A cricket team coach makes a wish at a fairground machine for his team to be able to play in subcontinental conditions. He wakes up the following morning to find that his wish has been granted and his team has grown competent overnight. But they’re still the same bunch of useless bastards on the inside. Now they must learn how to cope with the unfamiliar world of batting sensibly, getting high quality spells out of their spinners, building vast amounts of pressure and taking their catches. What will they find out about this strange world?
This was comfortably England’s best day of 2012 (and probably their best day since the 2010/11 Ashes) as India were totally routed in their second innings. After all the talk of India’s three-man spin attack, it was Graeme Swann and (in particular) Monty Panesar who dominated the evening session, ripping through the vaunted Indian top order. Suddenly every delivery was a potential wicket, every fielder a close catcher, every run a mere delaying of the inevitable. England have rarely, if ever, looked like such an aggressive side in the field; here they cut straight to the chase, bypassing the seamers altogether and getting straight into Indian faces.
The home side were simply blown away in the face of accurate, relentless spin bowling. None of the batsmen seemed to have any real idea of how to play, instead merely passing time before a ball with their name on arrived. Sachin Tendulkar’s grotesque innings was the perfect example, the Little Master unable to lay bat on ball before being comprehensively pinned in front by Panesar’s arm ball, to the utter disbelief of the crowd.
Gautam Gambhir’s brave 53* wasn’t without its moments of fortune but he at least seemed prepared to try and dig in. The rest of the top order didn’t even seem capable of that. It was an innings in stark contrast with the other key innings of the day, from the now definitely reintegrated Kevin Pietersen. Pietersen’s 186 was perhaps his finest Test innings, with the way he made it look like he was playing on a different pitch to everyone else reminiscent of Graham Gooch’s legendary 154* against the West Indies in 1991. While Alastair Cook and Chester Pujara both made hundreds on the same pitch, theirs were innings of graft and occupation of the crease; Pietersen’s was a masterpiece of controlled aggression.
In the cold light of day, this match will be best remembered for Monty Panesar’s stunning ten wicket haul. An amazing feat though it undoubtedly has been so far, it simply isn’t in the same class as Pietersen’s innings, yet another reminder that if it wasn’t for Kevin Pietersen the man, Kevin Pietersen the player would be almost universally popular.
From the current match position England would expect to win the game 99 times out of a hundred. However, their subcontinental batting history consists of one collapse after another so if India can add another 40 runs they will at least give their spinners something to work with. An early wicket or two would set the traditional alarm bells ringing and set up a potentially terrifying finale.
However, the feeling remains that this India side aren’t big on turning around lost causes – see their most recent tours of England and Australia for numerous examples – and England should complete a most unexpected victory, giving life to a series that looked to be all over bar the shouting after Ahmedabad.
Defeat for India will bring some awkward questions to the fore, namely around the futures of Tendulkar (top score of 28 in his last ten innings) and Harbhajan Singh who looked incapable of extracting any life from a pitch that bounced and spat throughout the evening session. Of course, they haven’t quite lost yet, merely finding themselves staring down the barrel. They might want to consider a visit to the local fairground where they will need to wish damn hard to get out of this one.