-innings advantage, and despair, as Moeen Ali reprised his feat on this very ground in 2014, with a brisk five-wicket haul that rattled through the lower middle-order either side of tea.

Cricket – England v India – Fourth Test – Ageas Bowl, West End, Britain – August 31, 2018 England’s Moeen Ali celebrates taking the wicket of India’s Mohammed Shami – Action Images via Reuters/Paul Childs

By the close, England had inched their way to 6 for 0 in four taxing overs, with Keaton Jennings escaping his pair with a nudge for four off the hip against Jasprit Bumrah. But, as Pujara’s efforts had amply demonstrated on a pitch that retains good carry for the quicks and is showing increasing purchase for the spinners, application of the sort that England’s batsmen had so manifestly lacked first-time around will be required over the weekend if they are to turn a battling day’s work into an opportunity to arrest their alarming mid-series slump.

In terms of sheer skill, England’s bowlers paled compared to India’s peerless display of swing and seam on the first day. But they lacked little in application from first ball to last. Stuart Broad bashed his way through the openers in a deck-hitting morning spell, before Sam Curran and latterly Ben Stokes – brought into the attack after even Jennings amid concerns about his knee injury – found sharp bend through the air to dislodge, respectively, Kohli for a fluent 46, then Ajinkya Rahane for 11. Rahane never got going before Stokes nailed him on the knee-roll – a plumb lbw that came excruciatingly close to being denied by the most marginal front-foot call imaginable.

James Anderson, however, found none of the magic that Bumrah in particular had produced for India, and for much of the day his lack of penetration appeared symptomatic of an England side who had relinquished the right to dictate terms with their flaccid first-innings batting. And yet, he gave nothing away as usual, not least against the strokeless Rishabh Pant, whose 29-ball duck was India’s joint-third-slowest in Test history, and marked the moment at which the innings began to tilt back in England’s favour.

It was Moeen who ended Pant’s miserable stay, pinning him on the pad as he returned to the attack in the final over before tea, and extracting a leg-stump lbw from umpire Oxenford. Twenty minutes, and six deliveries later, Moeen struck again as Hardik Pandya was beaten in flight as he clipped airily to short midwicket for 4, and all of a sudden Moeen had four for eight in 16 balls when Ashwin – dragging a reverse-sweep onto his timbers – and Mohammad Shami – pinged through the gate first ball – fell to consecutive deliveries.

But throughout it all, Pujara simply leant on his bat at the non-striker’s end and trusted himself to steady the innings in his own good time. He had brought up his first fifty in 98 balls, taking 36 deliveries to drill his first boundary through the covers off Curran when Kohli, at the other end, had needed just two to do likewise against Broad, and he promptly marked the achievement by wearing a fierce bouncer from Stokes on the forehead.

Anderson too, rattled Pujara’s lid on 78 – moments after the fall of India’s eighth wicket – but he continued undaunted, changing his tone subtly to shield the No.10 Ishant Sharma from pace and spin alike, while stepping out of his crease to dump Moeen for a brace of boundaries through backward point and cow corner. England opted for a twin-spin response, with Rashid returning to the fray after twice dismissing Ishant in the opening Test at Edgbaston. This time, however, his long levers proved sufficient to eke out a vital 14 from 27 balls, which was finally ended as Moeen tweaked one into his inside-edge for Alastair Cook at short leg to swallow a looping chance.

At 227 for 9, England were back on course for a slender lead. But Bumrah, uncomfortable against the quicks at Trent Bridge, seemed emboldened by the challenge of guiding his senior partner to a priceless century and beyond. Pujara’s moment finally arrived from his 210th delivery, an uncharacteristic but utterly effective wipe into no-man’s land at long-on off Moeen, and as the India balcony rose in acclaim, he set himself to restore the advantage that ought to have been pre-ordained given the discipline he had put into his stay.

Cricket – England v India – Fourth Test – Ageas Bowl, West End, Britain – August 31, 2018 England’s Joe Root celebrates as teammate Alastair Cook takes a catch to dismiss India’s Virat Kohli – Action Images via Reuters/Paul Childs

India’s 46-run stand for the tenth wicket would prove to be second only to the Kohli-Pujara alliance, and like all the best tail-end partnerships, it sucked the wind clean out of England’s sails. Pujara combined a judicious management of the strike with a determined pillaging of runs where the opportunity arose, the best of which were a brace of cleanly flogged fours off Stuart Broad through the covers and long-on.

Broad, however, eventually ended the fun with his third scalp of the innings, as Bumrah fenced a lifter to Cook at first slip for 6, but the backslaps that greeted Pujara as he crossed the boundary rope told a tale. India believe they are right back in this series, and though they face the prospect of batting last on a pitch that won’t get any easier for batting, particularly if England’s twin spinners find increasing assistance as the weekend wears on, they also have in their ranks a player who has mastered the conditions like no-one else on either side.

Courtesy: ESPNCricnfo