x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

India have enough precedent to fear a draw

India know Alastair Cook and Matt Prior are well capable of pulling off a great escape.

Those in the Indian dressing room certainly will not be taking victory for granted when play resumes on the final day of the first Test against England.

The days when pitches became unplayable in the final stages of a game are long gone, and India have been denied victory and avoided defeat in such circumstances to know Alastair Cook and Matt Prior are well capable of pulling off a great escape.

At Mohali in 2005, Pakistan started the final day just 53 ahead, with four wickets remaining. Kamran Akmal's CV at the time did not suggest any great batting ability, while Abdul Razzaq was not exactly associated with dour stonewalling.

India had the experience and wiles of Anil Kumble to fall back on. The result seemed a foregone conclusion.

It took India 52.3 overs to get a wicket on that final day. Akmal made a superb counterattacking hundred. Razzaq's 71 spanned 260 balls and nearly six hours. A near-certain Indian win became a tame draw, and the series would end up tied 1-1.

Five years later, it was India that were the escapees. They led New Zealand by 28 after the first innings in Ahmedabad, and Chris Martin and some variable bounce with the new ball saw them collapse to 15 for five in no time. By stumps on the penultimate evening, they were 110 ahead with four wickets in hand. VVS Laxman was still there, with Harbhajan Singh for company.

The two would bat nearly 50 overs together on the final day. Harbhajan scored a hundred, and Laxman 91. The match was drawn. There was still variable bounce and some turn, but by then the pitch was snail slow.

Win or lose, India have positives and negatives to think about before the second Test starts in Mumbai on Friday.

The batting, on a pitch not amenable to stroke makers, was a source of great satisfaction, especially the restraint - how many times would you use that word about a 90-ball hundred? - shown by Virender Sehwag on the first afternoon. On these surfaces, Gautam Gambhir, who added 134 with Sehwag, is perhaps just an innings away from the breakthrough he needs to rediscover the confidence and authority of old.

Cheteshwar Pujara looks more impressive with each outing, and Virat Kohli is unlikely to be as skittish as he was in his first innings of the series. MS Dhoni, who played barely a shot in anger in this Test, is also too good a player in these conditions to fail repeatedly.

The concerns are with the bowling, a funny thing to say given that England were dismissed for 191 in their first innings. R Ashwin started the Test spectacularly, befuddling Nick Compton and Jonathan Trott, but the variations that serve him so well in limited-overs cricket have not had the same impact in this game. His version of the leg break has been telegraphed, and there have been enough loose balls for Cook and Prior to put away.

By last night he had already bowled 68 overs in the Test - 41 wicketless ones in the second innings - and if India have to bowl first in Mumbai, the workload will become a key factor. Harbhajan Singh waits in the wings, but his record - 43 wickets at 39 in 13 Tests against England - is unlikely to induce sleepless nights and cold sweats.

For all the talk of mystery spin, it has been a left-armer spinner built on classical lines who has tormented England most. Not only has Pragyan Ojha dismissed Kevin Pietersen twice, he has been the standout bowler in the game, combining enviable accuracy with sharp spin and subtle variations in pace.

India will also take heart from how Zaheer Khan and Umesh Yadav have out-bowled Stuart Broad and Tim Bresnan, and as they look to Mumbai, they will be aware that it was reverse swing as much as spin that helped defeat Australia in 2008 and 2010. They will need either or both to head there with a lead.

sports@thenational.ae