December 24, 2001

England had the better of the exchanges

If anything, in the truncated play possible at Bangalore, England proved that their improved performance at Ahmedabad was no fluke, that they had the measure of the hotly fancied home team, and that if this was a five match series, they would

For a team that was expected to lose the Test series 3-0, a 1-0 defeat is something to be proud of. And the England team, written off as probably the weakest team from that country to visit India, finally proved its mettle in no uncertain terms after the Mohali disaster. Indeed, they scored moral victories in both Tests by gaining the first innings lead and having the better of the exchanges. For a side palpably weaker on paper, it was a splendid performance and in the final analysis it can be stated that they had the edge over India in every department of the game - batting, bowling, fielding, wicket-keeping and, most strikingly, captaincy.


If anything, in the truncated play possible at Bangalore, England proved that their improved performance at Ahmedabad was no fluke, that they had the measure of the hotly fancied home team, and that if this was a five match series, they would probably be favourites to win.
Much has been said and written about Nasser Hussain's tactics of having Ashley Giles bowling outside the leg stump to Sachin Tendulkar. For the life of me, I can't understand all the criticism. Sure, it isn't pretty to watch and stalls the proceedings. But it is within the laws of the game. Surely, one cannot expect the England bowlers to send down half volleys outside the off stump to the world's best batsman. It was a matter of strategy, pure and simple. Hussain, with the weaker side, and a particularly limp bowling line-up, adopted the right tactics under the circumstances as far as I am concerned.

Improvisation is the name of the game these days what with a lot of one day shots finding their way into Test cricket, where there are no field restrictions. Tendulkar himself showed the way in the second Test when he flicked the medium-pacers, bowling to a 7-2 off side field, deftly to the fence at mid-wicket or square leg, off balls bowled on the off stump. What stopped him from taking similar unorthodox steps this time? It is always better to counter attack and plan a strategy that exposes the rival captain's tactics instead of cribbing. The batsman must keep in mind the fact that if one side of the field is packed, the other has to be invitingly open and that's where his sights should be.

Indeed, I am inclined to applaud Hussain for being a thinking captain. A lot of thought had obviously gone into his game plan for each Indian cricketer and he reckoned that with his inexperienced bowling line-up, Tendulkar could be bottled up by the kind of strategy he employed, which could see the latter lose his patience and be dismissed. This is exactly what happened at Bangalore. If Tendulkar finally fell into the trap laid for him, why blame the fielding captain or the bowler?

Moreover, there is a grey area in Law 25 which deals with wide balls and that is probably why umpires De Silva and Jayaprakash did not step in to halt the tactics. From the bowler's point of view, he was bowling at the rough to try and get the ball to turn and bounce and force the batsman to make a false stroke and that by any yardstick, is a legitimate tactic. And till the authorities change the law to make it clearly black or white instead of grey, there is little the batsman can do ­ unless he can summon the courage and technical skill, as Virender Sehwag did for a brief period, to plan a counter strategy that will force the fielding captain to reassess his options.

Having pleaded my case ­ even if judging by current reactions, I believe I am in a minority ­ I must now move on to the actual play at Bangalore which, to be candid, was rendered fairly mundane largely by the inclement weather. If anything, in the truncated play possible, England proved that their improved performance at Ahmedabad was no fluke, that they had the measure of the hotly fancied home team, and that if this was a five match series, they would probably be favourites to win. Which from their viewpoint is very encouraging considering that they came to India without some key players and then after the first Test, lost the services of their most accomplished batsman Graham Thorpe.

The batsmen had clearly learnt from their mistakes at Mohali and tackled Kumble and Harbhajan with more than a degree of assurance. This is driven home by the figures of the two spinners after the Mohali Test. The bowlers, especially the medium-pacers, reveled in the helpful conditions at Bangalore while Giles deserves praise just for his dismissal of Tendulkar at Bangalore. James Foster's work, both behind the stumps and in front of them, was exemplary. Overall, it was a performance that will make the Englishmen enjoy their Christmas break all the more and they will be longing to come back next month when they would reasonably hope to take on India on level terms at least.

For India, it was a hollow victory at best. If anything, the series showed that their image of tigers at home had taken a beating. They finished second best in every department of the game, even in matters of team selection. Given the conditions, Tinu Yohannan should have played at Bangalore but the selectors inexplicably stuck to their defence oriented seven batsmen policy. Not playing Yohannan was as faulty a decision as not playing Sarandeep at Ahmedabad. It may be another home series win but not one that will stay in memory for long.