England collapse leaves India poised for victory
Any feeling of anti-climax as Sachin Tendulkar failed to reach a double century was quickly dispelled in a flurry of runs and wickets as India moved towards a declaration, and then what has become an uncharacteristic England collapse in the face of some quality bowling. Only a resolute eighth wicket partnership prevented them from the ignominy of batting again on the third day, but it will take more than just resolve to prevent India from levelling the series before they leave Leeds.
After two days of toiling in the field with little reward, England's bowlers finally got it right on the third morning at Headingley. To be fair, it was a case of the Indian batsmen giving their wickets away in the search of quick runs to inflate their already substantial total. They went past their highest total in a Test against England before the declaration came.
There are some people who believe the number seven to be lucky. Presumably not Tendulkar who was within seven runs of a double century and had batted for seven minutes on the third day when he got a ball from Andrew Caddick that kept low and he was lbw right in front. In the context of the match, it scarcely made any difference but the man who was Yorkshire's first overseas player would have dearly loved a double hundred in a Test at Headingley.
Ajit Agarkar made his intentions and those of his side plain, but fell when fashioning a horrible mow. Parthiv Patel played one defensive shot that went off the edge to Robert Key at slip who put down his second chance of the match. The young wicket-keeper then went for the hook and saw John Crawley running back towards the square leg boundary dive and get the ball in his outstretched hand, only for it to bounce out on impact with the ground. Patel also gave a simple chance to Matthew Hoggard at long leg off Alex Tudor that was spurned, while Key moved out to point to put down Harbhajan Singh off Tudor. Before that, Nasser Hussain had taken a good catch diving forward at mid-off to account for VVS Laxman.
That last dropped chance was in the course of an over that cost 18 runs as Harbhajan sliced and drove and pulled four successive fours. The fun came to an end when Hoggard eventually managed to hold a catch at mid-wicket off Caddick. Harbhajan was out for 18 from 11 balls to herald the declaration leaving Patel not out on seven. Having been dropped three times in his brief innings, perhaps Patel will subscribe to the lucky seven society.
Facing the massive prospect of having to score 429 to avoid the follow on, England's opening batsmen, Michael Vaughan and Key, showed no signs of inhibition. Key might have been excused feeling a trifle apprehensive in case his form in the field continued with a bat in his hand, but at least the bat stayed in his hands as he wielded it to some effect.
The runs continued to flow with a succession of classy shots producing 12 boundaries in the 19 overs bowled by five different bowlers. Key's fortune changed when he was given not out to a confident lbw shout by Agarkar, although television evidence suggested the ball would have hit middle stump. Apart from that and the odd shot that did not quite come off the middle of the bat, the batsmen went confidently through to the interval, although they were still the little matter of 567 runs behind.
After lunch, Key set himself with another boundary and two more runs before pushing firmly forward outside the off stump to Zaheer Khan and Laxman demonstrated to the batsman how a slip catch should be taken. It was Zaheer Khan's fiftieth Test wicket, while Anil Kumble picked up his 326th when getting Butcher lbw after a number of close calls against Vaughan who had moved to an attractive fifty.
Hussain came in to be battered about the gloves and body by Agarkar as he dug in with Vaughan to prevent further mishap. That was until Vaughan flashed at a lifting ball from Agarkar that he edged behind. The diminutive Patel did all he could but only parried the lifting ball higher, Laxman at second slip made an awful hash of taking the rebound and Rahul Dravid at first was unable to get a hand underneath it as it went to ground.
Next ball, however, Vaughan drove in the air to cover where Virender Sehwag accepted the catch without fuss and Vaughan was left to rue not accepting the reprieve he had received moments earlier. This was especially the case when shortly afterwards some light drizzle forced the players from the field for an early tea.
In the fourth over after the resumption, Hussain fell lbw to Zaheer Khan. Just as television had shown Key to be out when given not out, so the England captain could claim to be the victim of a bad decision as the ball was passing over the stumps. It was a blow to England's hopes and equally raised Indian spirits. There was a new zest about their cricket with Zaheer Khan coming down the hill and angling the ball towards the three slips and gully, where Alec Stewart was dropped by Sanjay Bangar first ball, while Kumble was wheeling away to a cluster of close catchers from the other end.
It was when Kumble switched to the Kirkstall Lane end to accommodate Harbhajan Singh bowling up the hill that the next breakthrough was made. Crawley turned a ball from Harbhajan to Laxman at short leg before Andrew Flintoff padded up to his first ball judging, like television, that it passing well wide of the leg stump. Umpire Orchard disagreed and Flintoff was on his way.
Stewart and Giles then embarked on a face-saving partnership that produced 70 runs and occupied 15 overs. Giles hoisted Harbhajan over mid-wicket for a mighty six and generally supported Stewart intelligently while the senior partner moved to a fifty with a few alarms but a lot of application. However, just when it was looking as if there could be a chance of the pair surviving to stumps, Giles was adjudged lbw to Kumble.
Caddick never recovered from having a leg bye disallowed because he was not playing a stroke, although he did shape one at the ball that bowled him, though he seemed reluctant to leave even then. Hoggard survived with Stewart to the close. With England still 165 shy of avoiding the follow on, it will take an extraordinary turn of events for them to save the match from this point.