England took the Indian bowling attack apart, but their performance will be overshadowed by one of the most controversial incidents of recent times.
It would be a shame if amongst the fall-out from ‘The Run Out that Wasn’t’ the excellence of Ian Bell’s innings is forgotten. If there were any remaining doubters (and it’s hard to believe there were), surely they have now been silenced. Heading into todays play England were under serious pressure to set India a competitive target, yet by the time Ishant Sharma completed the final over they had taken complete control of the test. Bell was responsible for setting the tone for a day in which England scored over 400 for the loss of just five wickets. Having dominated a vital partnership with Kevin Pietersen, he was responsible for demoralising the Indian attack to such an extent that they had no answer to Matt Prior’s assault late on. Whilst his rearguards in South Africa were the making of him, today could well have been his greatest innings.
There was no chance of getting through this review without discussing the run out, so let’s get it out of the way. There are many conflicting opinions on it and no doubt the argument will run and run. From a purely cricketing point of view though, the decision made little difference. Bell added 22 runs after his reprieve, but in a way the timing of his ‘second’ dismissal was better for India, given that it came just before the second new ball. We won’t go into the rights and wrongs of the whole incident here, suffice to say that it was an admirable gesture from MS Dhoni. We will, however, return to the ‘Spirit of Cricket’ issue after this test match.
In terms of the game situation itself, the last hour or so of play was quite incredible. After Jonathan Trott was surprised by a Praveen Kumar delivery which got big on him, England’s lead was not hugely substantial. At that stage, Kumar having removed two key batsmen with the new ball, India would have fancied their chances of having to chase a target of around 300. Unfortunately for the tourists, Matt Prior was born for situations like that and he attacked from the outset, his half century was as brutal as it was important. Adam Gilchrist is one of the most significant cricketers to ever play the game, but Prior is now as important to England as Gilchrist was to Australia. The Prior/Bresnan combination added 102 in 107 balls, a partnership which has all but taken the game away from India.
England will probably just bat until they are all out rather than worry about a declaration. The lead already stands at 374, and barring something remarkable taking place in the morning that will go past 400. Twice the home side have been staring down the barrell, but somehow they now are in a position of supreme strength. India will have to bat five sessions to save the game or pull off a world record run chase. Neither seem likely, but in this test match anything could happen.