India v England, 1st Test, Nagpur, 3rd day

A day of fightbacks

Rahul Bhattacharya at Nagpur

March 3, 2006

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Matthew Hoggard marshalled the first of the fightbacks of the day © Getty Images
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This was a most wholesome day in what is becoming an increasingly wholesome Test match. It has not been speedy: 186 runs came in 87.4 overs, by a distance the slowest day of a slow-scoring match. But this is a cumulative game. One thing builds upon another builds upon another and another and then they all shift and slide and you are left with a lattice of possibilities.

But it wasn't that alone. There was variety on offer: top-drawer swing bowling, fine rearguard batting and penetrative spin. Above all it was a day of fightbacks.

England's was the first. For weeks now all the attention on the three fastest touring bowlers has been dismissed by a friend and England supporter. "Hoggard is the man - chips in when it's needed" he'd say, and statistics will show you 58 wickets at 26.10 in 2005. "Always finds a way to get involved,'"Troy Cooley, the England fast-bowling coach, told Cricinfo at the start of the series.

Observers can't remember him ever doing quite so much with the old ball. In 25 minutes of superbly executed both-ways movement in the morning he extracted the life out the Indian batting. Three overs, five runs, three wickets, among them that of VVS Laxman, special not only because he is a good friend, having played League cricket in Bradford, but also one he considers up there with the Dravid and Tendulkar. Hoggard's spell introduced to the game a tension it had till now lacked.

Then came the Indian rally. Here there were parts within parts. Mohammad Kaif's first 20 took him 104 balls and was as wretched a 20 as you could be subjected to. Every bit of the bat seemed to be the toe end. As swing after mighty swing sent the ball trickling morosely to the edge of the pitch, the joke went that Kaif's signal to the dressing room was to call for a sweet spot. It was hard on the eye; must have been especially for the spectators square of the wicket who would have been exposed to the full glory of a pigeon-toed, crook-kneed, fidgeting and quite bewildering stance. On 18 he was dropped, a return catch to Flintoff, who must have been stunned to find the ball make it past that half of the strip.

As often happens, it took a moment of unshackling, a cover-drive off Harmison, followed by an edge over gully. By tea, he had hit another 40 runs at a run a ball. The strokes flowed, lofts over mid-off and creamy whips to midwickets and punches through the off. Fluency had been found, so that the grind in the final session had an air of authority.

The other half of the fightback was Anil Kumble, all open-faced drives and slashes played with the panache of a man trying to keep himself from getting tangled in his protective equipment. Those who took to watching cricket this millennium may find it difficult to believe, but there was a time when the tail started only after Kumble. It was his first fifty in over eight years. Kumble's effort tinged the day with the awkward and honourable resistance of the old school.

All along there was spin via a sweet and heartening debut. It's been a week of introductions from Monty Panesar. A shy, softly spoken chap, he introduced himself in the opening instalment of his weekly radio diary for the BBC Asian Network with a tentative whisper: `Hello, I'm Monty Panesar, from Nagpur, on my first tour with the England...and...uh...it's hot out here.'

Yesterday he introduced himself to Test cricket not just with an hour of priceless blocking, but a delivery that, for angle, was more prodigious than Shane Warne's opening salvo in England in 1993. It was Monty's fourth ball and he bowled it round the wicket too. Who knows what it hit, but it landed on and outside leg, swept well wide of a shocked forward-defensive, streaked past the stumps, clear of the keeper, beyond the reach of slip, and away to the ropes.

Today came a first Test wicket, an undetected arm-ball which elicited a reaction that could perhaps be described as the Full Mudhsuden. Few hours of miserly spin later, Kaif, entertaining prospects of a much-deserved maiden century, found himself opened up and left naked by one that pitched leg and took off. Somehow, `Hi, Monty again, got Sachin, did a Shane...' has a whole different ring to it.

Rahul Bhattacharya is contributing editor of Cricinfo Magazine and author of Pundits from Pakistan: On Tour with India, 2003-04

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Rahul Bhattacharya Author of Pundits from Pakistan: On Tour with India, 2003-04
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