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Round 1 at Rajkot

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India_vs_England_Test_cricketTime, which had until then sauntered at a pace of its own as if it wasn’t a prominent factor to any who had gathered at Rajkot, came to life all of a sudden around the time Cook was about to go past Bradman’s 29 centuries; somewhere around the lunch time on the 5th day of the Test, to be precise.

From then on every tick of the clock mattered, so much so that as the shadows lengthened the English substitute fielders stood behind the boundary ropes to return the red cherry to the fielders as quickly as possible to give their side few extra minutes to bowl India out. But the match was finally called off when Cook eventually ran out of time.

Time, the sleeping giant, had everyone in its grasp at Rajkot under the slowly setting sun.

It was only the 1st of the five Tests, but it already seemed like the English have been here for so long, battling hard under the hot sun. When the batsmen find their feet and the bowlers toil hard, the days seem longer than they actually are. Rajkot was just this, but carried a slightly different flavour.

 

The Test had everything except, perhaps, the result. The draw is as apt a result as any for the way the Test panned out, but we mustn’t forget that Test cricket is one of the few sports where a draw can be as good a result as a loss or a win. After 4 days of hard fought cricket, on the morning of the 5th day, Cook stamped his feet and made sure England didn’t open any door for an Indian victory. Later, Kohli opened up a new facet of his game and ensured that India didn’t lose the game which it should have drawn with less drama. So it stood – a draw.

The pitch wasn’t lively, but it wasn’t dead either. It was dry, it wore cracks, it had bounce and spin too. But it just wasn’t quite enough. The puff of dust did come up now and then but it died, or slumbered for some time after. The batsmen didn’t find it easy as the match went on, but they could grind it out. The bowlers came into the game as it grew older with each session, but the slowness undid their efforts. There was enough turn but not enough pace.

It was a toil for both, a struggle which didn’t seem likely to end any time sooner than it did. Time was the factor. The bowler needed more time to line up a batsman, and the batsman needed more time to pile up the runs. Nothing came thick and fast. The game was just about ambling but not without its own engrossing battles and moments.

The catches were dropped on the 1st morning, runs were piled up later. Woakes hit Pujara on the head thrice, Pujara went on to score a century later. Kohli was hit wicket as Rashid tangled the Indian middle order. Ashwin bailed the team out with an extremely calm and crucial innings. The 19 year old Haseeb Hameed then rose to the occasion and smothered the Indian spin attack as Cook stood by him. England lead by 250 odd runs but still Cook didn’t declare and the match looked dead. India then dug a hole for itself but it had Kohli standing tall amidst the dust and noise.

 

The match had it all, and who cares if it was a draw. After all it is only the 1st match of what now looks like a very long five match series. Rajkot was like the initial few rounds of a boxing bout where both the pugilists wait for the other to make the move even as they exchange a few blows. The heavier blows will only come later in the bout.

England must be extremely pleased to have scored 500 plus runs after winning the toss. The spin trio bowled with purpose and that should give Cook some confidence in handling them as the series goes on. With Hameed blossoming under pressure on the evening of the 4th day, England’s quest for an opener seems to have ended. James Anderson is also back and England looks good and is ready to give India a fight.

The dropped catches after losing the toss dented India’s chances but Kohli must be happy that India came from behind and scored enough runs in the 1st innings to put the pressure back on England. Vijay and Pujara showed character. India’s spinners didn’t find as much purchase off the wicket as they would have liked though that shouldn’t worry Kohli for now. But the form of Gambhir and Mishra is a concern, one which Kohli would want to relook at.

At Rajkot, England made the moves and India responded. It was an engrossing start to the series and now the battles should get more interesting and intense as we move from the west coast to the east coast to see who lands the first punch.

 

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