independent

Thursday 17 April 2014

Cricket: Persistence edges England towards series glory

Dhoni was constrained by the extreme conditions.

A last hour featuring four wickets helped England avoid an unwanted shut-out on day three of a finely balanced final Test in Nagpur.

The tourists had toiled for 75 wicketless overs as India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni and centurion Virat Kohli closed them down with some ease, but both had gone by the time stumps was called, along with Ravindra Jadeja and Piyush Chawla, giving England a greater belief that they can now secure at least the draw they need to win the series.

That landscape switch came after Dhoni (99) and Kohli (103) had taken it upon themselves to radically alter the equation themselves. The fifth-wicket pair resumed on a highly-vulnerable 87, yet by stumps their stand of 198 had underpinned India's 297 for eight in reply to 330 all out.

England simply got nowhere for all but the final hour of the day, on a dead pitch which has proved an aid to stagnant cricket from the outset.

Until the first ball after evening drinks, their bowlers – last previously successful nine overs before the close yesterday – appeared destined to draw a blank for the entire day, for the first time since Australia's Mark Taylor and Geoff Marsh tormented the home attack at Trent Bridge 23 years ago.

Respite came at last when Graeme Swann had Kohli lbw pushing forward in defence – and among four late wickets for only 28 runs, Dhoni was run out by a direct hit from Cook at mid-off as he tried to scamper his 100th run off Anderson (four for 68) in the penultimate over before stumps.

Dhoni and Kohli were constrained, as were England's batsmen and India's top order before them, by the extreme conditions.

A perilous situation added to their dilemma too; yet they dug in, and then branched out, faultless application giving way to increasing fluency as India battled back into contention. Gradually, without compromising risk avoidance, they pushed the run rate above two-an-over as England tired in their thankless task to try to induce a mistake. Dhoni, without a Test century for more than a year, raised eyebrows when he promoted himself to number six last night above debutant all-rounder Jadeja.

Frontline batsman Kohli had a top-score of 20 in six previous innings in this series. But both excelled themselves here in critical circumstances. Kohli completed his 289-ball hundred with his 11th four, on the back foot past cover off Swann. Soon afterwards, the off-spinner finally got his revenge, as India nonetheless edged towards parity.

It had taken more than half an hour for their first boundary off the middle this morning, a Kohli cover-drive off Tim Bresnan to bring up three figures. Before then, only Dhoni's edge past a vacant slip off James Anderson had counted four.

Anderson beat the bat or found the edge a handful of times in his early spell, but there was nothing else from pace or spin to raise England's hopes. Each batsman passed his 50 with a four, Kohli's fourth driven off Monty Panesar and Dhoni's seventh square-cut off Bresnan. They were rare shots in anger until after England took the second new ball.

The century stand arrived in 53 overs as India had to emphasise caution over adventure before they could dare to hope for more.

Runs eventually started to come more freely, however – Dhoni hoisted Swann over long-on for a six, and took toll of Bresnan in particular – and England's initial optimism turned to frowns of frustration.

The nearest they came to a breakthrough before tea were Bresnan's two lbw appeals, and a tough one-handed return chance barely off the ground – all with Dhoni on 72 – as the Yorkshireman's search continued for a first Test wicket since August at Headingley.

By stumps, he was wicketless in his last 74.4 overs at the highest level. England's collective drought was even longer, of course, until Kohli succumbed.

Anderson then also had Jadeja lbw from round the wicket and Swann bowled Chawla when he found sharp turn with the last ball of the day.

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