It was a magical day for Team India. Almost everything seemed to go according to plan. India ended her first innings on 664 and in reply, England are 24 for 1. England need a further 440 runs to make India bat again!
It was a day where India, in my calculations, won all 3 sessions. The session-by-session score card reads 5-0 in India’s favour and with 9 sessions left in the match, I strongly believe that India have helped eliminate one of the 3 possible results. I do not believe England can win from here. It will take something of heroic proportions for England to win this game; for that to happen, England would have to win all 9 remaining sessions and India will need to play remarkably badly. With a series win on the line, I can’t see India playing consistently badly for the remaining 9 session. While I am not that confident of an India win — thanks to the benign nature of the pitch — I believe that a thrilling draw may still be on the cards.
The one factor that could weigh in India’s favour is British pride. Peter Moores, the England coach said at the end of day-2, “Everyone’s motivated because it’s the last Test of the summer and we’re playing to try and save the series. All the batters are going out to get a score, for themselves and for the team, and one thing that’s in our favour is the speed you can score at. The outfield’s very quick and the wicket is very good. The batters are looking forward to having a go on it, so we’ll just see where we get to.”
If England goes out in a positive frame of mind, and with a view to still winning from here, India could squeeze in for the kill. Kumble can afford to bowl with 3-4 around the bat. Dravid could look to choke the runs at one end and attack all-out from the other end. This will be a test of Dravid’s captaincy aggression. There is not much in the pitch, but the batsmen have delivered the runs on the board. The pace and the aggression was dictated by the captains’ pre-match sound-bytes as well as his purposefulness while batting. It is now upto the captain to set the same tone on the field. That, mixed with Britsh pride and aggression may well give India the game. The next 3 days will tell us which way this cookie is going to crumble!
It was a terrific team performance from India. Just as Dinesh Karthik and Rahul Dravid laid the foundations on day-1, the second day saw Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid build a strong foundation in the first session. Sachin Tendulkar was keen to ensure that he batted England out of the game. Laxman on the other hand, mixed caution with class. He had once again done the hard work and also enjoyed the benefit of a let-off — once again from Matt Prior behind the sticks. However, yet again, Laxman could not press on the advantage and departed after yet another classy 50!
Matt Prior, whose chat level has been greater than his skill level, had a forgettable match thus far. His collection has been ordinary. He dropped Tendulkar and Laxman and he has given away 33 byes — an embarassingly high number! No doubt this was assisted by some wayward bowling. However, Prior will be embarassed to see his name in the record books.
After Tendulkar departed to a terrific ball, understandably disappointed at not reaching a century, we saw some unbelievable pyrotechnics from M. S. Dhoni. He displayed a stunning array of strokes. He played the pace bowlers with panache and simply culled the spinners. It was all devastating stuff. At the other end, Anil Kumble played like a 1-down batsman. He leaned into his cover drives and knelt as his off-drove with skill. And suddenly, Kumble was on the verge of an unlikely century! If he had played a batsman’s innings right through, the shot that got him his century was classic-Kumble though! He somehow got his bat to a ball that was pitched way outside his off stump. The ball was somehow squeezed through between bat and ground and between Priors’ legs. Kumble, who had charged down the wicket to meet the ball, dived back desprately into his crease and was all arms and legs! And lest the umpire declare the resulting four runs as byes, Kumble raised his arms in acknowledgement of potential congratulations even before the ball was halfway to the boundary! Ah, classic Kumble stuff!
I said at the begining of the game that it would be foolish for the press to merely focus on farewelling the Fab Four. Anil Kumble also made his debut in England in the same match that Tendulkar made his first century at Old Trafford. To not include him in the farewell celebrations would be a folly. Well, with his sensational ton here, Anil Kumble has scripted himself firmly into the farewell party! And there may well be more to come from this indefatigable and admirable war-horse!
If India made one mistake, it was in not declaring the innings closed immediately at that point. Dravids’ rationale for batting out an additional 4-5 overs escaped me.
India are clearly ahead in this game and need to go for the jugular. An additional spinner would have helped India’s cause. But they have started the bowling well thanks to a mindless shot from Andrew Strauss. He hooked a Zaheer Khan ball irresponsibly down Sree Santh’s throat at fine leg. But that is what mental fatigue does to you. After nearly 170 overs in the hot sun, the brain does tend to get scrambled and the muscles get weary. Who knows? An additonal 4-5 overs of time may have got India another wicket or two. And I do believe that it is the mental game that will get India ahead on day-3. There is nothing much in the pitch although there were some indications that Kumble will make the ball bite and jump. A bit of aggression and a lot of chatter mixed with attacking close-in fields could deliver India this game.
India could well have had another wicket if Ian Howell had been awake. His shocking match continued when he refused to give James Anderson out. He was struck plumb in line by a wonderful Sree Santh delivery although there was bat-pad doubt. And this is where Howell’s inexperience came through. A bat-first-then-pad would have been normally squeezed square of the wicket. If it did travel straight down the wicket, a bat-first-then-pad shot would have minimal power in it. This ball, however, screamed to the deep mid-on boundary thereby clearly indicating that it was a pad-first-bat-next shot. Howell’s inexperience yielded the benefit of doubt to James Anderson when there was neither a need for benefit or doubt!
In 2003-4 in Sydney, India had put 705 on the board against Australia. There again, Sourav Ganguly had delayed the declaration by at least half an hour. Who knows what that extra half hour would have given him and the team in that match? In that match, India did have two spinners in Kumble and Murali Karthik. In this match, India only have Kumble. So the road ahead is potentially hard for India. But the saving grace is that it is incredibly hard for England. They have almost certainly lost this series. The question in my mind is whether the final scoreline will be 1-0 or 2-0.
It has been a terrific team-batting-performance by India who had as many as eight 50+ parterships — a first in cricket!
India must now hope for an all-round bowling performance as it searches for an outright victory in this game…