Munaf gives Board XI the upper hand
A 93-run opening stand between Wasim Jaffer and Gautam Gambhir gave India the advantage at stumps on day one after Munaf Patel's 5 for 59 had dismissed the England XI for 238 at the IPCL Stadium in Vadodara. Cutting, driving, glancing - and edging, on occasion - the dominating duo capped a good day's performance for the home side.
Matthew Hoggard banged it in and Gambhir flayed him over gully; Steve Harmison followed suit and Jaffer uppercut him for four. Then he sprayed it down leg, and was glanced fine for another four; pitched up, the same bowler was driven coolly through mid-wicket. At the other end, Gambhir eased Hoggard through the covers for another boundary, and the Indians were on their way. Andrew Flintoff was introduced in the 12th over and Jaffer greeted him with two back-foot cuts for four. It was hot, yes, and England's bowlers were not at their peak, but that takes nothing away from Gambhir and Jaffer. Occasionally there was lift and late movement, but both batsmen knew where to draw the line between aggression and recklessness.
Ian Blackwell, bowling from the Media End, snapped their solid partnership by trapping Jaffer leg before off the last ball of the day, but the platform for a thrilling day's play tomorrow had been set.
If their batting was aggressive, then the Indian bowling throughout the day was inspiring. The moment that got the smattering of a crowd on their feet - and broke the backbone of England's resistance - was Munaf's spell after tea. Following a series of productive stands, England had fought back from early setbacks, but Munaf produced two beauties late in the day to dismiss Geraint Jones (46) and Matthew Hoggard off successive deliveries. Jones, cleaned up by a full, swinging delivery that nipped back just a tad, was almost brought to his knees as the bowler raised his arms in triumph. Hoggard, pushing forward to an identical delivery first-ball up, looked back to see his stumps flattened to the first raucous cry from the sparse audience at the ground. Following these strikes, the hardworking Shib Paul removed Liam Plunkett (37) before Munaf castled Steve Harmison to signal the end of England's innings.
Munaf's aggressive display was synonymous with the Board President XI's bowling efforts in the first session. He, Vikram Singh and Paul vindicated their captain's decision to bowl first on a green wicket by stifling England from the get-go. Vikram, bowling with control and good pace and setting the tone for England's indiscretions, put the pressure on Marcus Trescothick (18) to take an unnecessary third run and run himself out. Paul was rewarded for a tight line with the wicket of Ian Bell (17), edging to second slip, while Andrew Strauss (23) - who cut a poor figure during 51 painful minutes at the crease - chopped a full delivery from Munaf right onto his stumps to signal a dreadful start for the tourists. And just when England needed their biggest star to see off the fast bowlers and produce a thriller, Andrew Flintoff (1) prodded the tamest of drives straight to mid-off off Munaf.
From 78 for 4 at lunch, England were given a good fightback with a series of crucial partnerships. Jones, the most resolute of the Englishmen, was involved in two key stands, first with Kevin Pietersen, then with Blackwell (34), with whom he added 59. Pietersen's enterprising 47 from 57 included 22 runs from a Vikram over to launch England's brave reply, but it was cut short due to cramps in the lower back. If there was a puacity of runs for the England batsmen in the first session, Jones dug his heels in to play an innings that, while entirely unattractive, offered much-needed defiance. At times made to jump and sway away from a rising delivery, he settled in to produce some good shots; a pull over square leg made way for a square cut over point, and Jones was on his way.
Snapping this association was the wily Ramesh Powar, who did well to maintain India's advantage. While keen to go after him, the loss of early wickets meant that any further carelessness on England's part could not be afforded. Sensing this, Powar teased the batsmen, mixing his deliveries and landing the ball in the sweet spots, and a crucial contest began to unfold. He cut and missed on more than one occasion, but just when Blackwell was getting into the stride of things - he slog-swept Powar, lofted him back past his head and then lapped another four past the wicketkeeper in the space of five deliveries - he prodded forward to a floater and was snapped up by Venugopal Rao at slip.
To compound England's woes, Jaffer and Gambhir came to the fore with a sensible display of batting. England's capitulation earlier in the day was in sharp contrast to the confidence of the Indian duo at the end of the day. Where England faltered against an inexperienced bowling attack short of stars, India's opening duo showed that they were up to the task against a formidable, Ashes-winning combination. The signs, ahead of the first Test on March 1, appear quite positive for the hosts.
Indian Board President's XI
Wasim Jaffer lbw b Blackwell 48 (93 for 1)
Pitched on middle, went for a sweep and missed
Marcus Trescothick run out (Jadhav) 18 (24 for 1)
Outside edge to third man, caught short on the third run by a good throw
Ian Bell c Jaffer b Paul 17 (62 for 2)
Edged a short delivery on off straight to second slip
Andrew Strauss b Munaf 23 (64 for 3)
Chopped a fullish delivery onto his stumps
Andrew Flintoff c Vikram Singh b Munaf 1 (72 for 4)
Tame dismissal, driven uppishly to mid-off
Ian Blackwell c Venugopal Rao b Powar 34 (182 for 5)
Gave it some air, invited the drive, thin edge
Geraint Jones b Munaf 46 (232 for 6)
Missed a swinging delivery
Matthew Hoggard b Munaf 0 (232 for 7)
Identical delivery, nipped back to hit middle
Liam Plunkett c Jaffer b Paul 37 (234 for 8)
Fended at a swinging delivery on off, snapped up by gully
Steve Harmison b Munaf 4 (238 for 9)
Missed a straight delivery
Jamie Alter is editorial assistant of Cricinfo