Last men standing stonewall Indians
On a thrilling Tuesday afternoon, as the weather showed its caprices and presented a different face every hour, the Indian bowlers showed fire and resolution against county champions Sussex.
There was the smell of rain in the air and the play of shadows and light on the field as the clouds moved overhead. And Sussex came under a dark spell as, chasing 273 for victory, they were caught out by a very impressive display by the Indians.
But the hosts managed to snatch a draw, mainly due to the doggedness showed by Robin Martin-Jenkins.
The excitement, though, was contrived. The captains had agreed to make a match of it by declaring the first three innings. Sussex were assured they would be set a target of around 250, according to their coach Mark Robinson. "We'll see how it goes, we'll try to go for the runs and if we lose the wickets, we'll try to stonewall them," Robinson said.
And that's exactly they were forced to do in the late afternoon as the Indian bowlers struck. All the pacemen got wickets, and Anil Kumble too picked a fistful. Sussex were left floundering, lent hope by the clouds which thundered a lot but rained not.
Sreesanth and RP Singh were impressive right from the start, hitting the deck hard and making the ball rise, or pitching it up and making it swing. As promised, Sussex were going for their runs, with Richard Montgomerie leading the way.
There was not much support for him, though. No. 7 Martin-Jenkins was the second-highest scorer and frustrated the Indians, first in the company of Michael Thornely and then with Saqlain Mushtaq. In the end, his was the innings that proved decisive in the draw.
Dinesh Karthik kept the wickets, giving rise to speculation about MS Dhoni's spot for the Test XI --- but the fact was that Dhoni, the regular keeper, had been hit on his hand by a ball from Lewry on Monday and was out of the field for long.
In the morning, things looked dark for India. They were rocked, losing wickets in a heap, before a late burst by Dravid and RP Singh helped them declare at 184/8. Singh smashed 41 off 46 balls and added 64 with his captain after India were reduced to 120/8.
The day had begun well as Yuvraj and Karthik gave the bowlers the treatment. Undaunted, the bowlers continued to pitch the ball up, inviting drives, and the Indians responded.
Runs flowed but then, with no warning, Yuvraj fell to Kirtley, glancing the ball too fine, right into the hands of wicketkeeper Andrew Hodd. Karthik continued to play spanking drives before being caught in front of the wicket by Martin-Jenkins.
Gambhir fell in a familiar manner — a rising ball from Martin-Jenkins outside the off stump was cut hard but went right into the hands of the man at point.
At 81/5, Dravid came in to join his old mate Laxman. Laxman again looked in good touch, caressing the ball through the off side for fours. When medium-pacer Carl Hopkinson, perhaps wary about pitching it on the off, bowled on middle and leg, Laxman smacked him for two fours through the leg-side.
Laxman was looking good and was, thus, all the more disappointed with the way he lost his wicket — he smashed a short one from Saqlain right to the leg of the man at silly-point.
The ball popped up and wicketkeeper Hodd had to simply close his hands on the ball.
Sussex, similarly, managed to close the door on India, who would still be satisfied with the way they stormed the home citadel.