First Test

India v England

At Mohali, December 3, 4, 5, 6. India won by ten wickets. Toss: India. Test debuts: S. B. Bangar, Iqbal Siddiqui, T. Yohannan; R. K. J. Dawson, J. S. Foster.

The ICC and the Indian board settled their differences just in time for the Test series to get under way, but some things stayed the same, as Hussain lost his 14th successive toss in international cricket. It looked like a vital toss, too: the prospect of early-morning dew and cloud cover at one of India's most northerly grounds had been an enticing one for England's seam bowlers. But India's pace attack, which consisted of three debutants, was found wanting, and in the end they were rescued by their spinners: Harbhajan Singh and Kumble, with 15 wickets between them, set up a ten-wicket defeat shortly after tea on the fourth day. Hussain described them as the best pair of their kind in the world.

When England raced to 200 for three inside two sessions, with Hussain eyeing up a century in his first Test innings in the land of his birth, the spin of a coin hardly seemed to matter. Butcher had been dismissed by the fourth ball of the series, but then India's three newcomers, Sanjay Bangar, Tinu Yohannan and Iqbal Siddiqui - none of whom had been on the recent tour to South Africa - let the excitement get to them, and Hussain batted as slickly as he had for some time. But when he was caught at silly point off Kumble, shortly after being dropped behind the wicket off Harbhajan, England's well-being departed and Harbhajan took control. In 25 overs, they surrendered their last seven wickets for 38. Harbhajan's final spell of 7.3 overs brought five wickets for six runs, followed by a chaste kiss of the pendant around his neck.

England had successfully countered two other world-class off-spinners, Saqlain Mushtaq and Muttiah Muralitharan, on Asian pitches the previous year, but they had drawn on knowledge gleaned in county cricket. Harbhajan, bearing a slightly sad, gnomish expression underneath his patka, was known by reputation alone. He found little turn, but the threat of the ball that fades away from the right-hander spread uncertainty. England's middle and lower order played him with a mixture of misplaced aggression and sheer bewilderment. An hour after tea, they were all out for 238.

Their bowlers responded manfully on the second day, but for scant reward. Their only victims were the night-watchman, Kumble - a first Test wicket with his 12th ball for Richard Dawson, the rookie Yorkshire off-spinner - and Dasgupta, India's sixth wicket-keeper in a year, whose maiden Test hundred in his third match was a masterpiece of self-denial. As in his last Test, in South Africa, Dasgupta went in first, this time because Bangar, the specialist opener, had pulled a muscle. He scored 15 in the morning session, spent more than an hour on 21, and needed nearly three and a half to complete a fifty heavily reliant on deflections behind square. After speeding up slightly to reach a hundred in five and a half hours, he was bowled through the gate by White.

India, 24 ahead at the close of the day, didn't waste their advantage. England's experience of Tendulkar had been limited and, although he had played many bigger Test innings, his unflustered 88 brought gasps of admiration from the bowlers, as well as the usual idolatry from the stands. His on-driving, in particular, was exquisite. His dismissal - a thin edge to a good-length ball from the tidy Hoggard - came as a complete surprise. England stemmed the flow by bowling wide of off stump to packed off-side fields. Hussain was bent upon survival training for a novice attack, and India's 469 took the best part of two days, although it should never have lasted as long as that: England missed four good chances in the field, including two to Foster, who had a debut to forget. Dawson was controlled and self-possessed as he collected four wickets, while an engrossing 18-certificate spat between Flintoff and his former colleague at Lancashire, Ganguly, was passed off as "chirp" by the referee.

On the third evening, England survived their first taste of batting in Test cricket under floodlights, even if it was only for seven overs. Next day they were dazzled by Kumble, whose six wickets removed fears that his shoulder operation nearly a year earlier had reduced his powers for good. Once Ganguly belatedly bowled him and Harbhajan in tandem, after lunch on the fourth day, they tore England apart: the last seven wickets tumbled in 22 overs. Only Thorpe suggested permanence - his 62 in three hours was his first first-class fifty in six injury-hit months - until he chipped Kumble a return catch to be ninth out. India needed only two balls after tea to finish the job.

Kumble had altered little since destroying England in India nine years earlier, and the outcome was disturbingly similar. He rarely beat the outside edge, but whiplashed the pads with the top-spinner that hacked straight on and an even better googly. With Harbhajan, he reigned supreme to give India what proved a winning lead.

Man of the Match: A. Kumble.
Close of play: First day, India 24-1 (Dasgupta 19, Kumble 1); Second day, India 262-3 (Dravid 78, Tendulkar 31); Third day, England 34-0 (Butcher 11, Trescothick 16).

© John Wisden & Co