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Munaf shines on rain-marred day

England were struggling despite Pietersen's fine innings.

india Updated: Mar 14, 2006 19:00 IST

It was an intense battle between bat and ball, but the Rain God decided that the Day One honours of the second Test would belong neither to India nor to England, but only to Him.

You can only feel pity for Anil Kumble who bowled like a man possessed on a flat wicket, for Kevin Pietersen who batted like a dream and for Munaf Patel whose third spell could have produced more wickets had it not rained!

England were 163/4 in the 50.3 overs that could be bowled on a day when play started 45 minutes late. If that was not enough, bad light and drizzles halted play twice more.

And the second time, at 4:45pm to be precise, turned out to be final one as the umpires eventually decided to call off play for the day after Andrew Flintoff won the toss in the morning.

England had every right to feel like the moral victor in Nagpur. Like the girl who only becomes aware of the features she has been blessed with after reaching the adolescent stage, England took a few blows in their cheeks before realising that with Alastair Cook and Monty Panesar, the two novices, they could actually challenge India in India!

No Vaughan, no Trescothick, no Jones, no Giles and yet India were on the backfoot.

It was confidence that England bought from the City of Oranges and they carried it to Mohali. And at the PCA Stadium, despite losing Andrew Strauss, Cook and Ian Bell, the talismanic Pietersen was carrying England on his shoulders and it seemed he would take them beyond India's reach.

That was when Rahul Dravid called Munaf, the debutant, for a third spell. Munaf became livelier than ever and his pace forced Pietersen (64 in 108 balls, 10 fours, 2 sixes) to play one back to the bowler. Munaf's first wicket, and a big one at that.

In the previous over, Munaf bowled with such fury that was never before seen from an Indian pace bowler. He was consistently bowling on the off-stump from a length, and each time, Paul Collingwood (19 not out) was getting late in his stroke. The fifth one, an inswinging yorker at 145km per four, would have made the two Ws proud. He didn't get the wicket. But he came closer than you could ever imagine.

The ball hit Collingwood's right leg, then rolled back only to deviate inches away from the leg-stump.

In his next over, Pietersen was gone. Andrew Flintoff (4 not out) joined Collingwood in the middle as the light became duller, Munaf was bowling quicker and the Englishmen accepted the condition.

Post-lunch session

Pietersen was at ease in answering whatever questions India's two debutants Piyush Chawla and Munaf were asking.

But then the fickle weather decided it was time for it to flirt. Play was stopped for more than an hour after Bell (38 in 68 balls, 6 fours) left alone a Kumble googly which dislodged his bail.

Bell, ever the dour player, was determined to use his bat only as a shield though Piyush almost broke through with a brilliantly disguised googly.

But with Pietersen, the bat is always a sword. Not that he doesn't put his mind when confronted by spinners. Chawla kept on bowling the leg-spinners, Pietersen only opened up when the young man erred in length, bending down on his knees to hit to the mid-wicket, first one for a four, and then for a six, as big as you could see.

Though Munaf was generating some good pace, it was his ability to bowl around off stump which was impressive. But he was bowling to Pietersen, a player who makes the art called hitting on the rise look like a walk in the park. One cover drive and then a flick to the mid-wicket fence. Munaf wasn't bad, but he was made to look like one.

After introducing Kumble for the first time, Dravid, brought back Irfan Pathan, and Pietersen walked across and the ball, which was pitched outside off stump, was flicked with ease in between mid-on and mid-wicket. Azhar would approve the roll of the wrist and Richards the swagger.

Pre-lunch session

As play started 45 minutes late due to overnight rain, batsmen were always supposed to be circumspect. In such conditions, Pathan has always delivered with the new ball.

And Thursday was no exception. As a result, England did lose two wickets in the pre-lunch session, finishing at 54/2.

Though the first wicket came only in the 11th over, a wicket is a wicket after all.

Andrew Strauss (18 in 37 balls, 1 four) edged a wide delivery. Dhoni took the catch, brilliant enough to match his strokes with the bat.

It was not a wicket-taking ball but Strauss succumbed due to the pressure Pathan was putting on with his probing line.

In Pathan's next over, Cook (17 in 39 balls, 2 fours), fresh from the hundred on debut at Nagpur, was plumb in front.

And soon England had two new batsmen - Bell and Pietersen - in the middle.

Dravid used four bowlers in the morning session, including Piyush.

Before falling, Cook and Strauss made a cautious start against Pathan and Munaf.

Irfan pitched the ball up, looking for that swing while Strauss welcomed Munaf in Test cricket by hitting his first ball, a fuller one, to the long-off boundary.

The boy from Gujarat bowled a better length after that by consistently pitching the ball in the corridor of uncertainty.

But Munaf was taken off after three overs by Dravid and Harbhajan Singh was introduced in the seventh over of the innings.

Changes in both teams

India made two changes in the team, dropping VVS Laxman and Mohammad Kaif. Munaf and leg-spinner Piyush Chawla earned their first India caps.

England made one change. Medium pacer L Plunkett have come in place of Ian Blackwell.

Teams:

India: Virender Sehwag, Wasim Jaffer, Rahul Dravid (captain), Sachin Tendulkar, Yuvraj Singh, MS Dhoni, Irfan Pathan, Anil Kumble, Harbhajan Singh, Munaf Patel, Piyush Chawla.

England: Alastair Cook, Andrew Strauss, Ian Bell, Kevin Pietersen, Paul Collingwood, Andrew Flintoff, G Jones, Matthew Hoggard, Steve Harmison, L Plunkett, Monty Panesar.