Board XI ease to eight-wicket win
An incisive spell of fast bowling from Munaf Patel paved the way for the Indian Board President's XI's eight-wicket victory over England on the final day at the IPCL Cricket Stadium in Vadodara. The defeat could considerably dampen the morale of the tourists ahead of the first Test at Nagpur in four days' time, with news filtering in that stand-in captain Marcus Trescothick would be flying home for personal reasons.
Set just 55 to win after Munaf's 5 for 32 dismissed England for 158, Gautam Gambhir and Suresh Raina - Wasim Jaffer and Dheeraj Jadhav fell to prods to the slips - saw the Indians home with 14 overs left in the day.
For England, this capitulation will be a rude wakeup call. They can claim mitigation in that they were without Michael Vaughan, Kevin Pietersen and Simon Jones, but when your top-scorer is the nightwatchman, a burly, blond fast bowler with a first-class batting average of 9.09, something, somewhere has gone wrong.
Bowling with fire, Munaf ran through England's lower order and in the space of eight deliveries changed the complexion of the match which threatened to head for a draw. Having breached Liam Plunkett's defence with an inswinger, Munaf produced a peach of a delivery to send Ian Blackwell's off stump for a walk and signalled the end by trapping last-man Monty Panesar lbw the very next ball. Three classic deliveries, three emphatic wickets.
This stunning spell was in keeping with the Indians' second session display, in which they prised out four key wickets to force a turnaround in England's progress. Ramesh Powar tossed it up, Munaf stuck to his instincts and Vikram Singh bowled a fiery spell as England slipped from 95 for 2 to 154 for 6 at the tea interval. Matthew Hoggard, England's nightwatchman, was the first to go, flicking Powar to deep midwicket; Andrew Flintoff poked at Munaf and edged to the wicketkeeper; Ian Bell was made to play at a beauty of an outswinger from Singh; and Geraint Jones was trapped lbw going for an ambitious pull to a fast offcutter from Powar.
The Indians kept an attacking field, with three men in catching position for Powar, and intercepted cuts and drives with vigour, while Munaf confirmed what many believed him capable of, breaking the back of England's batting in the definitive moment of the day. Yesterday, Flintoff confidently announced after the day's play that he was not worried about his form - after scratching around for one run and tamely driving to mid-off on the first day - and that it was a matter of time before he would be back. For England, his words took on greater significance ahead of the Test series, as today he again played tentatively at an outswinger from Munaf and edged to Dinesh Karthik behind the stumps. His looseness at the crease in both innings, and Munaf's nagging, probing line throughout the match, summed up the difference between the two sides.
Munaf and Singh began well today, continuing with the aggression of last evening and the first morning. Munaf bounced Hoggard twice, and Singh too beat his forward prods often as both bowlers kept a tight line. Singh was the better of the two initially, and his opening spell from the Pavilion End was impressive for the speed generated. Where they lacked, however, was in forcing Trescothick to play initially. It was this inability that allowed him to settle in and eat up valuable time, but ultimately it would prove more than enough for them to romp to victory.
Munaf was wonderful in this match, bowling with sustained vigour and shouldering the responsibility of attacking England. Just 22, he has proved capable of troubling this Ashes-winning side with pace, bounce and just a hint of swing. Where the likes of Hoggard, Flintoff and Steve Harmison bowled within themselves - yes, they were only guarding against burn-out - Munaf ran in and hustled all before him. That he was not included in the squad for the Nagpur Test may very well have been the fuel to ignite his fire, and a stunning match haul of 10 for 91 would have forced a re-think in the minds of the men who matter.
A flock of school children joining the proceedings after lunch gave the contest some excitement, cheering the home side on even when there was little happening. Too bad they didn't stick around, for the innocent joy of their cheers would have been just reward for an Indian side that never looked like giving up.
Indian Board President's XI
Wasim Jaffer c Strauss b Hoggard 4 (11 for 1)
Edged a delivery on off to first slip
Dheeraj Jadhav c sub (Prior) b Panesar 18 (46 for 2)
Tried to sweep, ball lobs to leg slip
Marcus Trescothick b Paul 32 (67 for 2)
Pushed forward to a full delivery, zero footwork
Matthew Hoggard c Raina b Powar 42 (95 for 3)
Flicked to deep mid-wicket where the fielder holds a stunner
Andrew Flintoff c Karthik b Patel 2 (99 for 4)
Pokes at an outswinger, thin edge through to the `keeper
Ian Bell c Karthik b Vikram Singh 29 (123 for 5)
Made to play at a beauty of an outswinger, edged
Geraint Jones lbw b Powar 12 (129 for 6)
Goes to pull, ball hurries on him and raps him in front of middle
Liam Plunkett b Patel 15 (155 for 7)
Drove loosely, off stump went for a walk
Ian Blackwell b Patel 11 (158 for 8)
Played all around a full-length delivery
Monty Panesar lbw b Patel 0 (158 for 9)
Trapped in front of middle
Kevin Pietersen absent hurt
Jamie Alter is editorial assistant of Cricinfo