The good, the bad, the ‘innocuous’
In the first three Test matches of the series, things were pretty straight forward in favour of one team. While India dominated for most sessions in Ahmedabad, England outplayed them in the second and third Tests. The play went very smoothly and there were no fraying tempers on the field.
However, the last Test of the series has been different. With the match poised tantalisingly on the fourth day and the series at stake, the atmosphere became tense for a while in the middle. India were fighting hard to get the England batsmen out on a docile wicket in order to steal a series-levelling win. And a few events, involving Jonathan Trott, made the agonisingly low-scoring day a bit more interesting.
It all started when Trott walked down to square-leg to hit to a boundary off a ball from Ravindra Jadeja that rolled several times on the ground after the release. A no-ball was called and Trott got four runs off it. Jadeja’s fellow spinner, R Ashwin, described Trott’s gesture as “Innocuous” in the post-match press conference.
A few overs later Trott survived a loud caught-behind appeal off Ishant Sharma. The pacer showed his disappointment and Trott replied by blowing him a kiss. A heated argument ensued among the umpires, the Indian captain and Virat Kohli. Ashwin, however, ensured “Nothing got out of the hands and there were just a couple of words exchanged.”
England pacer, James Anderson, seconded Ashwin’s thoughts. “In a crucial game like in which two teams are fighting hard and with a series on the line, things will get heated from time to time,” he said.
Trott, thought, was not done with the Indians yet. Just as things cooled down, Ashwin stopped just before delivering the ball to warn Trott for backing up too much. “I told him that I can run him out if he can hit that [no-ball from Jadeja]. He said, ‘Go ahead and run me out,’ I told him that I wouldn’t,” Ashwin revealed.
While the Indian off-spinner dignifiedly replied in the negative when asked if he would run Trott out on backing up again, he said that the warning was just to let Trott know that he had acted against the spirit of the game.
“It was just about the shot that he played off that rolling ball,” Ashwin said. “It was very innocuous. When people talk about gamesmanship and sportsmanship, it is important to hold on to the same spirit that you expect from your opponents.”
Trott’s teammate, Anderson, said these battles make the batsman more determined. “I think he quite enjoys it. Some batsmen are really determined and he’s a sort of guy who’d relish that kind of battle.”
Besides the verbal battles, another highlight of the day was India’s approach to batting in the first hour of the day. Ashwin, in particular, had a lot of criticism directed towards him for not getting on with the scoring rate and denying the singles when India needed quick runs to have enough time to press for a win.
Anderson said England too were surprised to see the over-cautious approach of the Indian lower-order batsmen. “We were a bit surprised. In the morning we certainly expected Ashwin to come out more aggressively than he actually did. I thought we played that session very well; we kept them out for an hour and they still didn’t get ahead of us. It took time out of the game, which worked just fine for us.”
In his defence, Ashwin explained that it was impossible for the tailenders to go for big shots on an extremely slow wicket against a quality England attack bowling with a soft ball.
Anderson admitted that the pitch didn’t allow the batsmen to score freely. “I’m not sure that the pitch really allows you to play attackingly. We saw yesterday as well that two of the more attacking batsmen that India have got – MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli – batted at a run-rate of 2 throughout the day. We’re not looking to be too defensive or offensive but are just trying to bat for a long period of time,” he said.
After Day 4, England are already 165 runs ahead with seven wickets in hand. If India are to make a game of it, their bowlers need to produce something magical. And Ashwin hasn’t lost hope yet.
“Strange things have happened in cricket and I’m not trying to be very optimistic but we have done it before in India – get six or seven wickets in a session or so. We will try and get Trott and Bell early tomorrow morning. I thought we bowled pretty well today, so we just need to stick to it,” he said.