Strauss falls early as England trail
Gautam Gambhir, the discarded Indian opener, made an emphatic statement with a fluent hundred that powered the Board President's XI to a handy lead against England at Vadodara. England fought back through its lead fast bowlers - Steve Harmison and Andrew Flintoff - with the second new ball, but suffered a setback losing Andrew Strauss in the dying moments of the day.
The day, however, belonged to Gambhir, who had been overlooked on Thursday by the Indian selectors who favoured Wasim Jaffer, his opening partner in this match. Gambhir led the Indian charge right from the start - his 62-run association with Dheeraj Jadhav (20) having blunted the attack - and in the company of Suresh Raina he marched on with authoritative drives and unflinching defense. In his career so far, Gambhir has shown himself to be a clean striker of the cricket ball, but when partnered with Virender Sehwag he has found himself playing second fiddle. It is a situation where impetuosity can creep in - the result being a tendency to get out prematurely - but today he played in a manner that would have given his critics considerable pause. Watchful against the quicks and confident against spin, Gambhir paced his innings well. Matthew Hoggard was driven with class, Flintoff was negated, and when Ian Blackwell tossed it up, Gambhir drove down the ground. When the bowler dropped it short, he cut and pulled.
The nineties, as they do for many an accomplished batsman, proved a testing period but at 1:38 pm in the stifling Vadodara heat, Gambhir cut Monty Panesar past point to reach three figures and the crowd echoed their praise for an innings of fortitude. Gambhir's innings was cut short by the resilient Flintoff 39 minutes before the interval, but by then he had taken the Indians to a position of security.
Powered by Gambhir, the Indians had overhauled England's total but their collapse had threatened to undo the good work by their centurion. Raina, who had played so well for his 62, started the collapse by giving Panesar the charge and skying it to Blackwell, moving to his right at mid-off. Twelve minutes later Flintoff gave England further success by castling Subramaniam Badrinath for a 10-ball duck. Following these strikes, England came into their own and looked the Test-match side that they are. Venugopal Rao, who had stuck around for 25 from 98 minutes, was made to play at an outswinger from Harmison and was snapped up by Flintoff at slip. Dinesh Karthik, who had endured a hostile spell from Flintoff, surviving five raucous appeals for lbw and one life through the slips, fished at Harmison and was well held by Trescothick at first slip. Vikram Singh was the last to go, cleaned up by a Flintoff yorker and forcing the declaration at 342 for 8. Ramesh Powar, the stocky allrounder, rode his luck to hit a breezy 25 from 17 deliveries and frustrate Harmison, who at one stage picked up the ball in his follow-through and hurled it back towards Powar, flattening the stumps.
The bowling, if not at top gear, was consistent. Hoggard was lively and managed good carry through to the `keeper. He beat almost every batsman, on occasion - probing, cutting - and garnered that little hint of swing that kept them on their toes. Harmison strived for bounce early in the day, without undoing himself, but with Jadhav and Gambhir confident in leaving the rising balls alone his effect was negated easily. Taking the new ball however, he looked more the Harmison of Sabina Park (where he took 7 for 12) and was rewarded with key wickets. Flintoff was his usual self, testing the batsmen with some well-directed lifters and holding his nerve thoughout, while Panesar - with his high-arm action, bowled with control. Raina's wicket was just reward for the bowler, who bowled untiringly and unwaveringly throughout the day.
Kiran More, in announcing the India squad for the first Test against England yesterday, said that India were looking to their rich pool of youth to lead the way ahead. In 64.3 overs since the chairman of selectors made that statement, Gambhir and Raina did much to prove that India indeed have the firepower to guide them into the next day, and in the setting sun, Munaf Patel gave further example of his durability.
"If you work with determination and with perfection, success will follow" read a painted banner atop the pavilion at the IPCL Cricket Stadium. The perfection may take a while in getting here, but the determination cannot be faulted.
Andrew Strauss c Raina b Patel 2 (3 for 1)
Tried to defend, thick edge to second slip
Indian Board President's XI
Dheeraj Jadhav c Jones b Harmison 20 (157 for 2)
Goes for a cut, cramped for room and edged to `keeper
Gautam Gambhir c Strauss b Flintoff 108 (243 for 3)
Spooned a wide delivery outside off straight to point
Suresh Raina c Blackwell b Montesar 62 (274 for 4)
Charges down and skies the ball to mid-off
Subramaniam Badrinath b Flintoff 0 (279 for 5)
Chopped a good-length delivery onto the stumps
Venugopal Rao c Flintoff b Harmison 25 (306 for 6)
Made to play at an outswinger, edged to slip
Dinesh Karthik c Trescothick b Harmison 19 (313 for 7)
Fished at a rising delivery on off, very good catch by first slip
Vikram Singh b Flintoff 13 (342 for 8)
Makes room to hit a yorker, cleaned up
Jamie Alter is editorial assistant of Cricinfo