Low after the high

Nick Compton took his regular middle-leg guard and waited for Ishant Sharma to wheel in. It was the start of the fifth over, on a Day One wicket. Sharma carried a glistening new hide in his right hand. Regular stuff, no surprises here. Then the man with the mane completed his action.

First ball, effort ball, well short of length. Compton had just begun shaping away from it, when the ball, travelling at knee height, was collected by 'keeper MS Dhoni on the third bounce. The real 'surprise', however, unfolded only next ball, when the ball's trajectory seemed to match the effort put in by Sharma's bent back. This time, with the ball on off stump, the England opener played for the low bounce, and poked at it. But the ball spiked fleetingly, clipped the shoulder of his bat and died inside Dhoni's gloves.

For the rest of the day, the ball would almost never climb that high again. For one, because Ishant was the only bowler in the Indian side with a run-up of longer than five paces. But mainly because the Jamtha wicket seemed to have a magnetic attraction to the ball. So, as debutant Ravindra Jadeja (who narrowly missed out to Ishant for Thursday's best bowling figures) put it at the end of the day, all India had to do was bowl 'stump to stump.' It had the opposition in knots.

So, as late as the fourth and final Test match of this series, India had chanced upon that elusive pitch to trouble the Englishmen. And the factor that troubled them most about the Jamtha surface was the bounce. Or the lack of it. "Incredibly hard to bat on this pitch," is how Kevin Pietersen, the day's top scorer with a stubborn 73 and the biggest reason for England's stumps score of 199 for five, described it. "It won't get any easier, I can assure you."

Spirited resistance

If that is the case, then England must be happy with their effort, despite it coming at two an over in 97 overs. With Matt Prior and debutant Joe Root waging spirited resistance with an unbroken 60-run stand for the sixth wicket, England could push on to a more than decent first innings total. Still, India will be rather pleased with their returns on the opening day, which might have been even more plentiful if not for KP's stoic apprenticeship on the Jamtha wicket.

The masterclass, however, ran into teething trouble. Walking in at the fall of Cook's 'dismissal' struck outside the line, ball probably missing the stumps in the 11th over, Pietersen rocked on to his backfoot to face his first ball, a short ball from Ishant. Instantly, he must have known it was the wrong thing to do, but instinct had played its role. The ball stuttered to groin height, and only a last-minute improvisation kept it from squirting on to the woodwork. KP never triggered back again.

Ishant, having completed a six-over spell, exited the scene. From both ends appeared the spinners. And specially for KP, left-arm spinners. Just as there were no slips for the pacer, Pragyan Ojha & Troupe had to get used to bowling without a crowd around the batsman. With no bounce on offer and bat-pad ruled out, the conventional short leg was pushed back to a short-square-midwicket position. There he would wait all day.

Bat's arc flowing straight as an arrow, Pietersen half volleyed each ball right back to Ojha, for whom he took his stance well out of the crease. When Jadeja dropped his first delivery in Test cricket short during the following over, the England number four was quick to make the necessary adjustments. It made for fascinating cricket.

A convert

Pietersen shimmied down the pitch for Jadeja's second half-pitcher and thumped it to midwicket for three. Then, forcing Jadeja to drop it short again by leaving his crease early, he skied one powerfully over the bowler's head for four. At the other end, Jonathan Trott, who had survived a great appeal from Sharma early on, looked to sweep his way out of trouble. But after taking a closer look at Pietersen dealing with the tweakers, especially Piyush Chawla just before lunch, Trott was a convert.

Chawla, right arm googly, had managed to fool Trott by bowling six non-turning leggies in the previous over. But KP knew better. He dumped one such non-turner to the mid-on fence before picking Chawla's comfort ball early and firing the googly near cow corner. Trott liked what he saw, so he skated down to Jadeja next over and played the stroke of the morning session a whistling on-drive for four. KP and JT took lunch unbeaten on 28 each, having galvanised the attack with plenty of ball-point dots on the scorer's sheet. It could have ballooned into a recovery in the second session had Trott not nodded off.

With no runs on offer and negligible room to work the ball for singles, Trott, six short of his fifty, shouldered arms to one of Jadeja's stump-to-stump balls. He lost off. Eighteen overs hence and just 37 runs added, a suffocated Pietersen played his first reckless stroke of the day -- an uppish flick through square off Jadeja. That short-square-midwicket man had waited all day.

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