Bikash Mohapatra reports from Edgbaston
Attack, it is said, is the best form of defence.
The same was proved twice over on the opening day of the third Test between England and India, at Edgbaston (Birmingham), on Wednesday.
The first instance was in the form of an aggressive 77 by M S Dhoni, a knock that signalled his return to form, and also saved his side the blushes following a batting collapse that saw the visitors struggling at 111 for seven at one stage.
The captain's counter-attack, coupled with his run-a-ball 84-run eighth-wicket stand with Praveen Kumar (26), ensured the Indian first innings total of 224 a semblance of respectability.
The duo not only accumulated runs, but did so briskly, thereby unsettling the England bowlers and forcing the opposite captain set a defensive field.
The damage done early on in the Indian innings, however, meant the repair work was incomplete.
Stuart Broad and Tim Bresnan were the pick of the England bowlers, claiming four wickets apiece.
James Anderson also chipped in with two wickets.
England had a tepid start when they came out to bat. However, both Alastair Cook and Andrew Strauss went on the offensive soon after to consolidate the home team's advantage on the opening day.
At stumps, England had scored 84 without loss. Strauss was unbeaten on 52, with Cook on 27.
The home team is now 140 runs behind the Indian total, with all of its wickets intact.
Morning session (75 runs, 26.2 overs, four wickets):
Down 0-2 in the series, with the chance of squaring the series at most, the visitors suffered a shock early.
Virender Sehwag was expected to bring about a change in India's fortunes in the series despite having not played any form of cricket in more than three months. But he perished first ball.
The opener appeared to have nicked the first delivery of Stuart Broad's opening over and the bowler was confident he got the wicket; so were the fielders. The umpire remained unmoved though.
Referral time! The replays clearly indicated Sehwag had touched it.
England had accounted for a potentially dangerous batsman early, and India were one down with just seven balls bowled in their first essay.
With Gautam Gambhir and Rahul Dravid surviving huge appeals early on, the England bowlers were vindicating Andrew Strauss's decision to bowl first in overcast conditions.
The ball was moving and it did not look too good for the visitors. There only solace came from the fact that Gambhir had edged his way to a few boundaries to keep the scoreboard ticking.
The fact that both the England bowlers were bowling a full length early on helped the Indian batsmen get some easy boundaries, mostly in the third man region. Besides, since the pitch wasn't very quick, the batsmen did get ample time to make adjustments -- something that helped the Indian cause considerably.
The result: a 51-run partnership for the second wicket that helped the visitors recover from the early shocker.
However, just when things seemed to be settling down for India, Tim Bresnan provided the home team its second breakthrough, a thick inside edge from Gambhir's blade helping the ball crash the stumps.
The left-hander scored 38, his 64-ball innings inclusive of seven boundaries. The 29-year-old will, however, regret having missed out on a good start, having seen out the new ball.
Sachin Tendulkar went back as quickly as he came in. The Master Blaster survived just eight balls before edging an away swinger from Broad straight to Anderson at third slip. He scored just one and his wicket aggravated India's woes.
The situation went from bad to worse when Bresnan returned to rattle Dravid's stumps. The visitors had lost four vital wickets in the opening session, going into the break at 75 for four (after 26.2 overs).
England's players came out this morning wearing black armbands in memory of former Warwickshire batsman Neal Abberley, who passed away on Monday. Abberley was Ian Bell's batting mentor.
Indian innings (19 runs, 6.2 overs, two wickets):
Dhoni continued with his counter-attack, hitting a couple of boundaries off Anderson before hooking a short one off Broad over fine leg for maximum, his third.
Broad had his revenge soon after, having the Indian captain caught by his England counterpart at first slip.
Anderson ensured the Indian innings was wrapped up in the next over, when he had Ishant Sharma (4) out, courtesy a blinder by Cook at silly point.
The visitors folded for 224, largely due to a fantastic counterattack by Dhoni.
England innings (84 runs, 25 overs, no wicket):
It took 23 balls before the England innings got off the mark.
However, it was from Sreesanth's third over -- the sixth of the England innings -- that the home team started scoring at a steady rate.
Strauss cut Sreesanth's first ball wide off point for the first boundary of the innings. The third ball was dispatched for another one and three runs came off the fifth delivery. It was a 11-run over.
In the next over by Kumar, Strauss ended a 15-ball scoring draught with successive boundaries.
Ishant Sharma came in to bowl in the eighth over, replacing Sreesanth (3-1-12-0), and Cook welcomed him with an exquisite boundary through midwicket. It was Cook's first boundary in 19 balls. His second came two balls later, on this occasion towards fine leg.
Two more off Sreesanth, in the 16th over, ensured the English total went past the 50-run mark.
A single off Ishant helped Strauss reach his first fifty of the series. It was his 25th career fifty, and his third against India.
It was the England captain's first significant contribution since he made 60 against Australia in Sydney at the start of the year.