England on brink of series lead as Indian batting attack disintegrates

Indian cricketer Virender Sehwag. Picture: Getty
Indian cricketer Virender Sehwag. Picture: Getty
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Sometime this morning England should have completed a fine win in the third Test at Kolkata and taken a 2-1 series lead with only one more Test to play.

Another wicket, a run chase to overcome the target set by India, and England will have inflicted the first consecutive Test match losses at home by their hosts since 1999-2000.

For a team that was thrashed in the first Test at Ahmedabad and supposedly cannot cope with spin bowling or sub-continental conditions, it is a mighty impressive achievement.

And, if they can continue the resurgence orchestrated by captain Alastair Cook in the second innings of the defeat at Ahmedabad and India continue their slide into lazy mediocrity, then an unprecedented 3-1 series win is likely.

However the victory in Kolkata didn’t seem so certain yesterday morning. England failed to press on and lost their last four wickets swiftly and cheaply.

Then Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag batted securely till lunch with only one chance dropped by Graeme Swann as an alarm.

The pair were scoring well, as they tend to when Sehwag is at the crease, and should have been contemplating a good team score to try to secure a draw or at least give England an awkward chase of 150 or more on the final day.

But, immediately after lunch, the innings lost purpose or plan.

Swann’s first ball after the interval was tossed up outside off-stump and spinning hard. It turned sharply back between Sehwag’s bat and pad to clip off stump. The pitch, apart from some uneven bounce, was still playing well and Swann really had to rip that ball hard.

It was a beauty, albeit aided by a sloppy shot as Sehwag wafted a careless drive and that started a sequence that scuppered India’s chances of a fightback.

Cheteshwar Pujara was more skittish at the crease than he has been all series and, in cahoots with Gambhir, looked like gifting England a wicket almost every over.

It eventually came courtesy of a run-out as Gambhir, never the most reliable of runners, called a sharp single and Ian Bell hit the stumps direct from short midwicket.

Then Gambhir nicked an airy drive to Matt Prior, Sachin Tendulkar edged Swann to slip playing for more turn than there was and Yuvraj Singh was undone by a grubber.

India’s innings had been derailed in half an hour after lunch. From calmness to calamity and, however well England bowled, there was some silly batting to aid them.

The bowling plan that England had devised even before leaving for the tour was finally working.

Spin from one end offering control and threat, with reverse swing delivered at high pace and attacking the stumps from the other. Swann teased and both Steven Finn and James Anderson were delivering high-quality pace. It was hard for batsmen lacking form or the necessary skills to combat.

The only Indian to show the requisite pride and character to withstand England was the impressive Ravichandran Ashwin. He was undefeated on 83 overnight and thoroughly deserved his second Test century if he got it. He looks to be too far down the order at number eight as he plays with an orthodox technique and some talent.

Once, he lofted a rather subdued Monty Panesar over extra cover – a shot that requires a great amount of skill and confidence and, when the new ball was taken near the end of the day, pulled a Finn short ball for four off the front foot. High class stuff from a decent player and India need to find a few others like him to rebuild the side. The old guard may be superstar names but their lethargy in the field and lack of form is hurting the team.

Maybe it is time for some to retire or, if not, then to be dropped.

No such problems for England. They are breaking records and making history, both individually and as a team. Cook, as a leader, has stamped his authority on the series with his performances and refusal to submit.