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This should be England's match but don't put your house on it
March 20, 2006
This series has been a soap opera full of implausible storylines, unlikely heroes and confounded expectations. This should be England's match but don't put your house on it. Mahendra Singh Dhoni reckons India would be happy to chase 250. England will be pleased to set them any more than that on a lively pitch.
The scriptwriters were at it again today, with the rehabilitation of James Anderson and the redemption of Geraint Jones.
Anderson arrived in India less than a week before the first Test, summoned, like Alastair Cook and Owais Shah, from the England A tour in West Indies. But he was very much behind Liam Plunkett in the pace-bowling queue until Plunkett's poor show at Mohali.
Anderson's last Test was 14 months ago in Johannesburg. It was a triumph for England but Anderson had a bit of a 'mare. He took two wickets for 117 in the first innings and dropped Graeme Smith in the second.
Cast into the international wilderness, he had a full season of county cricket for Lancashire in 2005, free from the expectation to play to Test cricket. He looks good on it and admitted as much after his four for 40, not to mention his dead-heat run-out of Dhoni.
"A season in county cricket did me a lot of good," he said. "It gave me the chance to get plenty of overs in." That has always been the criticism about Anderson, that he needed more bowling. He has been capable of bowling wicket-taking deliveries but he was erratic. He looks physically strong and his action looks grooved. The best thing about his bowling was the control. Pretty much everything was off stump or thereabouts and he was consistently hitting 85mph.
He got married recently and this was a performance of a mature bowler not the scarlet-haired pin-up boy who exploded on to the international scene in the 2003 World Cup. He still sounds a bit diffident. He is polite and articulate enough but doesn't seem given to self-analysis. Not a surprise perhaps when you've been in the limelight for years and you're still only 23.
"It's always nice to get Sachin [Tendulkar] and [Rahul] Dravid," was his charmingly understated response to being asked to name his favourite wicket. The ball that got Tendulkar on the third evening was not, in truth, a special delivery but it was on the spot and it bounced a bit. The resulting edge probably had to do with Sachin's current form than any brilliance from the bowler. Dravid's was a leg-side catch so not vintage either but make no mistake Anderson's figures of 19.1-8-40-4 do not flatter him.
So he got the big guns as they celebrate their respective milestones. This is Anderson's 13th Test. Lucky for some.
He was helped to a large degree by a stellar display from Geraint Jones behind the stumps. The stability of Jones's place in the side is always a hot topic and he is more likely to be judged by the runs he scores than the catches he takes (or drops).
But he held five catches, two of which were out of the top drawer and another very decent one. The two full-length diving catches that did for Dravid and Yuvraj Singh were both to his left and in both cases he caught the ball with both hands. In the past he has tended to dive with one hand. Maybe this is a turning-point for him also.
With five catches from eight wickets to fall, Jones did at one point have a sniff of equalling the world record for catches in an innings which is seven, shared by four wicketkeepers. One of them, Bob Taylor, did it on this ground 26 years ago in India's Golden Jubilee Test against England. Ian Botham ran riot with bat and ball and Taylor took seven of his ten catches in the match off Botham.
Appropriately Taylor is here as are more than half of that England side in their various capacities as commentators or tour hosts. Taylor's nickname was 'Chat' and there are worse people that Jones could have a natter to than arguably England's greatest ever keeper.
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