November 23, 2001

Sriram, Martin make England toil in the sun

To say the final session of the day bore no joy for the visitors would be an understatement worthy of the English, the supposed original masters of the art. Two cricketers who are more than used to setting up stalls and batting out over after over did exactly that, with Sridharan Sriram accumulating 120 and Jacob Martin helping himself to 83, as the Indian Board President's XI replied to the England total of 320 with 256/2 at the end of the second day's play.

The bowling charts make very poor reading if you are an England fan. The most experienced specialist fast bowler, Matthew Hoggard, returned figures of 17-3-34-1. The others were not far behind, with only Martyn Ball picking up a wicket. James Ormond, Craig White and Richard Dawson toiled hard without reward, giving away 139 runs between them off 43 overs.

England, however, have no real need to lose heart at the proceedings of the second day. Posting 320, they did their bit in putting the match out of reach of a Board President's XI victory. On seeing this, Martin used the day to send out signals to the selectors. One thought the two-day affair at Mumbai was rendered useless by its limited time. The story was pretty much the same at Hyderabad.

Sridharan Sriram is a grafter at the best of times. In essence more of a left-arm spinner than a batsman, the left-hander was recently pitchforked into the opening slot. Whenever there was width to the delivery, Sriram was quick to open the face of the bat and guide the ball to the third man area. The full delivery on the pads was not spared either, repeatedly being tickled away to the vacant fine-leg region. But it was not the strokes he played, but the lack of them that singled out his innings.

Defending solidly when the ball threatened the wickets, Sriram gave away little to the bowlers. Spending the whole day out in the middle, he saw off 236 balls in his innings of 120. On 14 occasions, he managed to find the fence. Whether this innings will once more put him in the limelight and prod the selectors into picking him remains to be seen.

The day however, did not belong solely to Sriram. Skipper Martin impressed with his approach to batting. Unlike Dinesh Mongia (44), who flattered to deceive, Martin stuck to his task admirably. Driving through the covers with aplomb, he forced the bowlers to change their length a touch and made them bowl to his strength. With that achieved, the ball disappeared through the mid-wicket region regularly off booming pulls. 83 runs resulted, dotted with 10 boundaries.

The pairing of Sriram and Martin rubbed salt in the wounds of the English, accelerating just a touch towards the end of the day. With English shoulders dropping, Sriram and Martin went in for the kill, piling up 190 runs for the third wicket. The worrying thing from the English point of view is that they could not control the tempo of the game against a pair of defensive batsmen. What then will be their answer to the attacking cricket that the likes of Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman will dish out?

Unfortunately for the visitors, things are not going to get any easier as the tour progresses. Their best bet, as Nasser Hussain put it, was to stay in the game as long as possible and wait for the hosts to feel the pressure. The way things are unfolding, you could excuse the England captain for thinking that this might never happen.