December 19, 2001

England fight back after handing initiative to India in Bangalore

A recent survey of users by CricInfo revealed that Test cricket is considered by a significant majority to be the most appealing form of the game. After a day in Bangalore packed with incident, it is easy to understand why so many people are of this opinion. By one means or another, England find themselves fighting back after, quite literally, handing the initiative to India. And that was only after England had had the platform for a substantial first innings total. Riveting entertainment.

The floodlights were already on when Nasser Hussain entered uncharted territory by calling correctly for the second time in succession. On a newly laid pitch with no guide to its likely behaviour, he elected to bat without a moment's hesitation.

The Indian selectors had taken a decision to play an extra spinner, Sarandeep Singh, and so captain Sourav Ganguly took the new ball with Javagal Srinath. Ganguly, at moderate pace, did get some movement and saw some false shots played, while Srinath found both the inside and outside edges of Marcus Trescothick's bat. However, as the drizzle began, Trescothick did unfurl a glorious off drive for a boundary to let the bowler know that he had got a middle to his bat.

Srinath also knew that the edge would come into play again if he could get one going across the left-hander, and in the seventh over he did just that. There was a little extra bounce for good measure and VVS Laxman held on well at second slip.

Hussain came in to join Mark Butcher and immediately showed aggressive intent by pulling Srinath for six over square leg off the front foot. Shots like that forced a double bowling change, with Ganguly bringing on Anil Kumble, striving for his three hundredth Test wicket, and Harbhajan Singh.

Hussain greeted Harbhajan by going down the wicket in his first over and hoisting him over mid-on for four. A long-on was posted immediately. This meant that the batsmen altered their approach, running well between wickets to pick up singles to keep the scoring rate above three an over.

Twice Hussain was on his knees at the completion of a shot as balls from Kumble kept low, perhaps giving a clue to the likely behaviour of the pitch as the game wears on. There was also noticeable turn for the spinners, underlining the importance of the toss.

Despite that, the England pair were batting with increasing authority as lunch approached. That was when their previously excellent understanding unravelled. Butcher pushed the ball wide of mid-on and called for a single. Hussain sent him back but, before Butcher could put on the brakes and turn, Rahul Dravid had the ball in Deep Dasgupta's gloves and the bails were off.

With Hussain nibbling at another fine ball from Srinath shortly after lunch to be caught behind for 43, India had fought back well to reduce England to 93 for 3. That brought Michael Vaughan and Mark Ramprakash together.

Ramprakash was not always comfortable with his timing but was surviving staunchly, while Vaughan appeared in prime form. They, too, were picking up singles with ease as the field was set a little deep, and Vaughan in particular employed the sweep to good effect.

Ramprakash brought up the 200 hitting Sarandeep for 4 to mid-wicket and then his own fifty by nudging Srinath off his hip for his fourth boundary. Before 220 had been posted, however, one of those silly sessions in which England self-destruct was to be endured.

Vaughan had already stroked eight fours as he went down on one knee to sweep Sarandeep for another. This time the ball struck his pad, went up in the air through a tangle of gloves, bat and arms, came down onto his thigh and, as it landed in front of him, the batsman trapped it with his glove before tossing it away.

It was not going to roll back onto the stumps. It was not going to be caught. Nevertheless, the bowler was quite entitled to appeal under Law 33.1 and Vaughan became only the seventh man in Test history to be given out handled the ball. He is in good company. The only other Englishman to suffer a similar fate was Graham Gooch, while the last man out in this manner was Steve Waugh. By one of those strange quirks, the umpire in Chennai then was none other than the same A.V. Jayaprakash who quite rightly sent Vaughan on his way now.

The least said about Andrew Flintoff's dismissal, the better. He clipped his fourth ball in the same fateful over straight to mid-wicket where Sachin Tendulkar held a simple catch. Flintoff's last three Test innings have now lasted a total of eight balls.

Worse was to follow for England. With Sarandeep's confidence growing, Ramprakash tried to leave a ball outside off stump, it came back into him and, in the opinion of the umpire, took part of the bat as it went via the wicket-keeper to slip. It was only after several slow-motion replays that any doubt could be cast on the decision, but no blame can be attached to the umpire for that.

Craig White and James Foster, just like Ahmedabad, were left to salvage what had been a very promising situation. Kunble tried so hard for the wicket that he deserves to reach his milestone. He is an admirable fellow, fine bowler and he has taken his wickets with a ram-rod straight bowling arm, which is not always the case with spinners, it appears.

He was swept to the boundary by Foster to bring up the 250, while the same batsman tried the same shot against Harbhajan without the same effect and was fortunate see the ball come to rest against the stumps but without dislodging a bail.

White did the same in Ahmedabad, and the whole England camp will be hoping this incident heralds another stand between the same two batsmen who put on over a hundred for seventh wicket there. The Indians would be justified in thinking that they might have used up all their good fortune already.