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Advantage England despite fightback

After Hoggard ripped through the batting with a 5-wkt haul, Kaif saved India further blues on day 3. Scorecard

india Updated: Mar 03, 2006 19:06 IST

It's not in the nature of the Ashes champions to climb the ladder of ascendency at a feverish pace and then fall back with a thud.

But this is how one could just about perfectly describe the reverting play of cat-and-mouse, witnessed by a handful of vocal spectators at the Orange city on Friday.

On a pitch soaked up with overnight rain, England started off the day with all guns blazing. Rampaging Matthew Hoggard, surprisingly an uncertain pospect for the England side for the 1st Test and only included in the side after Simon Jones withdrew, proved that he was worth his weight in gold.

The England bowler decimated India's top order, taking a fiver for himself and demolishing India's much-acclaimed top order for his team. The Indian batters came and went, some either too defensive for their own good and others not in the mood to stay long.

From a promising post-day two scoreline of 136/1, the spectators watched in horror as the hosts surrendered meekly to 190/7.

But that was not the end of the story!

Just as England's innings was transformed by the contribution from Paul Collingwood and the tail, so did Mohammed Kaif and Anil Kumble for India.

Starting off scratchily, the duo charted India's road to relative safety with an amazing recovery.

Kaif missed his maiden century by nine runs but nevertheless pulled India back from a perilious position through a record-equaling, eighth-wicket partnership with Anil Kumble.

Kaif's career-best 91 and the latter's obdurate 58, his first test half-century after8 years and arguably his most vital batting effort helped India reach 322 for nine at stumps on the third day.

Though still 71 runs behind England's first-innings total of 393, the grit and steel shown by hosts' least fancied batsmen, revived its fortunes and brought the home team back in the game.

For the rest of India's more 'illustrative' batters, they would do well to learn a lesson or two from Kaif and even Kumble!

Final Session:

Mohammed Kaif veiled his blade and churned his run-mill as India seven down, resumed play for the final session of the third day.

The UP batsman continuing from 60 not out, played a stellar innings, replete with grit, determination that even motivated Kumble to plonk his front foot down and club the bowlers to the fence.

For the first time on Friday it looked as if India was weighing heavy on the tourists as the duo nipped the sting off English pacers.

Stand-in skipper Flintoff, scratching his head in frustration, brought on the two spinners - Panesar and Blackwell - to bowl in tandem.

But by this time, the two rollicking Indian batsman were seeing the red cherry like a football.Kaif and Kumblepunished the spinners, pouncing on anything that pitched closed their bat.

The latter,in particular, was in an unnaturally devastating mood. Favouring the region behind square, the batsman glanced, cut and pushed boundaries to which Flintoff had no strategic answer!

He broke loose and smashed his 4th Test fifty as India hunted down the300-run markwith non-chalant ease.

Post-lunch Session:

A session that had started off on a wrong note with Pathan's wicket, ended superbly with Kaif smashing his third Test fifty and leading an amazing recovery for the hosts.

With India reeling at 190/7 the batsman shed his grafting style and switched on to his attacking mode, clubbing bowlers to the fence. He combined with 'strokeless-vigil' Kumble and put on a fifty-run stand to halt the batting blues.

A tea, India hasposted 252/7, still 41 runs behind the follow-on target.

Hoggard, not satisfied with his 4-wicket windfall in the first session, had India reeling again after lunch.

Angling into Pathan from round the wicket and moving the ball away off the pitch, Pathan drove at it but could only manage an outside edge that carried straight to joyous Flintoff at second slip.

Kaif, holding fort despite some hits and edges falling short, knew that if India had to inch close to the follow-on target, he would have to do a Collingwood for his team.

Playing along with Kumble who was strokeless, but nevertheless vigilant at the crease, the duo weathered the storm and put on a counter-punch stand of fifty runs.

Flintoff, enjoying every moment till that time, was suddenly feeling the heat as the two Indian batsman rose to the occasion.

The skipper brought on Panesar and Steve Harmison into the attack, and though the run-rate never really sky-rocketed the pressure began to ease further, especially at Harmison's end. For the second day running, his radar was awry with too many deliveries drifting down the leg side.

Kaif took advantage and looked a lot more positive and compact in his play. He stepped out to the bowlers without fear - something very unnatural for him - and heaved them over extra cover and mid-wicket.

He smashed his third Test fifty and put India in a respectable position at tea.

Morning Session:

Team India suffered a bad nightmare on Friday morning, losing the whole gamut of the famed Indian batting line-up and conceding the advantage to the tourists in the first session.

With the city experiencing heavy rain on Friday night, the placid batting paradise turned turtle.

The pitch became one of those tracks, the batsmen dread. And with the English pacers firing on all cylinders, the Indian top and middle order surrendered meekly.

At lunch the scoreboard read 190 for the loss of 6 wickets.

Resuming at 136/1, Jaffer hit a cracking boundary to begin the day's proceedings. But things turned awry thereafter.

The Wall crumbled first, playing back to a full-pitched delivery from Hoggard. The ball swung back in to Dravid (40) and appeared to miss the leg stump, but Aleem Dar raised his finger without hesitation.

With Dravid back, Indian defence collapsed without a fight. In-form Jaffer (81), after playing a stellar of an innings on the second day, suffered a sudden lapse of concentration, edging straight to second slip off Hoggard.

Laxman, next up, recieved a snorter and followed Jaffer back to the pavilion. Hoggard, bouyed by the windfall, so early in the day bowled with even more vigour and spirit.

But, Sachin Tendulkar brought his years of experience into play and along with cool-headed Kaif did not let the England pacer to have a crack at them.

However, the wide-eyed Monty Panesar shocked the maestro and the whole of India, scalping Sachin (16) plumb in front with a straighter one. Replays showed that there was a hint of bat involved, but the decision was final.

With Tendulkar out of the equation, Flintoff brought the pacers back on. The skipper immediately effected a vital breakthrough, dislodging the Jharkhand marauder - MS Dhoni - for just 5 runs.


Teams:

England:
AJ Strauss, AN Cook, IR Bell, KP Pietersen, PD Collingwood, A Flintoff (captain), GO Jones (wicketkeeper), ID Blackwell, MJ Hoggard, MS Panesar, SJ Harmison.

India:
W Jaffer, V Sehwag, R Dravid (captain), SR Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, MS Dhoni (wicketkeeper), M Kaif, IK Pathan, A Kumble, Harbhajan Singh, S Sreesanth.

Hours of play: 10-12 hrs; 12.40-2.40 pm; 3-5 pm

Umpires: Ian Howell (SA) and Aleem Dar (Pak), Third umpire: I Shivram (Ind)