India’s bowlers showed their true colors on Day one of the third Investec test at Southampton on Sunday. Better application by England’s top order meant a healthy score of 247/2 at draw of stumps on the first day. Alastair Cook came close to scoring his 26th test century and in the process, quelled some of the criticism against him. India should have known that their victory in the Lords test was more the result of poor English batting rather than any overnight improvement in their bowling. India made two changes for the Southampton test. Injury to Lords’ hero Ishant Sharma allowed Pankaj Singh to play his debut test and Stuart Binny was dropped probably because the Indian captain considered him as excess baggage. Rohit Sharma came in supposedly to strengthen the batting. England also made three changes. Joss Buttler came in for Matt Prior and like Pankaj Singh for India earned his first test cap. Chris Jordan replaced Ben Stokes but the most surprising exclusion was reserved for Liam Plunkett, who was replaced by Chris Woakes.
Alistair Cook didn’t flinch a moment to bat first, when he won the toss for England. Despite his personal lackluster performance, Cook came out to open with Robson. As the match began, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami and Pankaj Singh got the ball to swing and Cook had a testing time straightway as he edged the first ball of the innings from Kumar but luckily for him, the catch didn’t carry to the second slip. A little while later, Pankaj was unlucky, when Jadeja dropped Cook in the slips. The England captain had only scored 15 but afterwards, he took full advantage of the lapse and went on to pile up 95, before falling to Jadeja in the third session of play. Cook first added 55 with Robson and then in the company of Gary Ballance, he put on 158 for the second wicket. It was a solid foundation on which England can build further. On his part, Ballance continued with the run of his great batting form to reach his third century in his last six test matches, which also included two half centuries.
India’s bowling looked good in the first hour of play but afterwards, there was no menace in it. Though Sam Robson fell relatively early, he displayed much better footwork in comparison to his innings at Lords. Both openers judiciously left the away-swinging deliveries and offered defensive bats to those which swung inwards. Cook chose to stand out of his crease to deal with Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s swing and countered him quite well. However, he had some problems against the taller Pankaj, who was able to find Cook’s edge a few times. Contrary to expectations, Indian seamers didn’t bowl short and English openers didn’t have too many chances to pull or cut. Later, England batsmen settled in their rhythm and it became difficult to trouble them. Finally, Robson lost his wicket, when he tried to cut away an out-swinger from Shami and Jadeja latched on to a catch in the third slip. The 55-run first wicket partnership was England’s highest in their last ten innings.
After lunch, Cook completed his fifty, when he pulled Shami to take two runs. He didn’t celebrate even though he got a standing ovation. Instead, he pulled Shami’s next ball to the boundary. Ballance had a cautious start and couldn’t score freely early on. His first 10 runs came from pushing and prodding in the area between backward square-leg and midwicket. Once the Indian bowlers loosened their grip, Ballance started hitting the ball with authority. Dhoni brought Jadeja in between, but except bowling economically, Jadeja did not pose any threats. Cook escaped a run-out chance as he dashed for his 70th run but Shami’s direct throw missed the stumps. This fortuitous run allowed Alistair Cook to surpass David Gower and etch his name as the third highest test match aggregate after Graham Gooch and Alec Stewart.
While Cook continued at a careful pace, Ballance scored freely in the second session, which saw 108 runs being scored. By this time, India’s seamers had become patently ineffective. Cook fell when he was all set for his 26th test hundred. Jadeja bowled one down on the leg side and Cook went for a shot only for the ball finding his bottom edge for a catch to Dhoni. After Cook’s departure, Ballance and Ian Bell saw the day for England without being separated. Ballance completed his century and looked good for more. After a long day in the field, Indian bowlers didn’t have much to show for their efforts.