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England tease and test India

The Nagpur Test was perhaps the most creditable show by the tourists in India since 1984-85, writes Atul Sondhi.

india Updated: Mar 10, 2006 17:55 IST

To most cricket experts, a dull draw was a foregone conclusion in the Nagpur Test when stumps were drawn on day four.

In spite of anovernight bold declaration by England, India were most likely to share the honours on a placid pitch which had eased out considerably in the course of the match.

And that's how it ended,despite some flurry of runs and procession of wickets in the final session of the match. But in the process, the visitors managed quite a few feats.

It was perhaps the most creditable show by England in India since their tour of 1984-85, when they had come back to win the series by two matches to one.

India put on the defensive

After over two decades, an English side had the hosts on the defensive going into the final day of a match in India. A target of 368 in 90 overs was a fair challenge considering there is always the possibility of a batsman like Sehwag going berserk.

So this injury-ridded England side certainly cannot be accused of not showing some guts and adventurous spirit. They must be commended for not trying to make the match absolutely safe. Remember, teams like Australia and South Africa are regularly making four runs per over in Tests. So even if it was a calculated risk, it was nevertheless a big risk.

On the other hand, except for a brief show of defiance rather late in the day, India, predictably, were on the defensive after the early loss of Sehwag.

Their ‘safety-first’ approach showed in the very first session on day five, when out of 108 deliveries from Hoggard, Harmison and Flintoff, the Indians scored off only 13 balls. That is certainly not the stuff great teams are made of.

England pacers in first session on day 5

 Bowler Balls Dot balls
 Hoggard 42 39
 Harmison 42 36
 Flintoff 24 20
 Total 108 95

India's ultra-defensive approach after the loss of just one wicket should be a matter of grave concern. A team like Australia would not have given up until they had lost about 3-4 wickets. That batsmen like Laxman and Tendulkar were out of form in the longer version of the game, should be no excuse either.

Chinks in the Indian Armour

Indians are good players of fast as well as spin in the subcontinent. But they are certainly not that good when it comes to some intelligent thinking from pacemen.

MatthewHoggard was bowling around 130 km per hour most of the time, but proved lethal because of some prodigious reverse swing. He was extremely intelligent with his line and length as well, and that unnerved the Indian batsmen.

Hoggard’s opening spell on day three, which almost had England snatching a lead of around 150, was remarkable in terms of virtually no delivery bowled short of length.

Other bowlers too struck to good-length spot and did not experiment too much with short deliveries. Something which spelt the doom for India.

Hoggard's 1st spell on Day three of the Test: 6 - 3 - 6 - 3
(Length in percentage)

  1st spell
 Overpitch 13.89
 Goodlength 86.11
 Shortpitch 0.0

Indian bowling exposed

Harbhajan continues to disappoint. The Turbunator was expected to do better at the home turf after a forgettable series in Pakistan where he failed to take single wicket in his two matches.

But just two wickets at an average of 86 and a strike rate close to 200 balls per wicket at Nagpur was extremely disappointing.

Kumble’s two wickets were even more expensive with each costing him 94 runs.

With the kind of form these two bowlers are in, it will be extremely surprising if India do not opt for a ‘three seamer-one spinner’ attack for the Mohali Test.

Left-armer of the future

Monty Panesar does not have the loop of Bishen Bedi, but he does have one virtue and it is called accuracy.

Panesar just refused to bowl short even with some of the best players of spin bowling standing only 22 yards away.

Fittingly, he got Sachin Tendulkar, Mohammad Kaif and Rahul Dravid as his first three Test victims. Throughout India's first innings, Panesar bowled either full or at good-length. That he went short only once in his first Test innings was truly remarkable.

Monty's Length in the Indian Innings
(41.4-19-72-2 at end of day three)

  Balls Runs
 Overpitch 63 24
 Goodlength 183 44
 Shortpitch 1 4

England get a good cook

"Will you marry me,'' read a placard held by a young girl in Nagpur stands. Marry her Cook, and join the Indian team as opener!

A half century in the first innings and a century in the second made Alastair the most successful English debutant in the sub-continent, and 6th in the all-time England list. Ahead of even great W G Grace!

Highest run aggregates (By an England batsmen in debut Test)

Runs

Player

Vs

Venue

Season

306

RE Foster

Aus

Sydney

1903-04

216

KS Ranjitsinhji

Aus

Old Trafford

1896

199

PA Gibb

SA

Johanneburg

1938-39

195

AJ Strauss

NZ

Lord's

2004

193

G Gunn

Aus

Sydney

1907-08

164

AN Cook

Ind

Nagpur

2005-06

161

WG Grace

Aus

The Oval

1880

153

PF Warner

SA

Johannesburg

1898-99

England will bank on him and Strauss to once again put India under pressure at Mohali. And more good scores from him will also put the likes of Ian Bell under the scanner.

Converting advantage into win

The solution is simple for England. They can only do it by catching the ball more often. At Nagpur, the visitors dropped far too many catches which took the match away from them. A lead of around 150 in the first innings would have had India facing about 450 with four sessions remaining, increasing the probability of England's win that much more.

Secondly, the wicketkeeper and the slip should stand little closer to the Indians. It becomes all the more important as ball does not rise too high on Indian pitches, and most catches may not carry.

And third. England will be better served with four pacers and a spinner. Especially at Mohali which is considered one of the paciest wickets in the country.

The momentum right now is undoubtedly with England. But can they sustain it?That's the big question.

First Published: Mar 06, 2006 18:53 IST