Plays of the Day August 10, 2007

An unlikely centurion and a strained Sidebottom



I'll have a century, thank you very much: Anil Kumble overshadowed his famous team-mates in recording India's first hundred of the series © Getty Images

The icing on India's cake This tour was billed, in English eyes at least, as the last stand of the Galacticos: a chance to bid adieu to Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly - three great cricketers who have excelled on these shores. As so often, the fourth member of that quartet was overlooked. Anil Kumble, whose maiden Test appearance coincided with Tendulkar's first hundred at Old Trafford in 1990, but whose finest hours against England have come on home soil. Until today that is, when Kumble - in his 118th Test and with more than 2000 runs to his name already - trumped each of his team-mates with the first century of what is now, unequivocally, a historic series.

Madness, then majesty Kumble's century was a triumph of the will, as he resisted the urge to panic and trusted in his sidekick Sreesanth to last the distance alongside him. But with Kevin Pietersen teasing him with loopy flight outside off stump, his resolve snapped at the last, and he cavorted down the track to smack the glory shot. He pulled it off, but not in the manner he had anticipated. Beaten in the flight and gone for all money, he produced an infinitesmal under-edge to deflect the ball between Matt Prior's legs and away to the long-leg boundary. Kumble raised his arms in triumph, Prior rolled on his back in despair. And the Indian balcony rose as one in acclaim.

Come back Geraint, all is forgiven Poor Prior cannot have endured a more wretched two days in his life. On Thursday he was pilloried for his reprieve of Tendulkar, with his ropey footwork coming in for some serious scrutiny. Today, with his toes twinkling like a ballerina, he took the opposite route to ignomity, hurtling full-stretch to his right to tip a VVS Laxman edge expertly out of the clutches of Andrew Strauss. Too reticent one day, too exuberant the next. Sometimes you simply cannot win. His concession of 33 byes in the innings was also a record for a specialist wicketkeeper.

Six, six and out At first it was hard to know who was being more selfless as Pietersen was called into the attack to bowl his first over - Pietersen for serving up such a succulent selection of lollipops, or Mahendra Singh Dhoni for launching such a crowd-pleasing assault on the sweet shop. A hint of circumspection could have earned him a second Test century, but Dhoni does not know the meaning of the word. One six was mowed into the second tier of the OCS stand, a second skewed over midwicket off a thick top-edge. The third went harder and flatter ... but straight into the hands of Alastair Cook inside the boundary, as Pietersen grinned in sheepish triumph.

The ghost of Tavare? Sachin Tendulkar was half his current age when he first played at The Oval as a 17-year-old in 1990. What might the youth of yesteryear have done on a featherbed such as this? In an innings in which every single Indian batsman reached double figures, including the No. 11 Sreesanth whose 35 came from just 32 balls, the only triumphant aspect of Tendulkar's innings was his monumental self-denial. Since his elbow injury he has re-invented himself a la Steve Waugh, with arguably even more shots cut out of his repertoire. Survival is his alpha and omega, the genius remains locked deep within. Until, that is, the bitter end. With England by now drifting inexorably out of the contest, the Oval crowd were willing him to that valedictory hundred, but two gorgeous fours jolted him out of his trance, and he fended a legcutter to slip one ball later.



Oh for crying out loud...Ryan Sidebottom reacts after seeing Matt Prior drop another catch off his bowling © Getty Images

Withdrawal of labour Ryan Sidebottom has had a luckless fortnight. He has been the pick of England's bowlers by a distance, but at Trent Bridge and The Oval he has managed just two wickets in 77 overs. He was the victim of both of Prior's aberrations, and when he was not finding the edge he was beating it with depressing regularity. Eventually he limped out of the attack with a strained side (or was it a strained bottom?). Either way, it meant he escaped the indignity of going for 100 runs in the innings, which was the only justice that came his way all innings.

Happy hooker For Andrew Hilditch, read Andrew Strauss. Okay, so he had spent the small matter of 170 overs in the field, but his hapless hoick to Sreesanth on the fine-leg boundary wasn't the first time his addition to cross-batting had dropped his side deep in the doo-doo. Take his performance at Brisbane in last winter's Ashes opener, for instance, when Strauss's response to Australia's 602 for 9 was to pull Glenn McGrath's 16 th delivery to deep midwicket ... and then for good measure he hoisted Stuart Clark to fine leg in the second innings.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo