England fight back after Kumble special
India 149 for 4 (Dravid 60*, Dhoni 12*) trail England 300 (Flintoff 70, Kumble 5-76) by 151 runs
The first full day's play showed just why this Test has been all about what could have and might have been. One thing was very likely, and that was Anil Kumble reaching 500 Test wickets. With the sun beating down on the Punjab Cricket Association stadium in Mohali for the first time in three days India, led by Kumble, bowled England out for 300, and then reached a dodgy 149 for 4 at stumps.
Kumble, as he has done on countless occasions for India, probed away relentlessly even after a wicketless nine-over first spell. When he finally did strike, though, it was three lethal blows that nailed the door shut on England. Geraint Jones, who had made 52, dragged one back onto his stumps and Kumble was in kissing distance of 500 wickets. Steve Harmison has certainly improved his batting in recent times, but not to the extent that he could keep out a Kumble special.
Since that day in Manchester some 16 years ago, when Kumble first played a Test for India, it has been the ripping straight one that has caused most problems for batsmen. Dead straight, homing in on the stumps, hurrying off the pitch, it's a ball that leaves batsmen dead in the water, but umpires in no doubt. It was just such a delivery that Harmison received first up and when he was late in coming forward, Simon Taufel barely had to think before raising his finger, at 1.21pm, giving the signal for the Indians to converge on the man of the hour. Yuvraj Singh was the first to reach Kumble, scrambling from his position at silly point, and he clasped Kumble in a bear-hug before hoisting him off the ground.
Kumble momentarily deviated from his normally undemonstrative self and allowed himself the luxury of soaking in the moment, holding the ball aloft first towards the dressingroom and then to all parts of the crowd. It was back to business soon as Monty Panesar, crowded around by close-in fielders, took guard and somehow kept out the hat-trick ball. India's joy was complete the next ball, when Panesar poked outside the off and edged to slip where Rahul Dravid held onto the catch. Three wickets in four balls and England's first essay came to an end with the scoreboard reading an even 300.
With almost nine hours lost in the game, it was imperative that India score quickly, and Virender Sehwag did just that, rattling off 11 at almost a run-a-ball, but it was the briefest flash, as an awkward fend off Steve Harmison lodged safely in Jones's gloves. Wasim Jaffer and Rahul Dravid then made the most of the best batting conditions of the game, bedding down to stitch together a 77-run stand for the second wicket. Jaffer, batting fluently and playing some pleasing shots, threw it away, popping the gentlest of catches to cover off Panesar.
Sachin Tendulkar walked out to a roar, but did not last long, scoring four before a lifting delivery from Flintoff proved a handful as Tendulkar fended to Andrew Strauss at second slip. Dravid pressed on, and despite not being especially fluent when he began, settled into his groove. With India playing one batsman less the onus was on Yuvraj Singh to weigh in with a big innings but he disappointed, playing an airy cover drive off Matthew Hoggard as the shadows lengthened. Ian Bell threw himself to his left at short-cover and latched on to a stunner, and suddenly India were wobbling, at 134 for 4, with only the bowlers to come after Dhoni. Dravid, on 60, kept up his vigil till the end of the day, and Dhoni who batted out a tricky passage of play will have plenty of work to do when play gets under way on Sunday.
Where caution was Dravid's watchword as the day ended, aggression was Andrew Flintoff's when the day began. He came out swinging his Woodworm blade like it was a policeman's cosh and took the attack to Piyush Chawla, the young legspinner who suffered at Kevin Pietersen's hands in the first innings. He was clouted for two sixes - the first a gentle lift over long-on and the second a brutal heave over wide long-on which took him past Ian Botham's tally of 67 Test sixes, the most by an Englishman.
Flintoff had good company in Jones, who rattled up a half-century, sharing in a stand of 103 for the sixth wicket. Flintoff looked good for a century when he fell, against the run of play, driving on the up and presenting Munaf Patel with a high return catch which was parried and then pouched. Munaf then made it three for the game, having Liam Plunkett caught down the leg side. But Patel's contribution, useful as it was, was quickly forgotten, as Kumble made the day his own.
Liam Plunkett c Dhoni b Patel 0 (290 for 7)
Tickled to the keeper trying to turn the ball to the on side
Geraint Jones b Kumble 52 (300 for 8)
Inside edged back onto the stumps
Steve Harmison lbw b Kumble 0 (300 for 9)
Trapped in front by a quick, straight ball
Monty Panesar c Dravid b Kumble 0 (300 for 10)
Poked outside off and edged to slip
Virender Sehwag c Jones b Harmison 11 (18 for 1)
Fended awkwardly at a short one and edged to the keeper
Wasim Jaffer c Flintoff b Panesar 31 (96 for 2)
Drove to cover without getting to the pitch of a turning ball
Sachin Tendulkar c Strauss b Flintoff 4 (103 for 3)
Fended a lifting delivery to second slip
Yuvraj Singh c Bell b Hoggard 15 (134 for 4)
Reached out for a wide delivery and drove uppishly to short cover where he was well caught
Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Cricinfo