Sloppy India Still Well Placed for Draw at Ageas Bowl Despite Huge England Lead

Tim Collins@@TimDCollinsFeatured ColumnistJuly 28, 2014

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - JULY 27:  Pankaj Singh of India looks disapointed after he appeals but doesn't get the wicket of Ian Bell of England during Day 1 of the 3rd Investec Test match between England and India at the Ageas Bowl on July 27, 2014 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images)
Christopher Lee/Getty Images

The sight of Gary Ballance celebrating his third hundred in six Tests on Day 1 at the Ageas Bowl likely left MS Dhoni and his Indian teammates feeling rather aggrieved on Sunday night.

When Ian Bell stroked his way toward a typically graceful century of his own on Day 2, that feeling would have only been compounded.

And as Jos Buttler thumped his way to an oh-so Adam Gilchrist-like 85, bludgeoning India's ragged attack that grew increasingly sloppy in the late-afternoon sun, Dhoni must have been wondering which of the cricket gods he'd spat and trodden on prior to this Test to deserve such a punishing string of misfortune.

After all, replays indicated Ballance had nicked one from Mohammed Shami when on just 10 in the minutes after lunch on the opening day. Later, Bell—still yet to score—survived a LBW shout from Pankaj Singh that was going on to hit the top of middle-stump.

Buttler, meanwhile, escaped a tight low catch to Ajinkya Rahane on Monday thanks to the inconclusive nature of the slow-motion replays, which inherently favour the batsman in such situations.

He was also on naught. 

Combined, the three tight calls that went against Dhoni's men cost the Indian captain 398 runs; the jubilation of Lord's and the excitement of Ishant Sharma's hair (it's a mop so large that it has its own behaviour) suddenly a distant memory. 

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - JULY 28:  England batsman Jos Buttler hits Jadeja for six runs  during day two of the 3rd Investec Test at Ageas Bowl on July 28, 2014 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Stu Forster/Getty Images

All, however, is not lost for the visitors. 

Despite the massive total of 569-7, despite a pair of centurions in two afternoons of dominance for England, despite Buttler's inflicted carnage on a lifeless attack, India are still well within reach of their primary goal for this Test: a draw. 

With his leading speedster ruled out through injury prior to the match, Dhoni's bowling attack was always set for an arduous slog unless another luscious, green seamer was unveiled in Southampton. Thus, India dropped all-rounder Stuart Binny for Rohit Sharma, robbing depth from the bowling unit to bolster the batting lineup.

Capturing 20 wickets wasn't the priority. Not losing that many was. Maintaining a 1-0 lead was the most—or perhaps only—realistic option. 

So when India emerged from an evening barrage from James Anderson and Stuart Broad for just the loss of Shikhar Dhawan at stumps, it felt as though Dhoni's men had won a critical passage in the game. 

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - JULY 28:  James Anderson of England unsuccessfully appeals for the wicket of Cheteshwar Pujara of India during day two of the 3rd Investec Test match between England and India at the Ageas Bowl  on July 28, 2014 in Southampton, Engl
Michael Steele/Getty Images

Interestingly, England have only won five of their last 12 Tests in which they've hammered totals of 500 or more in the first innings of a match. Aside from the mauling handed out to a listless India at the Oval in 2011, all of those have come against the West Indies and Bangladesh, hardly pillars of strength in the Test arena.

When India take to the crease on the Day 3, a succession of fine batsmen will march out under the glorious forecasted sunshine, eager to make use of one of the best batting strips in England.

Aiding their cause will be an opposing captain burdened by suffocating pressure to orchestrate a result, a weary Anderson, an aching Broad, an alarmingly wayward—on Monday evening, at least—Chris Jordan and an inexperienced Chris Woakes. 

Matt Dunham/Associated Press

England's spearheads may have summoned all of their fire for 14 tense overs at the end of Day 2, but doing so throughout a day under endless sunshine is an entirely contrasting challenge and one England haven't relished in recent months. 

Perhaps due to the home side's lingering vulnerability, a nagging lack of killer instinct, India will still feel they're well placed to secure a stalemate, their desired outcome. The notorious strength of the team's middle order is only likely to bolster that perception among the visitors. 

As muddled as they've looked for almost two days, the series lead remains theirs. 

And despite consecutive afternoons of unwavering command, the onus is still on England to change that.