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March 3, 2006
Matthew Hoggard took the morning plaudits with a peerless display of swing bowling; Mohammad Kaif and Anil Kumble earned the afternoon honours with an invaluable eighth-wicket stand of 128, but it was the debutant Monty Panesar who stole the headlines. His last-gasp breakthrough tilted a fascinating match back in England's favour, as Kaif was spectacularly castled for 91 by the final ball of the day.
At the close India had recovered heroically from a perilous 190 for 7 and trailed England by just 71 runs, but Panesar's intervention, coupled with Steve Harmison's dismissal of Kumble just moments earlier, made all the difference to the moods of the respective teams. India had resumed in the morning on an ominous 136 for 1, with England braced for a day of juggernaut-like accumulation. Instead they landed themselves both an opportunity to secure a crucial first-innings advantage but more extraordinarily, in Panesar and Ian Blackwell, a spin attack capable of winning them the Test in the fourth innings.
That such fanciful notions can be raised, however, owes everything to a man who is getting used to having the headlines whipped from under his nose. In times of adversity, England can always rely on Hoggard for a performance, but his exploitation of some prodigious swinging conditions in the morning session was something else entirely. It revived memories of his 12-wicket haul at Johannesburg last winter and, given the circumstances and the venue, it surpassed them as well.
Overnight a torrential downpour had freshened up the city and made for more helpful conditions than might have been expected, but given the ease with which Wasim Jaffer and Rahul Dravid had played out the final session of the second day, quick wickets were essential for England. Hoggard, as dutiful as a guard-dog and with the bite to match, obliged by trapping Dravid lbw with a massive nip-backer in just the third over of the morning, before adding both Jaffer and VVS Laxman in consecutive deliveries.
It was a sensational spell, varied yet accurate, and brimful of stamina, as India's batsmen were tied in convoluted knots and the run-rate was slowed to a crawl. Jaffer squirted an outswinger to Flintoff at second slip before Laxman missed an inswinger and was nailed in front of middle, and when Irfan Pathan sliced a drive to slip after lunch, Hoggard had taken 4 for 6 in eight extraordinary overs.
Even at that early stage of the day, however, Panesar was demonstrating an uncanny knack for stealing the limelight. As a Luton-born Sikh making his England debut in India, it isn't exactly easy for him to keep a low profile. But to trap Sachin Tendulkar lbw for your first international wicket? That's just showboating.
Propping half-forward, Tendulkar was brushed on the front pad as the ball pitched in line and straightened a fraction, and umpire Aleem Dar rightly sent him on his way to send Panesar and his team-mates into pandemonium. But amid the heady celebrations, Flintoff still had his captain's head on. He brought himself back on to have a go at Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who duly flailed at a full ball and grazed a simple chance through to Geraint Jones. Five wickets had fallen in 21 overs, Hoggard added the sixth after lunch, and for the first time in the match, it was India who were staring down the barrel.
But just as England's tail had changed the course of their innings on Thursday, so Kaif and Kumble answered India's call with the partnership of the match so far. Batting sensibly but with growing confidence, they ground their way to lunch as the sting went out of England's attack, with Harmison once again proving listless as he sprayed a succession of deliveries down the leg side.
Kaif, like England's Paul Collingwood, is the presumed weak link in this Indian middle-order, but he was displaying similar fighting qualities at a similarly crucial juncture. He had his moments of luck - Flintoff dropped a one-handed return catch off a slower ball, and Jones shelled an inside-edge off a Flintoff lifter - but neither was he afraid to take liberties when they arose, such as the nervy long-hop that Blackwell served up in his first over which was duly deposited for four.
Kumble, meanwhile, was the ballast, playing with soft hands to repel the pacemen and spinners alike. He too had some good fortune, with Jones again guilty when a low nick flew to this right, and two subsequent edges also flew perilously close to England's waiting slip cordon. But he squirted a thick inside-edge into the leg side to bring up his fourth Test fifty, and in the circumstances, this was arguably the most valuable batting contribution he has made in 104 Tests spanning nearly 16 years.
The run-rate, incidentally, was funereal, with just 186 runs coming in 14 balls shy of a full day. But this was Test cricket at its most compelling, and those who dared to take their eyes off the play were robbed of the grandstand finish. Late in the day, Harmison located his length at last, and Kumble - with his thoughts perhaps turning to the close - reached forward uncertainly and Alastair Cook at first slip made his first catch in Test cricket look as simple as his batting.
After 58 overs of toil without reward, that breakthrough might have been consolation enough for England. Panesar, however, had other ideas, and just seven balls later, Kaif had been bamboozled by the ball of the match so far. Perfectly flighted to drag the batsman forward, late dip to leave him stranded, and turn and bounce to detonate the middle and off stumps, the first Turbanation of the series had just been witnessed. Remarkably, however, it was England's players who were doing the celebrations.
Virender Sehwag c Pietersen b Hoggard 2 (11 for 1)
Slower ball, driven on the up to short cover
Rahul Dravid lbw b Hoggard 40 (140 for 2)
Reverse swing, nipped back, not offering shot
Wasim Jaffer c Flintoff b Hoggard 81 (149 for 3)
Outswinger, squirted drive low to second slip
VVS Laxman lbw b Hoggard 0 (149 for 4)
First-ball inswinger, honing in on middle stump
Sachin Tendulkar lbw b Panesar 16 (176 for 5)
Half-forward, hint of turn, struck pad then bat
Mahendra Dhoni c Jones b Flintoff 5 (183 for 6)
Full length, loose drive, thin edge
Irfan Pathan c Flintoff b Hoggard 2 (190 for 7)
Pitched and left him, sharp take at second slip
Anil Kumble c Cook b Harmison 58 (318 for 8)
Reaching for the drive, low edge to first slip
Mohammad Kaif b Panesar 91 (322 for 9)
Turned, bounced, Turbanated
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