Contrary to expectations, England's Lions can bite, and bite fearfully. For the second day in a row, the Indians were surprised by the ferocity of the young England hopefuls, this time with the ball.
Four wickets were lost with 65 on the board (it was 14/3 at one point), and it was left to Sachin Tendulkar, skipper in place of the rested Rahul Dravid, to save the Indians from complete disaster. Yuvraj Singh got 59 before throwing his wicket away, but the rest of the top order was cut down on a perfect batting strip.
Except for the Tendulkar-Yuvraj combine and later, the feisty partnership between Tendulkar and MS Dhoni (who made a welcome comeback), India have been outplayed so far and their preparation is nothing short of dreadful. The match has raised more questions than answers — if a bunch of mostly unknown county cricketers can reduce the Indians to such misery on a batting wicket, what might happen at Lord's against the frontline England attack? Then, though Dravid has repeatedly insisted that he knows the top order he will play in the first Test, the continued failure of Wasim Jaffer — and the runs that Yuvraj and Gautam Gambhir have made — has made things interesting.
Jaffer made a century the last time he played for India, against Bangladesh, but his three innings here have yielded 17 runs. He has looked uncomfortable, was rooted to the crease each time he fell. If Jaffer does get another knock before the first Test, it will necessarily be a short one. What awaits him, then?
Jaffer went for one on Saturday, struck by Graham Onions right in front of the wicket in the second over of the innings; VVS Laxman, the next man in, was obviously surprised by this -- he took his time coming in, but not much going out. Beaten on the second ball he faced, Laxman perished off the third. Tendulkar, in turn, was late in coming in.
Onions was really making tears run in the Indian camp.
Dinesh Karthik was removed by Stuart Broad -- a young man of great promise, son of former England opener Chris -- and Sourav Ganguly came in to join Tendulkar. The two added 51 for the fourth wicket. England had six men in the slip-gully region for Ganguly, a clear statement of intent. Ganguly slashed one over the cordon, placed another over point. His aggression caused his fall, though -- Chris Tremlett banged one in short, angling away, and Ganguly tried to pull it. The ball went high right over the pitch and Ganguly walked.
Tendulkar, though, was looking good. Onions made the mistake of repeatedly bowling on his legs and the master got the runs easily. Tendulkar got a life when Ravi Bopara, at leg-slip, let go a possible catch. He was on 39 then, and he proceeded to give an impressive demonstration of attacking batting, cutting and cover-driving with special ferocity.
Eighteen years ago, a teen prodigy faced a master — Tendulkar took on Abdul Qadir in a one-dayer in Lahore. Saturday mirrored that contest when leg-spinner, Adil Rashid, 17, bowled to Tendulkar. The result was the same, Tendulkar ruled — he got 104 of his 171 runs against Onions and Rashid. India, though, are in disarray. The tail is exposed, India could fell way short of the opposition's total. The English cubs do carry a bite.
England Lions 1st innings
Strauss b Zaheer 1
Denly st Dhoni b Powar 83
Shah c Zaheer b Sreesanth 11
Trott c Ganguly b Zaheer 46
Bopara c Karthik b Tendulkar 29
Ambrose c Dhoni b Zaheer 4
Rashid c & b Powar 0
Bresnan not out 126
Broad c Yuvraj b Sreesanth 50
Tremlett not out 32
Extras (b-8, lb-2, nb-21) 31
Total (for 8 wkts decl) 413
Fall of wkts: 1-14, 2-62, 3-142, 4-174, 5-184, 6-185, 7-225, 8-354.
Bowling: Zaheer Khan 22-5-119-3, S. Sreesanth 21-0-76-2, Sourav Ganguly 6-2-16-0, Ishant Sharma 12-1-61-0, Ramesh Powar 25-1-96-2, Sachin Tendulkar 9-0-24-1, Yuvraj Singh 2-0-11-0.
Indians 1st innings
Karthik c Ambrose b Broad 5
Jaffer lbw b Onions 1
Laxman c Ambrose b Onions 0
Tendulkar c Shah b Onions 171
Ganguly c & b Tremlett 14
Yuvraj c Strauss b Broad 59
Dhoni batting 43
Powar b Bopara 4
Zaheer batting 0
Extras (b-4, lb-4, w-2, nb-10) 20
Total (for 7 wickets) 317
Fall of wkts: 1-2, 2-2, 3-14, 4-65, 5-205, 6-304, 7-317
Bowling: Stuart Broad 16-2-54-2, Graham Onions 17-3-68-3, Chris Tremlett 13-4-40-1, Adil Rashid 11-0-75-0, Tim Bresnan 16-2-46-0, Ravi Bopara 5.5-1-25-1.