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Friday, 15 August 2014

Deja Moo at The Oval

Only real optimists are hoping to use their tickets to the fourth day of the Oval test. No surprise that fourth day tickets are available easily, with a family deal discounted by £60 pounds, by stumps on day one.

On an unlikely Oval green-top, sporting live damp grass, Alastair Cook won the toss, and put the Indians in. With rain the previous week, the previous night and then some in the morning, the conditions couldn't have been more testing. The square resembled a village green ready for a Saturday fixture of the local league early in the season. 

England retained an unchanged side, walked in confidently, knowing they had a real chance to push India into a corner early. India replaced the flamboyant but ineffective Jadeja with Binny, insisting on a five bowler attack (read four-and-half). The hapless Pankaj Singh made way for the hero of the Lord's test, Ishant Sharma, back from an injury-forced break of two tests. 

The Indian top half had to come good, to show skills and determination, to deal with the ferocious English attack in testing conditions. To stay in the game and the series, a first innings total of 300 was mandatory. 

But, like the two innings at Old Trafford, the Indian batsmen disappointed again. It was total deja moo.....seen this bull before. 

Personal struggles with form, in seaming conditions, against a relentless attack were a bit too much to cope with. The conditions were tough, no doubt, requiring a bit of luck and a lot of pluck to play a meaningful innings. Only Dhoni stood up to the test, again. Vijay, Ashwin and Ishant survived for short spells, but all the efforts accounted for only 148 first innings runs, all done and dusted soon after tea. 

There doesn't seem to be a way back into the match for India, not after the unbroken opening partnership of Cook and Robson, finishing the day for England at 62 without damage. The writing is on the wall. The only matter of interest that remains is whether this contest will go into a fourth day. 

The story of the Indian innings was familiar one, albeit the details may have differed a bit. 

Gambhir was gone for a first ball duck to Anderson, looking to shoulder arms, but not quick enough to get out of the way of a leaping delivery. As Geoff Boycott suggested, "he lost it, has still not found it". Anderson was not on a consistently good length, but quite unplayable with big outswingers at pace. Pujara was proxy opener again, and looked uncertain. For a second time in the series, prodded forward leaving the gate open for one from Broad that jagged back. 

Kohli had much on his mind, working hard at being selective about what to play at, ended up leaving one from Jordan that came back more than he expected. Rahane who had looked good until Old Trafford, pushed one tentatively back to Jordan, as it seemed to stick in the pitch a bit. India 28-4, in big trouble already.

Vijay showed some grit and good technique, as in his previous innings of the series. But his brief vigil ended with a brilliant catch from Root in the slips, off Jordan. Root staying low grasped it on the second attempt. At lunch India were 43-5, with England giving nothing away in the field, and latching onto every chance that came their way. 

Conditions did not improve for batting after lunch, with heavy overhead, and the ball retaining much of its shine. Soon Binny was gone to classic outswinger from Anderson. Ashwin looked more comfortable than his mates, showing better technique than his more illustrious colleagues. Root brought off another brilliant catch pressing forward to a low catch in the slips to send Ashwin back. Bhuvi who has run out of luck in the series, flashed at a wide from Jordan getting caught behind off the bottom edge. Aaron was given a bit of his own medicine, spooned an easy one to short-leg off a rising delivery. India 9 down for 90. 

Dhoni continued his lone battle meanwhile from one end. Ishant got a reprieve, a rare drop by Bell in the slips, which was all the impetus Dhoni needed to accelerate. By tea India scrapped to 125-9. After tea the last wicket partnership pushed past 50. Finally Dhoni himself fell to the bouncer trap, caught off Broad, while Ishant remained not out after facing 42 deliveries. The Indian innings wrapped up for a paltry 148, with Dhoni contributing 82 of those. 

England pressed home the advantage.

The heavy roller was sought by England, and the pitch had aired enough to lose the surface moisture. It looked more even paced and easier as Cook started out tentatively. He was plumb in front to Bhuvi, but Paul Rifle thought otherwise. The absence of DRS hurt India, and not for the first time in the series, adding to their woes. 

The conspiracy was complete. 

At stumps England got to 62 without losing a wicket, looking in a great position already to wrap up this series with a 3-1 margin. The weather forecast ahead looks favourable, the pitch will ease out as the sun shines and the green top goes brown. India's only remaining hope is a magic spell from Ishant or Aaron early on the second morning, if they want to get back into this test match and make it a contest.

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