Winning test matches is a lot about stringing together sessions of continued success and more about seizing key moments. England did both with thorough professionalism and exposed India’s inability to grab every half chance that came their way. As rain clouds gave way to bright sunshine, India’s chances of getting out of this Test with a positive result receded.
At 172 for 3, an overall lead of 247, England have put themselves in a position in which it’s difficult to even conceive of situations that will allow India room to wriggle out.
Andrew Flintoff answered his captain’s call with the ball while the other Andrew — Strauss, brought such a reassuring calm to the middle that India’s bowlers ran out of ideas and their fielders could not prevent shoulders from drooping.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni, in the company of a combative Harbhajan Singh, fought the good fight, understanding how crucial every run was. The two added 75 for the seventh wicket before Harbhajan (40) fell, deflecting Monty Panesar to short-leg.
Flintoff then cranked up the speed on a pitch that had failed to break up or deteriorate significantly.
Zaheer Khan was beaten for pace, leaving the umpire with a simple lbw decision. Dhoni (53) sensed that it was time he opened his shoulders and had a go but could not quite get hold of Panesar and holed out to Kevin Pietersen at long off.
Flintoff then shut down the Indian innings on 241 by producing another skidder. This time the batsman, Amit Mishra, could get nothing between ball and stumps.
India had threatened to come back into the game, with their defiant and purposeful lower-order batting, but conceding a lead of 75 meant they would have had to bowl out of their skins to keep England within touching distance.
Zaheer and Ishant Sharma were not short on effort, but it was only in the 10th over that the openers were separated. Alastair Cook’s half-hearted defensive shot to a Ishant delivery that came in resulted in a faint edge that was well caught by Dhoni. Ian Bell notched up a second failure for the game, defending with hard hands at a Mishra top-spinner, only to pop a catch to the bat-pad fielder.
Yuvraj Singh was thrown the ball before Harbhajan and Dhoni’s Midas touch continued as the part-time slow left-armer got rid of Pietersen.
Plonking his foot down the pitch to a ball that came in with the arm but refused to turn on pitching, Pietersen was gone and England were 43 for 3.
On 15, Strauss opened the face of his bat a touch too much to Mishra and the ball went off the face of the bat straight at Dhoni, who could not get his gloves around the ball in time. How the day would have panned out if he had held that chance, we will not know.
But what did follow was an invaluable unbeaten 129-run stand between the feisty Collingwood (60) and Strauss, who reached 73 and was on the verge of becoming the second Englishman after Graham Gooch to score a century in each innings of a Test against India.