Two misses and many hits
You know all's not well when umpires become the topic of discussion during a match and a good day for India in the field, their third in succession, will inevitably be overshadowed by the debate over the two decisions that denied two of their batting stars, most certainly on the their last tour of England, what would have been well-earned hundreds.
Umpiring decisions, it is said, even out in the end and England - who were at the rough end yesterday - got two lucky breaks today. Umpires, like players, are entitled to poor matches, and Simon Taufel, who has been adjudged the best umpire in the world by the ICC, got two dreadfully wrong today.
Players are usually far less exercised by the odd umpiring decision than fans, for they have a far greater appreciation of the difficulty of the job, but both Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly left fuming today. It could have been because both were in sight of hundreds but it could equally be because the decisions were so obviously wrong.
Without doubt, Taufel has had a bad series so far. At Lord's he gave Rahul Dravid and Kevin Pietersen out wrongly. Those were marginal decisions though, compared to the poor ones today. Tendulkar had reason to feel aggrieved because, even though he offered no stroke, he seemed to have read the line of the ball correctly. It didn't look out and the fact that Taufel deliberated his decision would seem to indicate uncertainty. It is not criminal to have the benefit of the doubt extended to the bowler occasionally, particularly when he has beaten the batsman with a good ball, but it wasn't the case with Paul Collingwood.
James Anderson was even less deserving of Ganguly's wicket. He had been England's worst bowler of the day, unable to hold his line and serving up boundary balls with regularity and the ball that got Ganguly was almost as much a shocker as the decision that followed. Not only did the bat not make contact with the ball, there was no other contact, either with the pad or with the ground, that could have persuaded the umpire in favour of the appeal.
|In the end, the decisions perhaps squared things a bit. The point isn't about which side benefited more, but that it has been an error-strewn match so far, with batsmen being given not out when they should have been out, and given out when they were not|
Later, Ian Howell's two leg-before decisions to Monty Panesar proved that tailenders are not often awarded the generosity extended to top-order batsmen. RP Singh was no more out than Wasim Jaffer and Dinesh Karthik, who got away yesterday, and Sreesanth, the last man, was not out.
In the end, the decisions perhaps squared things a bit. The point isn't about which side benefited more, but that it has been an error-strewn match so far, with batsmen being given not out when they should have been out, and given out when they were not.
Not that India should lose sleep over these decisions because it has been the perfect Test for them otherwise. Even though none of their batsmen got to a hundred, it has been a wholesome batting performance. The openers exceeded expectations and the middle order lived up to it. Batting has grown progressively easier this match but the point is the pitch has been absolutely flat. It has been the kind of a pitch on which settling in hasn't been easy but each of India's top order did, and five of them scored half centuries. It wasn't as dominating or sumptuous a performance as in Headingley in 2002 but it was attritional, skilful and, at times, gorgeous.
Most importantly, only twice in the innings did two top-order wickets fall in quick succession. The openers added 147, but got out within two runs, Dravid and Tendulkar then added 97, which was followed by a 96-run partnership between Tendulkar and Ganguly and a 67-run one between Ganguly and Laxman. And after Ganguly and Mahendra Singh Dhoni had fallen within the space of five runs Laxman and Anil Kumble added 50 runs. With the pitch never absolutely benign, a collapse was never out of question, but Indians averted it with alacrity.
It was the second successive time Tendulkar has been dismissed in the 90s at Trent Bridge but, in contrast to his 92 in 2002, which came off 113 balls and featured a number of scintillating strokes, this was a battling effort. He didn't score a run off Chris Tremlett for 18 balls yesterday and this morning Ryan Sidebottom kept him on the edge for more than an hour. Off the 48 balls he received from Sidebottom in the morning Tendulkar scored a mere seven runs, with three scoring shots, and was beaten six times outside the off stump and had three vociferous appeals turned down. At the first drinks break, Sidebottom was on his back as if saying, "what more do I need to do to get you out?"
To Tendulkar's credit, though, his concentration never wavered; he was alert to tuck and square drive Anderson for fours, and danced down the wicket to hit Panesar inside out over extra cover. It was a stroke reminiscent of his dominance of Shane Warne. Centuries are sometimes accorded exaggerated value; this was an innings far more significant, both in quality and importance to his team, than Tendulkar's last two hundreds.
The most fluent innings of the day, however, came from Ganguly. His footwork was decisive, his leaving outside the off stump was assured and his timing impeccable. While Tendulkar faced Sidebottom almost exclusively through the morning session, Ganguly took over the scoring at the other end, dealing mainly in boundaries between gully and extra cover. Michael Vaughan posted two gullys and two more men square of the wicket on the off side but Ganguly still eased balls into gaps and, when Panesar came, cover-drove and cut him exquisitely.
The lead of 283 is India's highest, batting second outside the subcontinent. Their bowlers haven't allowed England to go past 300 in the series so far. They will have to earn their wickets because bowling will perhaps be hardest on the fourth day, but the stage is now set for them to go one-up.
Sambit Bal is the editor of Cricinfo and Cricinfo Magazine