Southampton: India still needed 47 runs to avoid the embarrrassment of a follow-on after pathetic shot selection by some of the top-order batsmen, which allowed England to tighten their grip on the third cricket Test here on Tuesday.
At stumps, India were precariously placed at 313 for eight, with skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni waging a lone battle with a gritty half-century. Almost all the Indian batsmen got starts but failed to convert into a big score which is required while chasing a mammoth first innings score. India are still 246 runs behind England`s first innings score of 569 for seven.
At stumps Dhoni (50 batting) and Mohammed Shami (4 batting) were at the crease battling to keep India in this Test match with two full days to go. James Anderson (3/52) and Stuart Broad (3/65) hunted in pair while Moeen Ali (2/62) was a beneficiary of poor shotmaking by a couple of Indian players. It was terible shot selection that brought about the downfall of Rohit Sharma (28) and Ajinkya Rahane (54), both of whom looked set for long haul.
Rohit after a 74-run stand with Rahane was guilty of charging down to part-time off-spinner Ali failing to clear Stuart Broad at mid-off. Rahane, who scored a gutsy half-century after a fine spell from Broad in the pre-lunch session, mishit a half-tracker from Ali to be caught by substitute fielder Sean Terry at mid-on. Rahane hit five boundaries in his 113 ball knock and his dismissal proved costly in the broader context of the Indian innings.
Even Virat Kohli (39) looked like hitting some form before he nibbled at an awaygoing delivery from his nemesis Jimmy Anderson to be caught by Alastair Cook at first slip. Skipper Dhoni curbed his natural instincts to play a subdued game and added 58 runs for the seventh wicket with Ravindra Jadeja (31), who was the dominant partner.
Jadeja, as usual, batted in his flowing self, hitting six oundaries in the process before the second new ball did the trick. Anderson got one to swing back into the left-hander trapping him plumb in-front. Twice Dhoni took risk during his 103 ball knock. Once when he dispatched Moeen Ali`s long hop over mid-wicket for a six and the other time while hitting Broad over extra cover to complete his 31st Test half century.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar (19) got his first below-20 score in the tournament and it was left to Dhoni to carry on the battle of avoiding follow-on. The post-lunch session started with Kohli and Rahane looking to build a partnership. But they could only go as far as 48 runs before India lost another wicket. This time it was the big one of Kohli, who had until then, fought hard with patience and determination before Anderson accounted for Kohli.
Rohit then walked to the crease, getting his first chance in this series. He started well, rotating the strike with Rahane, as Moeen Ali (1-37) was deployed from one end. Rohit used his feet well against the part-time spinner while Rahane was watchful yet scoring at a decent pace. They got the scoreboard ticking again and soon celebrated their 50-run partnership, the mark coming off only 78 balls in the 61st over of the innings.
Two overs later Rahane celebrated his half-century, another sterling effort after the hundred at Lord`s. He reached there off 92 balls, with five fours. The 200-run mark for India also came up in the same over. But then, Rohit played a careless stroke in a bid to keep on attacking Ali, throwing caution to the wind as tea-time approached, and holed out to Broad at mid-off.
Earlier, Broad bowled a brilliant spell in the morning session to reduce the visitors to 88/3 at one stage. Anderson opened proceedings on the day but it was Chris Woakes (0-10) who was deployed alongside him from the other end. It was a clear ploy by England to keep attacking with either Anderson or Broad (2/23) from one end, with Woakes and Chris Jordan (0-23) playing second fiddle.
This tactic worked as Anderson first worked up the batsmen with his swing early on and then Broad charged in to create more trouble. There wasn`t too much in the pitch but the two bowlers still got the odd delivery to create doubts in the mind of the batsmen and that is how both the crucial wickets came about after the 50-run mark had come up in the 22nd over.
Pujara was the first to go, looking to leave a short delivery from Broad in the 24th over, as the ball followed him and kissed his glove on its way to the debutant keeper Jos Buttler who snared his first victim in Test cricket. He hit three boundaries in his 52-ball knock. Albeit unlucky, it was another start thrown away on tour by the prolific Saurashtra batsman.
Kohli came out to bat thereafter, under pressure from his recent few failures, but got going despite some nervy moments at the crease. He quickly added 32 runs for the third wicket with Vijay at the other end, but then Broad struck once again. He was troubling the opener outside his off stump and created enough doubts in his mind to make him play-and-leave at one delivery that took an edge and rattled back to his stumps.
Rahane then joined Kohli at the crease and they saw off the session, adding 20 runs for the fourth wicket and taking India past the 100-run mark in the 35th over. There was only a minor hiccup in the 37th over when Moeen almost had Rahane dismissed caught as the ball appeared to touch his gloves but umpire Rod Tucker failed to notice it.
For the record, once Broad got Bhuvneshwar out, it was the 500th Test wicket as a pair for Broad and Anderson.