The 54-run unbeaten association between the two left-handers of contrasting heights — the duo forced the bowlers to bowl different lengths — swelled India’s lead to 285 with six wickets remaining going into the final day.
At stumps on day four of the second and final Test at the PCA Stadium, India was 134 for four in its second innings. England was in with an outside chance after V.V.S. Laxman was run-out and India was down to 80 for four.
Then, Yuvraj (39 batting, 40b, 5x4, 1x6) joined Gambhir. Kevin Pietersen, rightly, kept attacking fields for most part but missed a trick by not employing Andrew Flintoff for a longer period against Yuvraj. Flintoff has troubled Yuvraj with his bounce and movement in this series.
Panesar gets the stick
Monty Panesar had dismissed Yuvraj in the first innings but then a left-arm spinner is hardly the right option against a left-handed batsman in a pressure situation. Yuvraj took a heavy toll off Panesar even as the left-armer struggled with his action. Under the circumstances, Flintoff was under-bowled.
Gambhir’s innings (44 batting, 155b, 3x4) was a lot about character and fight; the Indians have played tough, hard-nosed cricket this year. Ahead 1-0 with just one full day left in the series, India’s ploy was to completely shut the door on England.
When the Indians batted again, the England pacemen hit the right areas. There was a measure of assistance for the pacemen from the surface as well. Wickets had fallen in clutches in this Test and India — despite a 151-run lead — had to ensure against a collapse.
Gambhir’s determined knock has to be seen in this context. He concentrated hard and put a lid on his attacking instincts. The left-hander played close to the body, was sure about his off-stump, and countered movement with front-footed play.
James Anderson and Stuart Broad created pressure from either end with the new ball. The duo, rightly, employed a fuller length and got the ball to deviate late.
It was, however, a brilliant display of fielding that ended the opening partnership. Racing in from short cover, Ian Bell dived full length to shatter the stumps and catch Virender Sehwag short of the crease.
England continued to strike. Rahul Dravid committed the error of not getting on to his front foot to a good length off-cutter from Broad and Sachin Tendulkar opened the face of the willow to an Anderson delivery well outside the off-stump.
Flintoff steamed in to bowl an unerring stump-to-stump line and Anderson probed the batsmen with two-way movement. There was some encouragement for off-spinner Graeme Swann but the England close-in fielders failed to snaffle half-chances.
Fog delays start
Earlier, fog delayed the start by two hours but the Indians brought the England first innings to a swift conclusion. In a collapse beginning late on Sunday, England slumped from 280 for four to 302 all out.
Harbhajan Singh varied his trajectory and spun the ball in from a shade outside the off-stump for most part. However, he struck with a different kind of delivery — one that pitched on middle and spun to leg. Attempting to work the ball, Matt Prior got a nick.
Then, the left-handed Broad shouldered arms to a Harbhajan delivery angled into him from round-the-wicket. The off-spinner had done well to switch angles to the southpaw.
Harbhajan extracted turn and bounce, bowling in a relaxed frame of mind. His bowling has often come under the scanner in the last few months but Harbhajan — to his credit — has 63 wickets in 13 Tests (including the on-going match) this year.
He is snapping at the heels of South African paceman Dale Steyn who leads with 64 scalps in 12 Tests so far.
Left-arm paceman Zaheer Khan bowled with precision. Zaheer is at the peak of his ability; his run-up, load-up, wrist and seam positions, and the release blend into one synchronised motion from both over and round the wicket.
Zaheer speared one through Swann’s defence; swing does sting.
The paceman is just three short of 200 wickets in Test cricket.
India — 1st innings: 453.
England — 1st innings: A. Strauss lbw b Zaheer 0, A. Cook lbw b Zaheer 50, I. Bell b Ishant 1, K. Pietersen lbw b Harbhajan 144, P. Collingwood c Dhoni b Mishra 11, A. Flintoff c Gambhir b Mishra 62, J. Anderson (not out) 8, M. Prior c Dhoni b Harbhajan 2, S. Broad b Harbhajan 1, G. Swann b Zaheer 3, M. Panesar c Gambhir b Harbhajan 5; Extras (b-1, lb-7, nb-6, w-1): 15; Total (in 83.5 overs): 302.
Fall of wickets: 1-0 (Strauss), 2-1 (Bell), 3-104 (Cook), 4-131 (Collingwood), 5-280 (Pietersen), 6-282 (Flintoff), 7-285 (Prior), 8-290 (Broad), 9-293 (Swann).
India bowling: Zaheer 21-3-76-3, Ishant 12-0-55-1, Yuvraj 6-1-20-0, Harbhajan 20.5-2-68-4, Mishra 24-0-75-2.
India — 2nd innings: G. Gambhir (batting) 44, V. Sehwag (run out) 17, R. Dravid b Broad 0, S. Tendulkar c Swann b Anderson 5, V.V.S. Laxman (run out) 15, Yuvraj (batting) 39; Extras (b-4, lb-3, nb-2, w-5): 14; Total (for four wkts. in 50 overs): 134
Fall of wickets: 1-30 (Sehwag), 2-36 (Dravid), 3-44 (Tendulkar), 4-80 (Laxman).
England bowling: Anderson 15-8-32-1, Broad 11-2-22-1, Flintoff 9-1-16-0, Swann 8-2-20-0, Panesar 7-0-37-0.