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Day 1: England in comfortable position

A century by Strauss and a fine half century on debut by Shah were first day's highlights. Eng 272/3. Scorecard

india Updated: Mar 19, 2006 04:33 IST

After seeing the last ten overs off, never an easy task, Andrew Flintoff must have been a relieved man.

England required his calm presence in the middle as Indians were sniffing blood after two quick wickets.

Flintoff (17 not out in 31 balls, 2 fours, 1 six) didn't play a single false stroke in the company of Paul Collingwood (11 not out in 36 balls, 1 four), denying the rejuvenated Indians any more wickets and ensuring that the cultured effort of the other Andrew— Strauss — would not go in vain.

After Rahul Dravid, playing his 100th Test, won the toss and put them in on a wicket where there was fair amount of grass, England finished Day One of the third Test at 272/3.

It was a day when Munaf Patel, without taking a wicket, shone almost as bright as the centurion Strauss. Owasis Shah, the debutant, too hit a half-century before hurting his wrist and retiring.

Not to forget Sreesunth (2/51) who yet again showed the heart required for a fight by bowling as well as he did and never getting depressed even when the edges were falling at no man's land.

Bhajji's blow:

Harbhajan Singh, like Irfan Pathan, rarely threatened to take a wicket.

But once he decided to come around the wicket, the ball did enough—turn and bounce — to win the outside edge of Strauss' swinging bat before resting in MS Dhoni's gloves.

And with that came to an end to Strauss' 128 (239 balls, 17 fours, 1 six), an innings played with verve and vigour.

It was a wicket that Indians were so desperately looking for. Soon there was to be one more delight when Sreesunth put an end to Kevin Pietersen's dare devil act at the wicket.

Apart from playing some astounding shots, Pietersen (39 in 63 balls, 5 fours, 1 six) had edged one off Sreesunth in between the first and the wide second slip and then top-edging one to almost the man at fine-leg.

It was only fitting that he eventually fell to Sreesunth, edging one to be caught behind.

Flintoff joined Collingwood, another new man in the middle.

Intense battle:

A wrist injury prevented Shah from resuming his innings after tea, but that could not stop Strauss from registering his eighth Test hundred, his first against India.

There were no signs of nerve as from 88— three shots in three consecutive balls off Harbhajan— all that Strauss took to complete what was indeed a very fine hundred.

A square drive, a cut ferocious enough to beat Dravid at slip and a sweep so full of swagger telling Harbhajan who was the boss in what Englishmen still call Bombay.

After Shah was retired hurt, Pietersen came in to be interrogated by a villager from Gujarat called Munaf Patel.

Munaf was speaking a language with the ball Pietersen couldn't understand because if he would bowl three good length balls, the next would be a bouncer and next to that would be a yorker.

Pietersen, skilful as he is with the bat, was hanging in there, but what was staggering to see that a boy, in only his second Test, bowling as crafty a spell as he did. Even Strauss, batting on more than 100, was not spared and was beaten by both pace and movement.

It must have been inspiring as the crowd, after a prolonged quiet period, started indulging themselves in the Mexican Wave!

It takes a lot to bowl fast and Munaf's first spell (5-2-8-0) after tea had to come to an end.

Pietersen could breathe and he just walked his way to the pitch of the ball, driving Anil Kumble to long-off boundary and to deafening silence in the arena.

Kumble wouldn't relent though. In his next over, he was teasing Strauss (on 123) with his variations and eventually kissed the outside edge only to be left heartbroken as Dhoni came up with a frustrating effort with gloves.

The Fat Lady was refusing to smile on Indians!

Play after lunch:

Post lunch session's play began and so did England's attempt to push the scoring rate.

After adding 95 runs after lunch, losing no wicket even though there was a debutant in the middle, England could sip tea with a much-relaxed mind.

Shah (50 not out in 98 balls, 8 fours) recently had spent some time with Mohammad Azharuddin who gave him some tips. The batsman says that has helped become the batsman he is now.

On Saturday, his virgin Test innings fetched him a half-century, and an attractive one at that!

The Karachi born batsman played one flick off Irfan Pathan to mid-wicket fence as if to show that you could use the wrist like the Hyderabad wizard wearing an English shirt.

In the same over, he played a straight drive off the same bowler, the kind of shot that you would like to see again and again without ever getting bored.

That might have lifted Strauss as he not only completed his half-century, but also did it with some style by pulling Munaf Patel who was bowling quick and short from around the wicket.

That was the indication of things to come. The usually unflappable Kumble pitched one short and Strauss rocked back to pull him over mid-wicket.

Dravid replaced the leggie with Harbhajan, but Strauss found him too easy to sweep.

Strauss was beginning to play the way Indians had only seen before. But this day, it was them who were at the receiving end and Strauss was presenting everything which was beautiful to watch, but not if you were the bowler and the rival captain.

Dravid must have been thinking: If only I had opted to bat!

Pre-lunch session:

Strauss and Ian Bell were determined: Come what may, we will play as few shots as we can!

Dravid used all his bowling weapons that he had at his command.

But the swing of Pathan, the seam position of Sreesunth, the nagging line of Munaf, the accuracy of Kumble and the turn of Harbhajan were finding hard to separate the two Englishmen until Bell once again proved that his temperament still had miles to go before matching his technique.

When everything was set for him to get a big score, Bell (18 in 69 balls, 2 fours) played on the rise off Sreesunth, failed to keep it down and Harbhajan at point took the easiest possible catch.

England took lunch at 63/1, a score that suggests that the pitch might have grass, but good enough to bat on.

After Bell's fall, Shah joined Strauss who looking determined to show the Indians his prowess, which had earlier proved hot for West Indies, New Zealand, South Africa and even Australia.

Different tactics:

Both Dravid and Flintoff had something new to offer.

While Dravid decided that it would be Sreesunth who would share the new ball with Pathan, Flintoff sent Bell, England's best defensive bat and bet, with Strauss to give them the platform.

Strauss was in his elements whenever he got fuller balls from Pathan who was looking for that swing. Only once in his second over he pitched one on length, which went past Strauss' bat, pad and off-stump to Dhoni.

Bell was happy to leave everything to Dhoni barring the ones when Sreesunth and Pathan attacked his stumps.

Changes in teams:

Sreesunth replaced Piyush Chawla in the Indian team while Shah and James Anderson replaced Alastair Cook, Liam Plunkett. Also in the team was Shaun Udal, the off-spinner, who was celebrating his 37th birthday on Saturday.

Squads:

India: Virender Sehwag, Wasim Jaffer, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Yuvraj Singh, MS Dhoni, Irfan Pathan, Anil Kumble, Harbhajan Singh, S Sreesunth, Munaf Patel.

England: Andrew Strauss, O Shah, Ian Bell, Kevin Pietersen, Paul Collingwood, Andrew Flintoff, Geraint Jones, Matthew Hoggard, S Udal, James Anderson, Monty Panesar.

First Published: Mar 18, 2006 09:33 IST