Under-strength England expose Indian weakness
The flurry of strokes soon after tea which made the improbable appear possible, albeit briefly, couldn't obscure the fact that this was a Test match dominated by an under-strength English side. Till Irfan Pathan, sent in at No.4, carved a four and a straight six off Andrew Flintoff, no one present at the ground had even harboured notions of the match being anything other than a mundane stalemate. Pathan's 25-ball cameo, a cat-on-hot-tin-roof 16 from Mahendra Singh Dhoni, and a little gem from Sachin Tendulkar heightened the collective pulse rate, but as Rahul Dravid admitted later, the pursuit of 368 was never really on.
"We looked at the situation at tea time and thought we would try and give England a little bit of a scare," he said. "But it was always going to be a challenge on a slow, low wicket. Chasing eight runs an over was never going to be easy, but we just had a dip. If Dhoni or Irfan has a good day, you can never say."
What the stroke barrage also did was deflect attention away from a wonderfully assured maiden century. The early loss of Virender Sehwag - Mohammad Asif had taken him out in similar fashion at Karachi - had the potential to be a hammer blow but with Dravid buckling down as though he intended to bat right up to Mohali, it was up to Wasim Jaffer to ensure that the English bowlers didn't put an anaconda squeeze on the batting.
He did that with a repertoire of elegant strokes, mostly off his legs, and his hundred elicited considerable praise from Dravid, who had performed the makeshift opener's role in all three Tests in Pakistan. "Wasim played two lovely knocks," he said. "He has been out of international cricket for quite a while. He went back and scored tons of runs in domestic cricket, earned his place in the side. Hopefully, this will kick-start a successful career for him. His temperament and composure were very creditable."
Jaffer's success and Mohammad Kaif's defiant, and possibly match-saving, 91 have given the team management something of a dilemma ahead of the second Test, and Dravid said as much. "With Yuvraj fit now, we are going to have choices to make. Probably, someone is going to be unlucky but that's the way it is. That's the way life is. We are happy for the boys who came in and performed very well. Kaif has been in and out of the side for a while. He has been playing one-day cricket for us. He came in and played a critical knock for us in the first innings."
Despite being under the cosh for the best part of the match after dominating the opening day, Dravid reckoned that India too would head to Mohali in good cheer. "The positives were the way we fought back from some tough situations," he said. "Anil [Kumble] and Kaif's partnership, to bat out the last day on the fifth-day wicket -- it's never easy, there is a bit of pressure. We showed some good application as well. The spirit is pretty good, we can take that with us."
He defended the decision to play only four bowlers, saying that the sixth specialist batsman - Kaif - had done everything asked of him. "We thought that there would be more bounce and turn but it was quite a slow, low wicket. Not much bounce throughout the game. As the game progressed, it became slower. If you played defensively, it was difficult to get out. We're not too disappointed but for the next match, if we need to take 20 wickets, we will try to do better."
That said, he was appreciative of the effort that his pace bowlers put in on a surface that offered negligible assistance. "Both Irfan and Sreesanth bowled well on a wicket that didn't offer them much. Sreesanth was very impressive in his first Test. He ran in hard in both the innings, bent his back and did a lot of had work. I think that's a good sign for us. We were looking for someone who would hit the deck and bowl around 135-140 and, hopefully, Sreesanth can go on from here."
Predictably, there were uncomfortable questions about those who struggled, with both Harbhajan Singh and Sehwag under the microscope. "It was not an easy wicket to bowl on," he said. "The spinners didn't get as much bounce as we thought they might. It's easy to be critical but Harbhajan is a proven performer for us and I am sure that before this series is over, he will hopefully have a major role to play."
As for Sehwag, Dravid preferred to focus on what he offers, rather than this failure here. "He is someone who tends to go through a run of low scores and then come up with a big match-winning knock. When he gets going, he tends to score big runs and at a rate that gives us a great chance to win Test matches. He will have a few lean patches and you have got to accept that sometimes."
Having talked of his own team, Dravid was unstinting in his praise of the English. "Their batting was very good in both the innings, and two of their batsmen made hundreds as well. It was a good effort. A week back, they had a lot of problems. This just goes to show that they are a good team. They have been playing good cricket for the last two or three years."
He refused to be too critical of the declaration which left India with only 90 overs to bat out to save the game. "I thought they might give us a few overs last night, and if Pietersen had stayed on for a while, there may have been a chance for them to score a bit quicker. With [Alastair] Cook batting really well and nearing a century on debut, they were obviously keen to give him that chance. So they had to wait for that. By then, it was probably a little late."
That was perhaps just as well for an Indian side that got the rudest of wake-up calls in a series that they were expected to dominate. Led by the immense Andrew Flintoff, England simply won't go quietly.
Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo