Back with a bang
These are the sort of days that everyone waits for, when a truck filled with eggs can park outside the Hampshire suite, ready for England's captain to pick each one up and fling it at those who wrote his side off. And just in case some of the eggs don't crack, there's always an option for those at the receiving end to hurl it straight across at India's dressing-room.
England batted with purpose, bowled with aggression and ran India ragged in the field. Clouds hovered over the field all day and a biting wind blew throughout but a packed house got what they'd come for: England overcoming the odds and starting the series on an emphatic note. On a day when Monty Panesar effects a crucial run-out, surely there's nothing, absolutely nothing, that's going to go wrong.
India were lethargic on the field and static with the bat. Not only did they lack a fifth bowler but also missed the twelfth, thirteenth and fourteenth fielder. It might have helped if they had 70 overs to bat. A runner for every batsmen would have come in handy. At the start of the second innings a group of streakers set the West Stand alight; soon it was India's batsmen standing exposed.
Not many gave England a chance. When it was made official, Owais Shah's omission was termed a shocker, but by dinner time it resembled a masterstroke. He was England's highest run-scorer in the one-dayers against West Indies, yet he wasn't missed. Instead England toasted a couple of cultured, efficient maiden hundreds. Like a couple of unassuming choir boys standing up on the big stage, Ian Bell and Alastair Cook helped England break away.
If the Test series played a part in reviving the lost art of swing, here we saw the re-emergence of the run-gatherer. The ugly hoicks and cute improvisations were left in the dressing-room, instead there were straight bats that knew how to accumulate. When it was on the pads, flick; short of length, tap and run; straight and full, drive; wide of off, cut in the gap. No brute force, no unnecessary shuffles, just good old fashioned cricket.
Swing didn't make too much of an appearance: a couple of deliveries from Zaheer Khan swung mainly after passing the bat and the first sensible lbw appeal was as late as the 54th over of the game. Cook started stubbornly - 9 off his first 26 deliveries - but gradually found the width to manoeuvre the ball around. Bell, almost apologetically, attacked in bursts. Between them there were 87 singles, 24 twos and five threes (a total of 150 runs). This wasn't a hammering, more a slow poisoning. Drop by drop, they tortured.
One feels for Robin Singh, India's fielding coach. Sitting in the dressing-room he must be tearing his hair out, itching to go out there and show this group what fielding entails. Most cricketers take the shortest route to reach the ball, India's fielders prefer to use the roundabout. Not only was Gautam Gambhir shoddy with his attempted dive at square leg, trying to stop a Kevin Pietersen shovel, but ran a risk of serious injury. You expect throws to be backed up? Sliding stop? You must be joking.
|Not only did they lack a fifth bowler but also missed the twelfth, thirteenth and fourteenth fielder. It might have helped if they had 70 overs to bat. A runner for every batsmen would have come in handy. At the start of the second innings a group of streakers set the West Stand alight; soon it was India's batsmen standing exposed|
Andrew Flintoff didn't even need to bat but was charged up with the ball. Four months away from international cricket seemed to have revitalised him. Consistent with his pace, often touching 90mph, intelligent with his length and aggressive throughout, he turned in a performance that was reminiscent of his 2005 heroics. In his second spell he targeted Mahendra Singh Dhoni with a short-pitched barrage: getting him to defend first, hook the next one, coming close to an edge, and hook again, gloving to the wicketkeeper. Here was a bowler with a plan, there was a batsman walking straight into it.
India's turgid approach carried over to their batting as well. Sourav Ganguly, as if in a trance, turned blind for a non-existent second only to become the first international batsman to be run-out by Panesar. Another classic case of "Once in a blue moon, never again". Rahul Dravid lofted a ball over mid-on and watched Dhoni watch the ball rather than think of running. What should have been at least three was just one. The comical run-outs involving Ajit Agarkar and Piyush Chawla summed up India's day perfectly.
Dimitri Mascarenhas was the other shock selection this afternoon, ahead of his Hampshire colleague Chris Tremlett. He wobbled it around and stuck to a steady line, ending with 1 for 28, straggling Dravid down the leg side. He was given a warm applause at the end of his spell. He could have been given a crate of eggs to go with it.
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is assistant editor of Cricinfo