July 20, 2002

Udal turns on the heat as Hampshire peg back India

The surprise talking point at the picturesque Rose Bowl, where Hampshire took on India just days before the npower Test series starts, was the wicket. At the end of the day, the Indians had been bowled out for 236, with Shaun Udal the hero. Enjoying his benefit year, Udal scalped 5/59, exploiting to the hilt a wicket not too different from the `Chicken tikka masala' consumed in such large quantities here - tempting, and yet just a touch underdone.

But don't for a second believe it was all about the wicket. Sure, there were periods where it was two-paced, alternately shooting through below the knees and kicking up around chest height, but it was certainly not a wicket on which a strong Indian batting line up should have subsided in just 81.1 overs.

Having left out both left-arm seamers, Ashish Nehra and Zaheer Khan, the Indians had no hesitation in electing to bat first. But it was bad news straight away. Wasim Jaffer and Virender Sehwag slashed their way to 39, giving a few chances before the former perished, giving medium-pacer James Tomlinson his maiden first-class wicket.

Then came the man that all India look to, when the ball is doing a bit, the wicket less than flat and wickets falling - Rahul Dravid. Crashing Neil Johnson through the covers in fine style, the Karnataka middle-order batsman got even most die-hard Hampshire fans clapping. And there was more to come from the flowing blade. The footwork was excellent, the eyesight perfect, and the placement made sure the ball pinged the off side fence with regularity.

The first sign of life in the wicket came when James Hamblin dug one in short to Dravid. Although not a compulsive hooker, Dravid went for the shot, mishitting the ball down to deep backward square leg. Tomlinson on the fence, sashayed a couple of steps forward, stumbled back and managed to get the tips of his fingers to the ball.

Despite the calm at one end, with Dravid motoring along as one might, driving in to the Rose Bowl on the M3, there was much action at the other end. Sehwag (41) played half-cocked to Udal, inside-edging the ball on to his stumps. From then on, the offie who has more than 800 scalps in his career for Hampshire, knocked the Indians over, one by one.

Sachin Tendulkar, who had delighted fans earlier in the day with his `Master Class' program for Channel 4, could not give a practical demonstration of those fantastic powers of batsmanship. After awkwardly hitting Udal just short of mid off, Tendulkar top-edged a drive to the on side. With just three to his name, he walked back to the pavilion as Dimitri Mascarenhas held on to a swirling ball at short third man.

Ganguly, never quite in control on a wicket that seemed tailor-made for Udal, came down the wicket and managed a couple of trademark drives over the infield, but could not last long enough. Cutting a ball that was too close to the body for the shot, the Indian skipper was caught behind off Udal. Celebration time at the Rose Bowl, as memories of last season flooded back when Australia were skittled out for 97 on a first-day wicket in their tour match.

Dravid moved from strength to strength. The 50th over of the day saw him pull Mascarenhas to the deep backward square leg fence twice, with total control. Just as murmurs about his class were going about the sparsely-populated press box he lost his wicket, against the run of play. After concentrating superbly for exactly two and a half hours for 78 (10 fours, 1 six) Dravid was bowled by Mascarenhas, for whom revenge was sweet.

Not quite as sweet as the fruits of toil that Udal reaped at the other end. Easily scalping an out of touch Sanjay Bangar, the Hampshire offie gleefully accepted yet another career 5-fer when a well set VVS Laxman (38) presented Zimbabwean Neil Johnson with a catch. The Indian tail, barring the Harbhajan Singh swat at the end of the innings, folded without much ado.

A day to remember for Udal and Hampshire, and one surely to leave well behind for the Indians. The small consolation for the visitors came in the first of eight overs they bowled, when Bangar had Will Kendall caught behind for a duck. At 33/1 with a belligerent Johnson (30) at the crease, you know that Hampshire have come out tops on day one of this three-day match. The response from fans at this ground was terrific today, but you know it will be even better on the morrow. After all, what can be better on a warm summer Sunday, than watching your club side make a Test team hunt for leather?