Dhoni fights lone battle as India bowled out for 148 before openers carry home side to 62 on first day
On the eve of this Test, MS Dhoni had spoken with a half-smile of his ‘horrible technique’. At Old Trafford a week ago, his unorthodox methods fetched him 71 out of 152 after he walked in with the scoreboard showing 8 for 4. At The Oval, on a green-tinged pitch that was a throwback to earlier eras, the top five mustered 28 runs between them. Dhoni, with his scythes, leaves, clips and other wristy flourishes, made 82 in a total of 148. It was unlikely to be anything more than a consolation effort though, with England rattling off 62 for 0 in the 19 overs bowled before stumps on Friday (August 15).
For once, it wasn’t James Anderson and Stuart Broad that did the most damage. The two Chrises, Woakes and Jordan, took three wickets apiece, and India wouldn’t even have made it to three figures if not for two big slices of luck. First, Dhoni, then on 32, feathered Jordan behind with the total 90 for 9. No one appealed. Then, with the score on 95, Ishant Sharma was put down by Ian Bell at second slip. The last pair added 58.
The opening woes were entirely predictable. India hasn't had a first-wicket partnership greater than 49 in eight overseas Tests, and Gautam Gambhir departed to the best ball he faced, the fourth of the innings. Anderson got one to kick off a length, and Gambhir’s attempt to leave went off the face of the bat to Jos Buttler behind the stumps.
The start had been delayed by half an hour, and Alastair Cook had no hesitation in sticking India in. A line-up low on confidence after three successive sub-200 innings was soon up against it. M Vijay held up one end, but it was more or less a procession at the other.
Cheteshwar Pujara saw one from Broad – black marks around his eyes after the broken nose – nip back to brush the pad before crashing into the stumps. Virat Kohli played one glorious cover drive off Anderson, but then offered no shot to a Jordan delivery that moved back just enough to convince Kumar Dharmasena that it would have shaved offstump.
Ajinkya Rahane, who scored a magnificent hundred the last time he played in London, was neither here nor there while wafting one back to Jordan, and the top-order surrender was complete when Vijay edged a perfect outswinger from Woakes.
India had limped to 43 for 5 by lunch, and the period after the interval saw Anderson get the better of Stuart Binny, who edged one to Cook at first slip. That line of attack worked for Woakes as well when R Ashwin was brilliantly caught by Joe Root at gully after a brief cameo.
Dhoni was playing himself in, while watching the mayhem around him. The full balls were thrashed through the offside, and anything wide was carved over the slips or beyond point. Bhuvneshwar Kumar, however, chased a wide one from Jordan, and when Varun Aaron was flummoxed into offering Woakes a return catch, India was 90 for 9.
Ishant Sharma once helped VVS Laxman win a Test against Australia, and his obduracy was in evidence during a 42-ball 7 that saw Dhoni free his arms and add as many as he could. There was an astonishing six over extra cover off Anderson and by the time he slugged Broad down to Woakes at fine leg, he had stretched the innings past the tea break.
Cook survived two excellent leg-before shouts from Bhuvneshwar when on 2 and 9, the second better than the first, but with the pitch having eased out a little, he and Sam Robson also played an array of attacking strokes as they saw off the new ball. By stumps, India’s lead was less than 100, and with sunshine forecast for Saturday, this could turn out even more one-sided than the Old Trafford Test.