First Cornhill Test

ENGLAND v INDIA

Michael Henderson

Toss: India. Test debuts: R. C. Irani, A. D. Mullally, M. M. Patel; S. B. Joshi, P. L. Mhambrey, B. K. V. Prasad, V. Rathore.

In a match of seven debutants, it was England's revamped team - picked by a revamped selection committee - who proved easily superior. The game belonged, above all, to Hussain, recalled after a three-year absence and given the responsibility of England's troublesome No. 3 position. He made his first Test hundred, 128, which enabled England to take a first-innings lead of 99 and win a low-scoring game by eight wickets. Predictably, however, the best batting came from Tendulkar, on the third afternoon: as wickets tumbled around him, he made a century of rare brilliance. Neither he nor Srinath deserved to number among the vanquished but they were undone by the poor efforts of their colleagues, a less than satisfactory pitch and some indifferent umpiring.

Cork aside, England's attack was totally changed from the one that allowed the South African tail to snatch the Cape Town Test five months earlier. Malcolm, Martin, Fraser and Watkinson were dropped, along with Stewart and Smith; Mullally of Leicestershire, Irani of Essex and Patel of Kent were the newcomers and Knight, Hussain and Lewis had second chances. The two Lancastrians, Martin and Crawley, were both omitted from England's 13.

Azharuddin had chosen to bat, but India were dismissed an hour after tea on the first day for 214. Lewis, rejuvenated by his move to the Oval, took the first wicket, though Cork returned the best figures, four for 61, with Tendulkar among his victims. The medium-pacer Irani, brought on before lunch, found success with his fifth ball when Azharuddin sought runs with his favourite leg flick and saw Knight take a superb catch at short mid-wicket. Atherton had positioned him there for such a stroke, and his deployment of bowlers and fielders alike was impressive throughout. This was Atherton's best match as England captain.

Had it not been for Srinath's half-century, India would have struggled to reach 200. They were also in Srinath's debt for his superb spell on the second morning, which had England on the rack. It earned him the wickets of Knight and Thorpe and should have ended Hussain's innings on 14 when the batsman seemed to glove a leg-side catch to Mongia, the wicket-keeper, only to be reprieved by Darrell Hair, the Australian umpire. Thereafter Hussain grew in confidence and went to his century in 193 balls, assisted first by Irani, who struck seven boundaries in a forceful run-a-ball 34, and latterly by Patel and Mullally, who boosted the last two wickets by a crucial 98 runs. Hussain was last out, having batted for 282 minutes.

Faced with the task of setting England a testing fourth-innings target, India collapsed to 219. Tendulkar alone stood between them and defeat inside three days. As the European football championships kicked off at Wembley on that Saturday afternoon, the little master from Bombay tried to distract attention by making his ninth Test hundred with a scintillating display of strokes all round the wicket. Before he skied Lewis to Thorpe he scored 122 from 176 balls. The next-best score was Manjrekar's 18 - made with the help of a runner, after he sprained his ankle in the first innings. Lewis, who had retained his place from the one-day internationals, took five wickets in India's second innings. Once again, though, it was Cork who took the spoils, and made headlines. On the first day he waved Kumble goodbye after dismissing him, in a manner that some took to be unnecessary, although coach David Lloyd insisted later that he wanted his players to show aggression. Cork's first wicket in the second innings, that of Rathore, was his 50th in his 11th Test. Within a year of making his Test debut he had become the main attacking bowler in the side, and the only unchallenged bowling selection.

Rathore was unconvinced by his dismissal, as were many of those who digested the television replay, which showed that Hick, at second slip, caught the ball as it kissed the turf. Taking in to account a leg-before appeal against Atherton in England's brief second innings, and that early reprieve for Hussain, India had every reason to curse their luck - though Azharuddin chose not to do so. It was a poor game for the Indian captain, who was bowled round his legs for a duck by Mullally as his team batted to save the game on that fatal third day. Mullally ended the match with five wickets, though there was little evidence of his ability to swing the ball back in to the right-hander. Kumble, India's potential match-winner, found his wrist-spin treated with less deference than he is used to and the match ended with Srinath, in a final burst of defiance and frustration, flinging bumpers at Atherton, who saw England home with a careful unbeated half-century. It was all over before lunch on Sunday, having lasted a day longer than the previous year's débâcle against West Indies, but prompting further queries about the suitability of Edgbaston's pitches for Test cricket. The strip used was the second choice, after the one first proposed had been rejected as unsuitable a fortnight earlier.

Man of the Match: N. Hussain. Attendance: 45,490; receipts £822,011.

Close of play: First day, England 60-0 (N. V. Knight 27*, M. A. Atherton 31*); Second day, India 5-0 (V. Rathore 5*, A. Jadeja 0*); Third day, England 73-1 (M. A. Atherton 9*, N. Hussain 18*).

© John Wisden & Co