The first Test between England and India at Trent Bridge has reached a tantalising phase at the end of Day 3.
Before this series began, talk surrounding the Indian team had followed a familiar historical path. Their chances were always going to be dependent on how well their batsmen performed and how poorly their bowlers didn't.
Admittedly, there was no reason to doubt the trend. India were coming in with an inexperienced bowling attack led by a beanpole of a fast bowler who has been mocked more than he has been praised in his career.
In spite of successive six-wicket hauls in New Zealand, there was always 0-164 to balance it out. Ishant Sharma made no effort to dispel doubts regarding his inconsistency when he leaked runs and extras aplenty during India's two warm-up games prior to the Test series.
Meanwhile, the supporting cast did not involve a single bowler who had played a Test in England before. Surely, there wasn't much to be expected from this bunch.
But cricket has time and again proven that it's a funny game.
In two successive afternoon sessions at Trent Bridge, India's fast bowlers swung the match in their favour just when it looked like the hosts had begun to pull away with it.
On Day 2, it was a record 10th-wicket partnership between Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammed Shami that got India out of jail and helped them to 457 from 346 for nine, following a spectacular collapse of five wickets for 42 runs.
England started Day 3 brightly and took their overnight score of 43 for one to 134 without the loss of a further wicket until lunch, on a pitch that had lesser life in it than a graveyard.
However, post lunch, there was one Indian fast bowler who was alive and kicking.
A good spell from Sharma is the Indian equivalent of Halley's comet, goes one of the many Internet jokes at the 25-year-old's expense. On Friday, in the first hour after lunch, Nottingham got its first sighting.
Ishant produced a seven-over spell of such supreme quality that it brought back memories of his exploits at Perth during that wonderful tour of Australia in 2007, when the then 19-year-old had tormented Australian captain and one of the best batsmen in the world, Ricky Ponting.
In the space of 34 balls, Ishant dismissed two set batsmen in Sam Robson and Gary Ballance, along with one experienced campaigner who had gotten off to an imperious start, Ian Bell.
Mere statistics would do grave injustice to Ishant's spell, in which he unflinchingly found the right line, length and movement with such consistency that it resembled a video game.
Ishant placed the ball in that awkward area (for the batsman) just between short and full length and got the ball to move in both directions. The leg-before decision that he got in his favour for the wicket of Robson may have been fortunate, but he deserved his luck on the day—his spell for the session reading 7-3-29-3.
When Ishant is in the groove, it shows in his body language. He isn't the prettiest cricketer around. His long locks and unkempt stubble add to a shabby overall personality which gets even more exaggerated when he's being pasted around the park.
However, when Ishant is on song, there is this majestic air and flow about him. His locks sway into the wind as he charges in to bowl with a determined look on his face, the shabbiness having been camouflaged. If it's not the roar after a fallen wicket, it's the devilish grin he passes to the batsman when he beats him, letting him know who's on top.
MS Dhoni and India would hope his groove lasts at least five Test matches.
Ishant's success soon motivated the other two Indian quicks.
Shami got Moeen Ali caught at slip via one of the most awkward dismissals witnessed in recent times—before Bhuvneshwar sent Matt Prior and Ben Stokes packing within the space of three balls.
And just like that, England were 202 for seven on a pitch that had sworn to bore right from Day 1.
England's last three wickets came to their rescue and put on 150 runs before stumps were called, with the hosts still trailing by 105 runs and just a wicket in hand. This was after Bhuvneshwar's consistent derivation of movement in the air and the right placement allowed him to add two more wickets to his tally to make it four for the innings so far.
The Indians were rewarded for their relentless, tireless and accurate wicket-to-wicket bowling on an unrewarding surface. If the English bowlers had been praised for their resilience—prior to the last-wicket Indian partnership—the tourists, surprisingly so, even managed to overshadow that by keeping the line straighter and the length fuller.
If there was one area which would concern Dhoni it would be his fifth bowler, debutant Stuart Binny, who bowled all of six overs of the 106 delivered by India so far.
The medium-paced seam bowler looked impotent on the placid surface, and his selection over off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin eventually came into debate after India's part-time spinner, Ravindra Jadeja—although wicketless in 24 overs—managed to get enough from the surface and ask the right questions to trouble the batsmen.
Jadeja would even have got a wicket had Virat Kohli not spilled a difficult chance at first slip.
The unbeaten 54-run last-wicket partnership between Joe Root (78 not out) and James Anderson (23 not out) could just have won England the final session after Robson and Ballance won the first. But it was that middle session which yielded six wickets that has tilted the match in the visitors' favour, however slightly.
India's fast bowlers have won them two sessions and wrested a slender advantage in a Test match in England. It would have been the stuff of dreams not 60 hours ago.
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