Cook throws the kitchen sink

An hour from stumps, play halted for drinks. The Indian players huddled in the zigzag shadow cast by the corrugated roof of the grandstand. Out in the middle, Alastair Cook and Matt Prior watched the groundstaff sweep dust off the surface of the wicket. They had, at that point, put on 114. England were 17 away from making India bat again.

During their sixth-wicket partnership, the wicket had looked bereft of any life. But first ball after the break, delivered from left-arm around by Pragyan Ojha, sprung off the footmarks and crunched into Cook's shoulder. What had caused this? The electrolytes swirling around the Indian spinners' tummies? The blemishes exposed by the sweeping of the pitch? Who knows?

All around the stadium, clumps of spectators came to life. Till then, for most of the day, the act of watching the match had been an uneasily lonely affair some had watched determinedly through glazed eyes, some intermittently, between long bouts of staring into their mobile phone screens, and some had dozed.

Now, it was a shared experience. They were all watching the same thing, and reacting the same way, reacting like any Test match crowd in India. The slow hand-clapping as the spinner hustled through his run-up, the collective "oooh," even after a perfectly reasonable defensive stroke.

Right through his tenure as India's captain, MS Dhoni has banked on exploiting these phases during home Tests whether it's a bit of reverse swing, or a new batsman coming in and having to adjust to conditions. Till then, he sets conservative fields, and waits for things to happen.

During this particular phase, things did happen. Fourth ball of the over, Ojha got one to straighten from middle and smack Prior low on his pads. Umpire Aleem Dar, possibly thinking it was bat first, gave it not out. In the next over, R Ashwin, from around the wicket, spun one past the left-handed Cook's edge. Ojha then got Prior to edge one, but the ball fell short of second slip.

... contd.

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