KOLKATA: Notwithstanding a masterly 76 from Sachin Tendulkar, India squandered a promising start to end at 273 for seven on Day One of the third cricket Test against England here.
The visitors' bowlers, led by pacer James Anderson (3/68) and tweaker Monty Panesar (2/74), bowled inspiring spells as India were found on the back foot by stumps. Captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni (22) and Zaheer Khan (0) are in the middle after India opted to bat at the Eden Gardens.
The high points of the Indian innings were Tendulkar's fluent and confident half-century and his 79-run fifth wicket pairing with Yuvraj Singh (32) the only 50-plus partnership of the day that gave some respectability to the hosts.
In the morning, however, it was opener Gautam Gambhir who came up with a gritty 60 and was involved in three stands which raised hopes of a big first innings score. The Delhi left hander put on 47 with Virender Sehwag (23), 41 with Cheteshwar Pujara (16) and 29 with Tendulkar, who got his first half-century since the early January match against Australia at Sydney.
Gambhir and Sehwag never seemed in any trouble against the pacers who did not get much movement, prompting skipper Alastair Cook to summon spinner Panesar as early as the eighth over.
England drew first blood in the 11th over when Sehwag was run out after a misunderstanding with Gambhir.
Gambhir, who played a gritty 65 in the second innings of the Mumbai Test for a lost cause, looked determined and played some crisp shots. Pujara, who joined the action after Sehwag's fall, returned in the 26th over when Panesar broke through his solid defence, with the score at 88.
Lunch was taken at 90 for two, and the second session saw Gambhir and Tendulkar play cautiously before the steady looking Gambhir edged an away going delivery to the slip. The bowler was once again Panesar, who started to look threatening after the pitch offered him some help.
Tendulkar, who has been struggling for form in the series and without a hundred in his last 28 Test innings, looked scratchy as a few deliveries went past perilously close to his bat. The Mumbaikar was lucky to edge an Anderson ball wide of second slip for a four.
The bowler came back in the next over to snare Virat Kohli (6) when the batsman edged one to Graeme Swann waiting at the slips. With the top order back in the hut, the onus was on Tendulkar and Yuvraj Singh to take the team to a respectable position. The duo played some good strokes to consolidate the innings but much to the dismay of the 20,000-odd crowd, they departed in quick succession leaving India at 230/6.
Yuvraj survived an early scare when umpire Rod tucker turned down a confident lbw appeal of James Anderson however, the Hawk Eye adjudged him out. Thereafter he played well, but a soft dismissal called time on his innings, when he chipped in straight to Cook at short extra cover.
Tendulkar grew in confidence, and started unleashing some of his trademark shots. But Tendulkar, much like the rest of his team, failed to capitalise on a good start edging a reverse swinging Anderson ball to keeper Matt prior.
His knock was studded with 13 shots to the fence.
With the pitch assisting turn, England took the second new ball as late as the 87th over. It did the trick for Anderson who castled Ashwin in the penultimate over.
With the pitch affording swing with the old ball, Gambhir said host pacers Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma will have a crucial role to play. "We saw (James) Anderson reversing the ball. We have got some very good bowlers in Zaheer and Ishant who too can reverse the ball. If they are on song, England will be in problem," Gambhir said. "Zaheer is a master of reverse swing. If he gets going it will be difficult for England. The wicket has something for everyone, especially pacers who can reverse swing. It was reversing big, so tomorrow Zaheer and Ishant will have a crucial role to play," he said.
Conceding that India lost two more wickets than they should have, Gambhir rued the batsmen's inability to convert good starts into big scores."We lost two wickets too many. But if we still can score in excess 300 or close to 350, it would be a challenging total.
"It was essential that those who got starts converted them into big scores. Me and Sachin should have gone on to make a big score. I am disappointed more from the team's point of view rather than personal," he said. "We did not do well. This is no more a learning stage for us but a stage to deliver," said Gambhir.