England v India, 3rd Test, The Oval, 2nd day August 10, 2007

It takes two to Tango



After his uncharacteristically stodgy fifty at Lord's, Mahendra Singh Dhoni led an assault on England with 92 at The Oval © Getty Images

In some of their warm-up games on this tour, India have used the 'retired out' option. Batsmen crossing fifty have trooped back voluntarily to the pavilion to give their team-mates more batting time. The tradition seems to have spilt over to the Test match arena, although with a slight modification. The first part, 'retired', has been forgotten - possibly because India's oldies are fed up with all this farewell tour talk - and replaced simply by 'out'.

India's plan, throughout this series, has been outstanding: reach a half-century, look good for a hundred, walk back, and watch the next person do exactly the same. No big gulps from anyone, just small bites from all. You get your fifty, I get mine. Liberty, equality, fraternity. Anil Kumble was obviously dead against this egalitarian policy, carving out a most memorable maiden century, but the rest have stuck firm.

Four years ago India's batsmen shone so bright in Australia that experts compared them to England's Bodyline-winning batch of 1932, one that included Herbert Sutcliffe, Walter Hammond, Maurice Leyland and Eddie Paynter. In four Tests Sourav Ganguly's men ransacked six sparkling hundreds, all of which were over 140. Batting feasts rarely come tastier.

This has been a series for hard-nosed cameos. Since they landed in Ireland, India have played ten matches, both first-class and international. It's produced 31 half-centuries and just two hundreds - Sachin Tendulkar's 171 at Chelmsford and Kumble's 110 here.

There's been lazy elegance (Wasim Jaffer's 62 at Nottingham and VVS Laxman's 51 here) and youthful exuberance (Dinesh Karthik's three fifties); controlled assertion (Dravid's 55 here, Ganguly's 79 at Nottingham) and single-minded accumulation (Tendulkar's 91 at Nottingham and his 82 here); guarded run-gathering (Jaffer's 53 at Lord's, Laxman's 54 at Nottingham); uncharacteristic stodginess (Mahendra Singh Dhoni's fifty at Lord's) and clinical destruction (Dhoni's 92 today).

Partnerships have been crucial. Batsmen have clung on to each other dearly with a staggering 16 50-plus stands. Unlike in Australia, where they rattled off one masterpiece after another, none of these innings will be termed 'great'. Yet they've made a collective statement. Like a swarm of bees, they've combined to make life hell for the opposition.

Jaffer and Karthik have gelled well at the top, both compact and fluent; Tendulkar and Ganguly have been like soul-mates out in the middle, chattering incessantly; Ganguly and Laxman have had to get through some crucial final sessions; Laxman and Tendulkar brought back memories of Sydney 2004 this morning - where the first brushed and the second sculpted; Dhoni and Kumble have gallantly shepherded the tail; the rest have chipped in at various points. Somebody should suggest a motto for the series: 'It takes two to Tango'.

Ganguly has been crucial. He's been the most composed of the lot but, more importantly, he's the only left-hander in the line-up. Partnerships involving him read: 28, 21, 59, 96, 67, 11* and 77. Batting at No.5, he's split the right-handers perfectly. It's put the bowlers off rhythm. His own scores haven't been outstanding (thanks to two poor umpiring horrors) but his presence invaluable.

India's lower-order didn't promise much before the series but Kumble has led a resurgence. RP Singh slugged it out as a nightwatchman at Lord's. Zaheer Khan took his batting so seriously that external objects on the pitch fired him up for a matchwinning spell. Watching Sreesanth juddering three successive fours off James Anderson was like watching a batsman in his prime. And Kumble's strung together vital partnerships: 17 and 16 at Lord's (the second helped India save the match), 50 and 9 at Nottingham (the first made a difference in the eventual result) and four special ones today: 91, 62, 21, 73.

India have long relied on individual brilliance, this one came with awesome synchrony. In batches of two they waltzed, when one left the other took over. Four years ago, in a series decider, India amassed 705 for 7 declared at Sydney on the back of Tendulkar's towering 240 and Laxman's magical 178. Here they almost matched that, with a partnership bombardment like few others.

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is assistant editor of Cricinfo