August 28, 2002

The error of their ways

Of the four grounds to host Test matches in this series, Headingley must have been least favourite to witness an Indian win. Conditions in Yorkshire are usually overcast, usually conducive to seam, and usually hostile to touring sides - not exactly odds that India were favoured to buck.

But buck they did, and comprehensively. Losing by an innings and 49 runs - India's largest overseas victory margin ever - Nasser Hussain must have wondered where on earth he went wrong. "We didn't even bat that well," said Hussain after the Test. But he had fingered the wrong department; it was the bowling that let England down.

Sachin Tendulkar against all bowlers - Indian first innings at Headingley
Sachin Tendulkar against all bowlers - Indian first innings at Headingley
© CricInfo
Conceding 628 runs on a fairly helpful track is possibly enough proof of that, but it is telling to examine the facts further. Sachin Tendulkar scored 193, but only seven of those runs - a staggeringly minuscule 3.6 % - were in the vee between mid-off and mid-on. In conditions that should have had the bowlers fairly champing at the bit to pitch the ball up and let it work wonders, that statistic is inexcusable.

Tendulkar's wagon-wheel reveals more. For the most part, Hussain kept Ashley Giles and Andrew Flintoff around the wicket, aiming at the batsman's body and not allowing him room to free his arms. But Tendulkar still scored rapidly enough, making his runs off 330 deliveries. The only difference the line made was in the distribution of runs around the wicket. More than half of the 193 came on the legside, with as many as 50 runs - including five boundaries - in the square leg region.

Perhaps Tendulkar has worked out a method to play England's restricting line. But it would be truer to say that there were so many bad balls on offer that he was perfectly content to block the occasional good delivery. He also worked the ball to great effect; in spite of scoring 45 runs more than Rahul Dravid, Tendulkar sent the ball to the ropes one time less. His innings was largely a matter of tapping wayward deliveries away for singles and smashing only the extra-ordinarily bad balls for four or six.

England's bowlers, in other words, maintained neither correct line nor length. The bowling was too short and off-target, virtually inviting India's best batsmen to help themselves to centuries, which they did obligingly. Scintillating as the batting was, deserving of the highest praise, there is no doubt that England had more than a small role to play in India racking up their largest total overseas.