Cow Corner

Groundhog Day suits England fine

Cow Corner

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Neither side is going anywhere fast in Nagpur, where the series is inching headlong to its conclusion. If India were going to knock England out of their stride it was surely going to take something unexpected, or different at least, to get the job done.

If you aren't a fan of the pitch, there was little to change your mind. 190 runs in the day did not make for thrilling cricket, but it was no different from the fare served up in the previous three days. According to one man with more time on his hands to research it than is strictly healthy, the current Nagpur run rate is the lowest Test cricket has seen for 11 years and 525 Tests. Five wickets, seven wickets, four and four have fallen on the four days of play. What the India team make of this pitch when they had to win to save the series is anyone's guess.

If the pitch was spoiling the contest, the poor umpiring continued to blight it as well. The only serious arguments in the cricketing world against DRS emanate from India, and their stance is rendered more baffling with every single wrong verdict. And there have been no shortage of those in this series.

Continuing a theme of this Test, Alastair Cook was sawn off by Umpire Kumar Dharmasena. The first innings told him that the ball going on to hit fifth stump was no object to giving him out, while the second showed that missing the ball by a distance should not preclude him being caught behind.

India were the ones to benefit on this occasion, but just as often they've been on the losing side. Jonathan Trott could have been on his way cheaply lbw today alone.

To quote BCCI chairman N Srinivasan in an interview with Cricinfo last week, "Cricket was a game of two sets of 11 people, two umpires, and the umpires' decision was final and we lived with it for a long, long time."

An admirable ideal in principle, but things have moved on. The fans see the errors in double-quick time; what good does it do to embarrass the umpires, rather than assist them with technology?

And if the point he is making is that the umpires deserve respect, then he'll doubtless come out strongly against the India captain openly challenging a decision that did not go his way on day four.

Ishant Sharma thought he had drawn an edge from Jonathan Trott, then on 43, which MS Dhoni held. Perhaps he had, although replays and Snicko suggested he probably hadn't. Dhoni's reaction was one of thinly-veiled contempt. A fine will most likely follow, thanks to a row that would have been rendered entirely unnecessary by a quick check on DRS.

Dhoni can doubtless take solace from another sage quote from the BCCI chairman: "Cricket is a game of glorious uncertainties, so why not keep it that way?"

At least the anger suggested India have some fight in them, a spirit which has not always been evident in a series laden with disappointments.

If India could have done with a lift, perhaps a full house could have helped them, but once again Nagpur was far from capacity.

It didn't have to be that way; there were thousands outside the ground eager to buy tickets. And they could purchase them, too, from the one kiosk selling them. Two hours into play, the queue had barely moved. Imagine the children in the line-up, wondering if they'd ever see any play. A roaring crowd can be a potent weapon; instead, Ravi Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha festered with the bat in a ponderous partnership which blunted India's chances before the day had really begun.

There were some Groundhog Day moments which worked to the home side's advantage — the curious tendency of England batsmen to leave straight balls from spinners hurtling towards their off stump being the most obvious one — but the status quo suits England. Over eight Tests home and away in the last eighteen months across a variety of conditions they have been the best batting side, the best bowling outfit, and light years ahead in the field.

It is just about conceivable that India could turn up on day five, play their get-out-of-jail-free card, and find a way to win the Test and square the series. But it would mask the failings of their team and of their board's approach to Test cricket in general.

If England do close out the series, then maybe the shake-up the India Test team needs will finally happen, and the Groundhog Days will end. England got their wake-up call when they lost four straight matches in the subcontinent and then their top ranking to South Africa. Will India heed theirs?

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