India stayed resolutely in the hunt despite being forced to bowl on a slow, low pitch, and even a fighting hundred from Andrew Strauss did not do enough to stave off the feeling that England had squandered a great chance. There was still the hope that England, with Andrew Flintoff still batting, could stretch their first-innings’ 229/5 to something substantial.
A day that began with two minutes silence from the players continued into two sessions of calm and quiet at the MA Chidambaram Stadium as England whittled away. Strauss and Alastair Cook bedded down for the long haul as the bowlers worked hard on a pitch that offered them no assistance. The opening batsmen contented themselves with crease occupation, never really looking to score.
Cook was the more pleasing to the eye, driving firmly back down the ground and opening the face to punch square of the wicket, but it was he who made the first mistake.
Attempting to cart Harbhajan Singh over mid-wicket, against the spin, Cook speared the ball in the air for Zaheer Khan to settle under at mid-on. Strauss was joined by Ian Bell and for a time Mahendra Singh Dhoni must have wondered where his next wicket would come from. The opening stand was worth 118 and it would not be till after tea that India tasted more success.
Perhaps someone threw a jellybean Zaheer’s way at the break, for the manner in which he bristled intent at the start of the final session was at odds with the situation the scoreboard reflected. With the second ball of the session, Zaheer trapped Bell in front and constantly threatened against Kevin Pietersen. Bending his back to seal off a spell of 6-3-12-2, Zaheer banged in one short and Pietersen obligingly mis-hit the pull and was caught at mid-wicket.
Paul Collingwood’s shaky stay at the crease was cut short by umpire Billy Bowden, who upheld an appeal for a catch at bat-pad off Harbhajan when the ball had arrived to the fielder via pad, with bat being some distance away.
With light fading and Strauss resting comfortably on his 13th Test century, England could have harboured hopes of papering over the loss of four wickets on a good first-day pitch.
But Amit Mishra held one back a touch, inducing an uppish on-drive, held onto a sharp return catch and reduced England to 221 for 5.
Strauss had spent almost six hours at the crease for his 123 and in removing him India had shown the difference intent can make. England rarely pushed their case, almost assuming that a big score would be in the bag once they won an important toss.
India’s bowlers probed relentlessly, and England's reluctance to look to score played right into the hosts' hands. With the night watchman at the crease and only Matt Prior and the bowlers to follow, India will fancy their chances if they can bowl with the same purpose and discipline.
- Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Yuvraj Singh, MS Dhoni(c&wk), Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Amit Mishra, Ishant Sharma
England - Alistair Cook, Andrew Strauss, Ian Bell, Kevin Pietersen(c), Andrew Flintoff, Paul Collingwood, Matt Prior(wk), Gramm Swann, Steven Harmison, James Anderson, Monty Panesar