India v England, 1st Test, Nagpur, 4th day

Taken to the cleaners

Today showed that `the boys got their flannels dirty' is no longer a barometer of a side's fielding

Rahul Bhattacharya at Nagpur

March 4, 2006

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Harbhajan Singh today came perilously close to being reclassified in player bios as right-arm wicketless © Getty Images
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The buzz spread early in the day that the match referee Ranjan Madugalle had unwittingly found himself involved in the Laundry Case - where the Indian cricketers are up in arms that the board are not bearing expenses for those items that are not part of their kit. As the team wondered if they should take the field in casuals to exploit the loophole, hectic three-way negotiations between the players and the board and the Laundry Manager of the Pride Hotel had culminated in a carefully worked-out discount of Rs 130 per cricketer. The agreement was printed out by the miffed Laundry Management and slipped under the doors of their cricketing guests, including that of Madugalle, who was too embarrassed to reprimand the players for bringing the game into disrepute.

Anyhow, today showed that `the boys got their flannels dirty' is no longer a barometer of a side's fielding, as it was in the days when Mohammad Azharuddin used to attend post-match presentations.

Third umpire Ivaturi Shivram began India's slide, deeming Kevin Pietersen not out on 36 to a caught-and-bowled for no other possible reason than that an angry Anil Kumble makes for a quite entertaining spectacle. Given a rough time by Steve Bucknor against Inzamam-ul-Haq in Lahore two years ago, Kumble then almost decapitated the Pakistan captain with a return throw, which led to the two gents coming as close to wrestling as persons of that age can.

Here, as the last ball of that over was played back down the pitch, one feared for KP's new, clean noggin (now that he's given one half his skunk to Ian Blackwell and gotten rid of the other). Kumble collected the ball, wound up and, as watchers reflexively covered their faces at the prospect of blood, he checked his swing and lobbed it softly back to the wicketkeeper.

Steam was still billowing out of the furious master's ears when, soon after tea, Sreesanth at cover spilled a simple chance from Pietersen, who then proceeded to treat Kumble like something approaching dirt. By the time Kumble had KP held, he'd taken 36 runs off him from 41 balls.

Life wasn't to get much better. The dismissal brought to the crease Paul Collingwood and, as India now know, he can bat. First ball, angling into middle and leg, straightening fractionally, hitting middle and leg half way up - not-outed, this time from Aleem Dar. By now perhaps not even Shivram had the heart to look at Kumble.

Meanwhile there was Harbhajan Singh, perilously close to being reclassified in player bios as right-arm wicketless. Alastair Cook was on 70 when he spooned him back a delightfully straightforward return, put down due to a combination of a patka that chose a wickedly inconvenient moment to unravel and general panic as to whether Shivram would allow the catch or not. Shortly after, Mohammad Kaif ran on all sides of a skier which, as any minister from West Bengal worth his salt will tell you, `ol Dada would have pouched with effortless gazelle-like strides.

Not that many a useless over had passed before two successive balls from Harbhajan yielded two missed chances - three, you might argue, as the second one, a thin edge, was held by neither Dhoni or Dravid. Sehwag's was the previous, when he reacted to a mistimed loft by floating up philosophically and back down. Perhaps as a way to take him out of mid-off, Dravid handed Sehwag the ball for the final over of the day. Sehwag responded with a no-ball that was hit for six.

It all looks quite grim now for the ragged Indians. Victory is no longer a possibility. The encroaching rough from all sides has reduced the unblemished original to an oval spotlight in the centre of the strip. The top has come off only on the odd ball, as Monty Panesar has shown, but persistent bowling is not easy to counter, again, as Monty Panesar has shown. Hoggard, Flintoff and Harmison are not bad too. They will need far more application than was shown, for example, in their last Test at Karachi else England will take them to the cleaners. And no discounts too.

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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