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Hunter becomes hunted

cricket Updated: Dec 13, 2008 01:29 IST
Anand Vasu
Anand Vasu
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

Cricket teaches new lessons every day, and on one when Harbhajan Singh equalled Lance Gibbs’ mark of 309 Test wickets, his attention was also drawn to the dangers of talking the talk before walking the walk.

Harbhajan had dismissed England’s spinners as not being a threat to India’s batsmen, but Graeme Swann took two wickets in his first over in Test cricket and Monty Panesar wheeled away to leave India at 155 for 6, still 161 adrift and well behind in the Test.

India began the day well enough, removing the dangerous Andrew Flintoff early, but they slipped in allowing Matt Prior (53 not out) to ensure that England added 87 after Flintoff's fall to stretch their first innings total to 316. India would have been disappointed, but given how well England began, the score should have given their batsmen no jitters.

Having made snide remarks about England’s approach of batting ultra-conservatively and scoring at only 2.45 runs per over, much was expected of Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir.

But neither Sehwag nor Gambhir looked comfortable. When Sehwag shaped to glide a fairly straight James Anderson delivery down to third man and ended up directing the ball back onto the stumps it did not come as a massive surprise.

Rahul Dravid, under pressure to come good after the longest poor run of his Test career, began cautiously.

Gambhir welcomed Swann to the bowling crease by drilling the first ball the offie delivered to the off-side fence.

For some reason, Gambhir chose to leave the third ball alone and the full delivery did not turn, striking pad just outside the line of off-stump.

Three balls later Dravid fell, this time because the ball gripped the surface and turned more than expected, beating the stroke. It was a tight call, with the ball bouncing a bit and heading towards leg, but just the sort of luck that seems to go against you when you’re struggling for form.

At 37 for 3, India were in a jam and it took an hour of Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman to soothe frazzled nerves. Laxman began with a wristy flick off Flintoff and whipped it through mid-wicket.

Almost for fun he repeated the stroke against Swann from the other end. Tendulkar showed excellent poise and balance, moving back in his crease perfectly to put away anything short. The two had added 61 for the fourth wicket when Laxman drove Panesar straight back down the pitch only to see the left-arm spinner hold a sharp return catch.

Soon, Tendulkar chipped the first ball of a new spell from Flintoff straight back to the bowler and at 102 for 5 India turned to Yuvraj Singh and MS Dhoni to stem the rot.

Yuvraj managed a testy 14 but could not resist driving Harmison outside the off and was caught at second slip. Now Dhoni (24 not out) stands between England and a telling first-innings lead.