Even Duncan Fletcher might have finally smiled as India wrapped up the first Test against England on the fifth day. India’s nine-wicket win was comprehensive and everything could go right, did.
Virat Kohli punched the air as he hit the winning runs and Cheteshwar Pujara’s smile reflected the joy of a job well done, but England would have known that they had lost the match in the first innings itself.
For a change, even the openers fired for India. In the first innings, Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir put on 134 runs in just 29 overs to kickstart the match and make dominating England a reality. One of the biggest fears going into the series was that neither Sehwag nor Gambhir were in the best of form and early wickets always have a way of transforming into confidence. But luckily for India, the openers were in their element – it might not always be the case and that’s when it could get troublesome.
The big gain for India from the game has to be Cheteshwar Pujara. The right-hander scored 247 runs without being dismissed at Ahmedabad and given the way he played in the second innings, the confidence gained will make him a very different customer for the rest of the series. His career average has already shot up to 71.25 after just 6 Tests. England’s worry will be that they haven’t found a way around his defence yet. How much longer will they need to wait?
Yuvraj Singh looked good for most part until he smashed a full toss straight to Graeme Swann at long-on and that too off Samit Patel. He hasn’t put a foot wrong since he made his comeback and with every match, the arrogance of old seems to return a little.
But the rest of the middle order needs to work out a few things. Sachin Tendulkar made 13 off 25 balls, Virat Kohli made an uncharacteristically slow 19 off 67 balls and Mahendra Singh Dhoni made 5 off 37 balls. In that sense, it was a lot like England. The only difference being that India’s batsmen went on to make their starts count.
On the bowling front, India’s latest spin twins once again struck gold for Dhoni. Pragyan Ojha’s nine-wicket match haul and R Ashwin’s four wickets saw them seal the result pretty early. The seamers supported them well and the Mumbai wicket should probably allow Zaheer Khan and Umesh Yadav to get into the match a little bit more.
But as good as India’s win was, there will be some concern over the ease with which Alastair Cook and Matt Prior batted on day 4. Yes, the pitch did get slower and there wasn’t much turn, but the bowlers also seemed to run out of ideas. The resistance shown by the two batsmen will also serve as a template for the other England batsmen and India will need to guard against that.
Even in his post-match comments, Cook spoke about the importance of the first innings in the sub-continent – get a low score and you are destined to have your backs to the wall for pretty much the entire game. Dhoni, however, seems determined to ensure that England don’t have easy days in the middle. In the post-match conference, he once again raised a call for turning pitches.
“I don’t even want to see this wicket. There wasn’t enough turn and bounce for the spinners. Hopefully in the coming matches we’ll see the wicket turn, right from start, or as soon as possible so that the toss doesn’t become vital,” Dhoni said. “What we want to see is two good sides competing against each other with the toss taken out of the equation.”
However, if the track does turn from day one, it’s hard to see how the toss won’t be a factor. But for the moment, Dhoni wouldn’t care – he’s managed to put a positive spin on the start of the series and pretty much earned the right to say anything he wants.