It's not for nothing that Test cricket is known as the ultimate test. It's not the first and second session, the real test of the team lies in how it turns up for the fourth, fifth and sixth sessions. England again exposed India's shallow reserves on the second day of the fourth Test at The Oval on Friday. Led by an inspired Ishant Sharma, the visitors started the day well and dominated the first session but fizzled out as the day wore on to be under pressure at the close of play. Ian Bell and Kevin Pietersen hit centuries to give England complete control, with score being 383 for two after 106 overs.
There were a lot of positive signs from India in the morning session. The body language was better, Ishant Sharma, S Sreesanth and RP Singh bowled with discipline, and they were backed by good fielding.In the 25 overs bowled before lunch, England scored 51 runs to take their score to 126, while India picked two wickets. However, it proved to be a false dawn. In the session between lunch and tea, they conceded 170 runs in 38 overs.
Even Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook, who were made to struggle for every run in the first session, would not have believed how fortunes changed in the second half of the day. Sharma was the only bowler to maintain consistency, but found no support from the other end. Sreesanth was back to his wayward self, and RP's lack of match-fitness was exposed as the game progressed.
On a good batting surface like The Oval, the best chance of taking wickets is by building pressure. An example was seen in the morning in the way Indians claimed Strauss' wicket. Ironically, Sreesanth was the bowler who got the wicket after the batsman managed just two runs in more than an hour.
Sadly, there were no lessons learnt and he was back to his erratic ways. It didn't help that RP and leg-spinner Amit Mishra too were ineffective.
Mishra was not allowed to settle down at all. Pietersen targeted him straight away, taking him on with lofted shots. The England batsmen were content in playing out Sharma while getting their runs from the other end.
Soon, Sreesanth was so frustrated that he was back to his ugly tricks of talking to batsmen. His antics against Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell were only of nuisance value.
It only charged up Pietersen and soon he was charging down the track and hitting him through the line and replying to bouncers with powerful pull shots.
The drop in India's intensity was shocking. The fielding in the second session was an embarrassment. RP was the biggest culprit.