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India v England 1st Test

By Jonathan Agnew
BBC cricket correspondent in India

Andrew Strauss batting in Chennai
Despite the lack of any meaningful practice, Strauss produced one of his most worthy centuries

Jonathan Agnew

With blue anti-riot nets suspended from the roof of the stands and the heavily armed commandos lining the perimeter of the ground, the opening day of the first Test was always going to be rather surreal.

In cricketing terms it belonged to India, but in the wider context, it demonstrated a will to restore normality to everyday life here.

No-one has worked harder this past fortnight than Kevin Pietersen, and the strain of it all showed in his net on the practice day, and also in his first innings.

He appeared distracted and unable to focus on his batting, scratching about for four from 33 balls before completely mistiming a pull off the wily Zaheer Khan.

Conversely, Andrew Strauss was determined that England should return to India from the start, and without having to cajole and persuade reluctant colleagues - as Pietersen did - he was free to concentrate on getting his mind right for playing a Test after a break of four months.

Despite the lack of any meaningful practice, Strauss produced one of his most worthy centuries.

It was not pretty, but Strauss is not a pretty player these days. The drive has almost entirely disappeared from his game, which has been reduced to little more than nudges and deflections off the fast bowlers and a slog sweep off the spinners.

He battled away for nearly six hours before hitting a low return catch to Amit Mishra.


Opening partner Alastair Cook will not want to watch many replays of the slog that brought about his downfall for 52. A lack of preparation and a recent diet of one-day cricket help to explain why he felt pressurised to score quickly.

Paul Collingwood, despite looking in poor form still, was unlucky to be seen off by Billy Bowden - although we should not forget that the umpire was flown from New Zealand at very short notice and had barely been here for 48 hours when the match began.

I loved watching Ishant Sharma bowl - he is clearly a very quick learner and has already mastered the art of disguising the ball when it is reverse swinging.

It is more choreography than bowling, and gives the batsman only a fraction of a second to see the ball in his delivery stride. He will be a handful, but it is India's spinners that could have England struggling here.

Both Mishra and Harbhajan have already found some bounce and turn and if their batsmen give them a decent first innings lead, they will ensure England have to fight hard for survival.

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see also
England opt for Swann and Prior
10 Dec 08 |  England
The making of Monty
10 Dec 08 |  England
Jonathan Agnew column
28 Nov 08 |  England
England call up Khan and Rashid
07 Dec 08 |  England
England in India 2008
01 Dec 08 |  Cricket

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