August 25, 2002

Hussain and Stewart carry the fight into fifth day

At the outset of the fourth day, England were harbouring hopes of a resolute last wicket partnership between Alec Stewart and Matthew Hoggard to reduce the massive deficit and to use up some valuable time. Stewart will feature again on the fifth morning, this time carrying English hopes along with his captain, Nasser Hussain. After England were forced to follow on and lost four wickets, Hussain and Stewart stood firm for 38 overs, adding 91defiant runs to reduce the deficit to 116. India are still favourites to win, and deservedly so, but they have a fight on their hands.

As it was, Stewart and Hoggard, the not out overnight batsmen, only occupied the crease for four overs and 13 minutes before the innings came to an end. The last ball of Anil Kumble's second over of the morning was adjudged to have taken the edge before it hit Hoggard's pad from which it bounced up into the hands of Virender Sehwag at short leg and the innings was over.

Stewart was left stranded on 78 as Sourav Ganguly enforced the follow on with England still 355 runs in arrears and the daunting prospect of having to bat for virtually two days to save the match. Not even the weather appeared ready to come to England's aid. On a bright, breezy morning at Headingley, the forecast was for more of the same.

It was a case of more of the same at the outset of England's second innings. With attacking fields, there were opportunities to find the boundary and Michael Vaughan and Robert Key duly obliged. However, the situation demanded that they should be rather more circumspect than usual while the variable bounce of the pitch allowed few liberties to be taken.

The ball that accounted for Vaughan second time around did not appear to behave in any extraordinary way. He was caught on the crease by Ajit Agarkar and the only doubt in umpire Dave Orchard's mind could have been the height, allowing for the fact that Agarkar was bowling down hill from the Kirkstall Lane end and the ball made contact just above the knee roll. Orchard has not built his umpiring reputation as as a "not outer" and Vaughan was on his way.

Key again played with a composure to suggest he has the temperament for Test cricket while Mark Butcher joined him in a partnership that survived until lunch, but within four overs of the restart, Key was out. He rather fell across his stumps and was hit right in front by Kumble with only one possible outcome.

Butcher had played some glorious strokes on his way to a score of 42 when he played one he will view less than fondly. Sanjay Bangar had taken one Test wicket before, but he really should not have got another with a ball wide of off stump that a leaden-footed Butcher edged to slip where he was smartly taken by Rahul Dravid.

John Crawley gave Bangar another unlikely scalp when he forced him off the back foot into the covers at shoulder height to Sehwag who needed two attempts to hang onto the chance. The look on Nasser Hussain's face at the other end was a study as he witnessed the relatively innocuous Bangar account for two of his middle order colleagues.

Hussain himself was living a little dangerously. Apart from taking another physical battering, he was also prepared to take on the bowlers, pulling in the air whenever they dropped short despite the fact that two men were posted out for that very eventuality. Nevertheless, he survived until tea with the ever-dependable Stewart and then settled down as the pair batted with genuine authority.

With Harbhajan Singh and Kumble in operation on a surface giving them some assistance, there were always going to be moments of excitement and none of the Indian bowlers and fielders missed an opportunity for an animated appeal when it presented itself.

Hussain went to his fifty from 69 balls, with his early positive approach accounting for the rapid rate. He brought up the landmark with a cut four off Kumble - the first the bowler had conceded in his twelfth over. Hussain and Stewart later went through a period of 32 balls without scoring, only breaking the sequence to bring up the fifty partnership. They moved from 150 to 200 in 149 balls to indicate just how seriously they were taking the task.

The longer Hussain and Stewart were together, the more feasible an unlikely escape became. Hussain was visibly annoyed with himself when he played and missed at Bangar and Stewart occasionally kept the close catchers interested, but the pair gradually got the runs flowing again as the sun came out to bathe Headingley in glorious evening light.

India took the new ball four overs before the close and one sensed a mental battle as the batsmen fought to hold their concentration together so they could carry their fight into the final day. That could finish very quickly, or it might prove to be an absolute cracker.