Foothold, chokehold, body slam
One-all after two is the ideal beginning to any series. Apart, perhaps, in a distinctly non-cricketing sphere, from the Rest of the World v Germany and Friends series that scarred the early 20th century. When a 2-0 scoreline was applauded by most neutrals. Particularly after the Rest of the World had gone one-nil up.
Yesterday morning, India seemed to want to take no chances of leaving the rubber unappetisingly almost secure by snatching a miraculous victory, and comfortably avoided setting England an awkward target of 130 or 140 that might have prompted some jitters and some flashbacks to their 72-all-out debacle at the start of the year in Abu Dhabi. When, to make the parallels even more pertinent, an inexplicably-left-out-of-the-first-Test Monty Panesar had taken six second wickets to put his side in a winning position.
Another 70 runs could have made the match a tense affair, although England would have still been strong favourites not to repeat their disastrous freeze against Ajmal and Rehman. However, after the top order had been cauterised by some excellent deliveries and one horrific mishit, Ashwin, Harbhajan and Zaheer perished with injudicious strokes when a calmer, more patient approach might have helped Gambhir set England at least a nerve-inducing target. Might have, or might not have. They probably would still been bowled out for not very much.
But they maximised their chances of failure, before Gambhir entrusted Ojha with the task of smashing a quickfire 40 whilst he kept one end safe and let Ojha, the notoriously flamboyant Indian Garry Sobers, farm the strike. (I may have misread that situation, but that is how it appeared. It was hot, though, and I have pale skin and a very English body-thermostat.)
India did not exactly go down fighting. Although England had been fully whooped in the first Test, at least Cook and Prior’s second-innings rearguard had given them a foothold against the Indian spinners, which the captain and Pietersen then transformed into a chokehold on the Indian spinners in Mumbai, and a full body slam as KP cut loose with awesome power and control on the third day.
England were duly able to wrap up one of their finest Test victories of recent years under negative pressure, a superb performance driven by four players ‒ their two best batsmen of the last 25 years, and their two best spinners since Derek Underwood’s 1970s peak.
When you see Pietersen bat as he did in Ahmedabad, you think: “How on earth does this guy have a Test average of just under 50?” Then, when you see him bat as he did in Mumbai, you think: “How on earth does this guy only have a Test average of just under 50?” This year has been an extraordinary one for England’s flawed, brilliant superstar.
India have major problems. Their batting looks frail, Pujara aside, and their bowling appears confused and worryingly blunt. Dhoni seems to lack faith in his two most experienced bowlers, the mystifyingly underused Zaheer, who extracted an edge from Cook late on day two and was economical throughout, and the returning Harbhajan. Between them, they bowled fewer overs than either Ojha or the decreasingly effective Ashwin.
● Panesar restarted the trend of bearded Englishmen taking ten or more wickets in Wankhede Tests. Admittedly this was a trend that lasted for only one Test, in 1980, when Ian Botham gave the cricketing world what is far and away the greatest single all-round Test match performance in the history of humanity – 13 for 106 (ten of them top-seven batsmen), and 114 runs off 144 balls, after coming in with England struggling at 57 for 4 (soon 58 for 5), in a match in which no other batsman reached 50.
Monty, not entirely unexpectedly, contributed rather less with the bat – although the abject failure of India’s tail to even contemplate wagging denied him the opportunity to smash a match-winning day five century (stranger things have happened) (let me correct that, stranger things have not happened). And, to be fair to the would-be-allrounder Monty did score at a faster strike rate even than the mighty Botham in his two-ball innings of 4.
● The Test matches in Mumbai and Adelaide have generated statistics like an out-of-control helicopter in a jelly factory generates mess. For example, India’s less-than-flawless second innings in Mumbai was the first time in Test history that seven batsmen have been out in single figures but for more than 5. Only once before in 7290 Test innings have more than five players been out for between 6 and 9, and the previous Indian record for “unconverted microstarts” is four. There you go. That’s one for you to use as a conversation-starter at a party.
Furthermore, in Adelaide, South Africa lasted 762 balls after losing their fourth wicket, obliterating the previous record fourth-innings middle-and-lower-order rearguard length, a barely noticeable 586 balls by Pakistan as they subsided in slow motion to defeat in Galle earlier this year. That nugget of information might be more appropriate in breaking the awkward silence at a wedding after the bride has sprinted out screaming, “No, no, I can’t do it, I know a bet is a bet, but this is the worst mistake I’ve ever made.”
These are just two of the deluge of stats emerging from the last few days of cricket. I will share more of them with you in the World Cricket Podcast later this week, when I attempt to set a new world record for Most Cricket Stats Delivered in 90 Seconds. Strap in. It will be like Usain Bolt in the Beijing Olympics, but more exciting.
Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on the BBC Radio 4, and a writer