India v England, 1st Test, Nagpur, 5th day

A daring surprise at the end

A hundred and twenty nine runs came from the final session at about a run-a-ball but the game was never realistically on

Rahul Bhattacharya at Nagpur

March 5, 2006

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Rahul Dravid: 'His [Wasim Jaffer's] temperament, his composure was very creditable' © AFP

A hundred and eight runs short, but what a finish. Because by tea, sleep had swept the arena as utterly admirable, thoroughly worthy India had done the job. And it was a hot Sunday afternoon. One must also own up to an unlimited Gujarati thali at lunch. All in all, few combinations in life can make so compelling a case for siesta.

And then, Rahul Dravid, 46 from 161 balls at the interval, stroked and scrambled and once played a whipped pull off Harmison with both feet off the ground to add 25 runs off 26 balls. At that stage, it still appeared like some friendly gambolling after the hard climb. At 10 minutes to 3 pm, with India 200 behind and a minimum of 24.3 overs remaining in the day, the impressive Monty Panesar ripped one into Dravid's off stump from out of the rough. Emerged from the dressing-room Irfan Pathan.

But it still wasn't quite clear: a left-hander could have merely been a ploy to disturb the bowler's rhythm or force more changing about in the field or block the lefty spinners with the turn.

His third ball Irfan slashed for four. And then in a trice he was sliding into stolen singles. The first delivery of Panesar's next over he lofted, thrillingly, into leg for a second four. There was not much denying it any more. England were to be given a few flutters.

The mood took over the stadium. Heavy-bass Hindi pop, till now confined to the intervals, rang in after every over and every strike. Andrew Flintoff brought himself on but Irfan flayed him through the off. Moments later he thumped him for a straight six.

The next dismissal brought with it chants for Dhoni and the crowd was rewarded. Irfan went but the momentum didn't and Sachin Tendulkar came on to play the finest of the three evening cameos. As he had on this patch four months before on his one-day comeback, the big game rages inside him if he wishes to bring it out.

He tried at first some cheek against Flintoff and soon whipped him for two boundaries behind square and with the noise now pouring in and the Indians opening out, Flintoff dispersed the little that remained of an inner ring. And then he made the, well, optimistic, move of bowling Ian Blackwell. Tendulkar reverse swept the first ball for four; then made a conventional one, a slap too fast for the two boundary men not a great distance away on either side of it. Then he inside-outed over extra cover. The target was down to 116 from 84 and freshness was back in cricket, even if it temporarily obscured the point that India had been outplayed in the game.

At last the joyride was over. A hundred and twenty nine runs came from the final session at about a run-a-ball but the game was never realistically on. On a sluggish pitch, with six men posted on the fence, eight an over was a bridge too far even for Dhoni and Irfan, who between them hit six sixes at the venue in October.

But that India could contemplate a charge is credit to an impeccable century from Wasim Jaffer, his first in eight Tests. As far as India go, Jaffer was the story of the match. Appealing because he plays in the lazy seductive ways that come to the fortunate, Jaffer's core is that of a compiler. He plays the big innings - unbeaten triple in his second first-class game - and he piles them up through season. In first-class cricket this season he has been 133, 58 not out, 58, 25, 19, 16, 267, 62, 2, 26, 162, 44 not out, 48 and 4 - 924 runs at 77. The question about Jaffer has only ever been whether he had that bit extra to handle international attacks in all conditions.

In admittedly homely conditions, this Test was a superb start for Jaffer. With extreme concision of movements, rare in tall players, and whirring wrists, he made calm, elegant contributions in each innings, the second more impressive as it was also a greater test of his temperament.

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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