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March 1, 2006
By the close, England's fortunes were resting entirely with their last recognised batsman, Collingwood, who followed his twin scores of 96 and 80 at Lahore before Christmas with his third half-century in as many innings. He brought up his fifty with a drilled six over long-on, but for the most part he had relied on timing and a lightning-fast outfield. This, allied to the sluggish nature of the wicket, made England's close-of-play total of 246 seem all the more wasteful, and India's efforts with the ball all the more admirable.
Those efforts were spearheaded by the whippy debutant Sreesanth, who claimed the wickets of Andrew Strauss and Kevin Pietersen in an energetic maiden performance, and capped by Irfan Pathan, who was ineffective early on but irrepressible as the afternoon wore on, when he boomeranged the old ball to claim three key wickets. In between whiles there was a scalp apiece for the spinners Anil Kumble and, notably, Harbhajan Singh, who went wicketless throughout a dispiriting tour of Pakistan but, rearmed with his favourite SG ball, twirled away menacingly for 26 overs.
You'd never have guessed from his demeanour that Cook was playing his first Test. He was effortlessly cool despite the hasty circumstances of his debut, having been called up from the A tour in the West Indies when Marcus Trescothick fled for home last week. He is just 21 years and 66 days old, which makes him five days older than another classy, willowy left-hander had been when he made his own debut some 27 years earlier. And like David Gower, Cook made a similarly princely entry by swatting his fifth delivery - a short ball from Sreesanth - to the fine-leg boundary.
Sreesanth himself had earned his chance because of India's unusual surfeit of left-arm seamers, but he fully justified his promotion with a lively and aggressive performance that included two warnings for following through onto the wicket. His in-your-face attitude compensated for the bland nature of the pitch, and Strauss had already survived two inside-edges off forcing strokes when he flashed at a wide one to give Sreesanth his first Test wicket.
By this stage Harbhajan had already claimed Ian Bell as his first wicket for three Tests, courtesy of Rahul Dravid's superb reflex take at slip, and when Pathan bent one through Cook's defences to reduce England to 136 for 4, all eyes turned to an understandably edgy Flintoff. On his last tour of India, he had mustered 26 runs in five innings and been tortured by Kumble and Harbhajan throughout. This time it was Pathan who troubled him early on, as consecutive deliveries flew at a catchable height through the slips.
But with Collingwood on hand to remind him of the virtues of patience, Flintoff grew in stature and together the pair set about rebuilding the innings with solid defence and firm straight bats. They had added 68 for the fifth wicket, however, when calamity struck, as Flintoff attempted to turn a googly off his pads, and was adjudged lbw to Kumble for 43. Replays suggested the ball was sliding down leg.
At 203 for 5, the floodgates were beginning to creak under the pressure. Geraint Jones knuckled down as best he could, but Pathan bent a tight wicket-to-wicket delivery back into his pads before capping his day with the wicket of Ian Blackwell, who batted much as Flintoff had done on his maiden tour to India - with self-evident strength but little confidence or technique. After 16 tortuous deliveries, he steered a long-hop into his own stumps for 4.
That was two of England's three debutants accounted for. The third will get his opportunity to impress at some stage tomorrow. The selection of the Northants spinner, Monty Panesar, was an extraordinarily bold and welcome statement of intent from England, who had been expected to stick with the greater experience and lesser guile of Shaun Udal. For the moment, though, it is Panesar's batting that will come under the microscope, as England seek to extract every last run from a disappointing first-innings performance.
Andrew Strauss c Laxman b Sreesanth 28 (56 for 1)
Flashy drive to second slip, reflex snaffle above left shoulder
Ian Bell c Dravid b Harbhajan 9 (81 for 2)
Thin edge superbly parried and caught by diving slip
Kevin Pietersen b Sreesanth 15 (110 for 3)
Chose wrong ball to pull, under-edge onto leg stump
Alastair Cook b Pathan 60 (136 for 4)
Late swing, defensive push, bowled through the gate
Andrew Flintoff lbw b Kumble 43 (203 for 5)
Played around front pad, might have missed leg
Geraint Jones lbw b Pathan 14 (225 for 6)
Arcing inswinger, trapped plumb in front
Ian Blackwell b Pathan 4 (244 for 7)
Short ball, kept low, under-edged cut
But you can't expect a turnaround unless pitches, umpiring and practice facilities are simultaneously improved