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Shaun Udal's last-chance saloon

The former England offspinner relives the Mumbai Test of 2006, which turned out to be his last - and most memorable

Alan Gardner
Alan Gardner
The big one: Shaun Udal removes Sachin Tendulkar, India v England, 3rd Test, Mumbai, March 22, 2006

"Sachin managed to inside-edge one that spun a bit, Ian Bell took a very good catch, and I went off on a silly dance about 100 yards away"  •  Getty Images

If Alastair Cook was searching for inspiration over the last few days, while on his mid-tour sojourn to Dubai, he could have done no better than casting back to his debut series, in India a little over a decade ago. On that occasion too, an England side beset by injuries headed for Mumbai after a chastening defeat in Mohali, trailing in the series and seemingly without much hope of finding a way back.
What followed was, quite simply, extraordinary. England's "Ring of Fire" victory at the Wankhede was their first Test win in India in 21 years and the most memorable moment of Andrew Flintoff's brief (and turbulent) captaincy. It also provided Shaun Udal, a 37-year-old offspinner making what turned out to be his final international appearance, with the story to tell his grandchildren. Mumbai 2006 was unforgettable for a number of reasons, not least because, in Udal's words, "it was probably the only good Test match I had".
So how did India end up getting bowled out by an Englishman called "Shaggy" in one crazy hour on the final afternoon to leave the series level? It is a tale that deserves retelling.
Cook may recall the game less fondly on a personal level. While England's captain is expected to walk out with a new opening partner this week, as a 21-year-old he did not make it down the dressing-room steps - an upset stomach removed him from action two Tests after a prodigious debut (still the only Test he has missed since) and handed Owais Shah a long-awaited cap. With Michael Vaughan and Marcus Trescothick having departed the tour before the series began, it meant Ian Bell opened the batting for the only time in his Test career.
England also had to bring in a young James Anderson for his first Test in more than a year due to Steve Harmison's shin problem, and with the expectation that the pitch was "going to turn square", Udal returned to partner Monty Panesar, another newbie who had debuted alongside Cook in Nagpur. Udal had himself missed the first two matches with illness but was told by Flintoff and the coach, Duncan Fletcher, the day before that he would be playing. Coincidentally, the match was scheduled to begin on Udal's 37th birthday.
A county stalwart who took more than 800 first-class wickets over two decades of service for Hampshire and Middlesex, Udal had been involved in ten ODIs between 1994 and 1995 but only made his Test bow in late 2005. After bowling on "ridiculously flat, low, non-turning pieces of concrete" in Pakistan - arduous enough to send Ashley Giles home needing hip surgery - Udal went into the Mumbai Test as England's senior spinner, with three wickets from as many Tests and a bowling average of 92.33. Happy birthday, Shaun.
"I remember not bowling very well at all in the first four-five overs, going for six an over and thinking, 'What am I doing here?'"
When you're sitting in the "last-chance saloon", as Udal knew he was, you'd better hope someone buys you a drink - which is effectively what India's captain, Rahul Dravid, did. "It was a strange Test because they won the toss and bowled, which was a bit of a surprise," Udal remembers. India had gone with a five-man attack, including three quicks - Sreesanth returning alongside Irfan Pathan and Munaf Patel - and wanted to see if there was anything in the surface. England, handed a slice of luck, scoffed it down: Andrew Strauss made 128, his first century in Asia, while Shah battled cramp to score 88 and Flintoff added a fifty.
"We got our way to 400 and we thought we were always in the game," Udal says. "But the Indian line-up of that day and age was just amazing." Matthew Hoggard and Anderson made the job a little easier by removing Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar but Dravid looked secure in the company of Yuvraj Singh by the close of the second day. What's more, Udal had seen four wicketless overs disappear for 27 - the ESPNcricinfo report described his bowling as a "liability" - and was in need of another metaphorical arm around the shoulder.
Enter an unlikely England saviour: Shane Warne, who played alongside Udal for several seasons at Hampshire during the latter part of their careers. Warne's captaincy brought out the best in Udal, whom he encouraged to be a more confident, attacking spinner. "If it wasn't for him, I'm sure I wouldn't have played Test match cricket," Udal says now. Back in 2006, it was a well-timed telephone call from Australia that helped turned his fortunes around.
"I remember not bowling very well at all in the first four-five overs, going for six an over and thinking, 'What am I doing here?' I was sweating, just in a bad place, really. Then I got a call that night from Warnie, who was playing somewhere in Australia, asking how's it going. I said it's been a bit of a struggle, and he said, 'You've got to believe in yourself, got to remember that you're there on merit, not just there to make up the numbers. It could be your last chance and you don't want to be remembered as someone who didn't give it your best shot on your last go - just relax, mate, and go and enjoy it. What have you got to lose?'"
A beer with another former Hampshire team-mate, Robin Smith - who knew plenty about the highs and lows of life as an England cricketer - reinforced the message and Udal went into the third day finally feeling ready to grasp his opportunity. Anderson claimed four wickets as England whittled India out for 279, but the wicket of Pathan, who chipped Udal to mid-on, might have been the most significant. "It felt like I'd got a five-for. All of a sudden I felt like, it was only one wicket but I do belong in this company, I can do well for England."
Udal was back on the field later in the day as nightwatchman and he began to sense that his luck had changed. First, Darrell Hair failed to spot an edge to the keeper, then he was dropped by Yuvraj at gully; the next morning Udal went on to score 14, adding 40 with Shah after England had wobbled batting second time around on a lead of 121.
The real work was still to come, though. Flintoff made his second fifty of the match as England ground out 191 from 92.4 overs, setting India 313 in just over three sessions. Pathan, asked to open the batting after Sehwag had suffered a back spasm, fell before the close and Anil Kumble, in as nightwatchman, went early on the fifth day to Hoggard. Flintoff removed Wasim Jaffer, but with India three down at lunch and Dravid - who batted almost two hours for 9 - and Tendulkar at the crease, a draw seemed the most likely result. Panesar was battling nerves and Flintoff only turned to Udal in the 31st over, with the interval approaching.
Then came another fateful intervention, via Flintoff's CD player. Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire" captured the mood in the dressing room and England strolled back on to the field ready to rock n' roll. "It was very much spur of the moment, everyone was singing, clapping, cheering, even Duncan Fletcher was in a good mood," Udal says. "It relaxed people and we walked out, still singing the song as we were taking our fielding positions. We weren't thinking about what we supposed to be doing, and everything just happened…"
Everything, concisely put, was India losing their last seven wickets in the space of 92 balls. Flintoff was the catalyst, removing Dravid in the first over back, and then Udal, tossing up his offbreaks into the footmarks, delivered the coup de grace: "Sachin managed to inside-edge one that spun a bit, Ian Bell took a very good catch and I went off on a silly dance about 100 yards away."
It might as well have been a victory dance. The tourists were energised and a hobbling Sehwag did not last long but England then missed what seemed like a crucial chance when MS Dhoni hit Udal straight up in the air - only for Panesar to get nowhere near catching it. "He blamed the sun, which was in the opposite direction. That was a bit of a moment like, 'Oh my god, what have you just done?' You don't know what to say in that situation, you're just speechless."
"Amazing how one hour of your life can just change everything," Udal says. All it took was nearly 250 first-class matches, a bit of luck at the toss and a phone call from Warne
Panesar redeemed himself a few balls later, when Dhoni picked him out again - though Udal had already given up on it. "I was walking back to my mark, didn't think he'd catch it for a second - after the first effort, I didn't think he'd get anywhere close. But he did, thankfully."
The jig was up for India. Udal took two of the last three to fall, including the wicket that clinched victory, to finish with a scarcely believable 4 for 14 from 9.2 overs. "Amazing how one hour of your life can just change everything," he says. All it took was nearly 250 first-class matches, a bit of luck at the toss and a phone call from Warne.
"The whole thing did [make it more satisfying], it was just right place, right time, to a degree. Ashley Giles was injured, they didn't want to risk a youngster going on a tour to Pakistan and India… It all sort of panned out that it was my day, because I had that experience.
"You know, going into day five, on a pitch that was very brown, a pitch that was turning, there were footmarks - this is when spinners are supposed to win games for your team. I knew that. I knew Monty was going to get the nod before me. He underperformed, which put a bit more pressure on me - but I knew this was my last chance, probably ever, and I just thought, all I can do is my best and that's what I did."
After the game, Tendulkar signed the match ball and gave it to Udal (he has since given it to his parents). "I generally say he was unlucky because he got the one ball that I spun in Test match cricket. It's a throwaway line but it is nice, when people ask 'What was your greatest moment?', to say, 'Well, I got Sachin Tendulkar out in India in his own backyard in the fourth innings of a five-day Test match and we went on to win the game - first England Test win in India for 21 years.' It was nice to play a significant role in that."
England won again in Mumbai six years later, with Panesar and Graeme Swann sharing 19 wickets, but Udal admits it is "very much odds against" them making it three in a row. Injuries have again taken their toll, and although Cook has a veteran offspinner at his disposal, Gareth Batty is not expected to keep his place for the fourth Test. Then there are the gaps in the top order. "First-innings runs are crucial," Udal says. "In the last Test match, we didn't get enough."
Nevertheless, the link to 2006 is clear. England haven't got much left to lose and, as Udal recalls, having your back against the wall can, paradoxically, be liberating: "It was a bit more relaxed, because those things make you relaxed, you just walked in and thought 'What else can go wrong?'" After all, things might just be about to go right.

Alan Gardner is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick