Zaheer Khan’s excellent bowling put India firmly in the drivers’ seat at the end of day-4 of the 2nd England Vs India Test. He had a terrific first session in which he got Alistar Cook out with a beauty. But his best balls of the session weren’t rewarded. He bowled some peaches to Michael Vaughan and Andrew Strauss that went unrewarded. He said that he had been spurred by a few pink jelly beans!
Zaheer Khan was referring to his exchange of pleasantries with Kevin Pietersen when Zaheer was batting on day-3. This had apparently been sparked by the presence of jelly beans on the pitch. Zaheer Khan flicked the offending beans away from the pitch only to find a few more on the pitch the very next ball! He apparent used that as a spur to bowl, on day-4, what was the best spell of his career so far, thereby turning the jelly-throwers into jelly themselves!
This has been a series marred by on-field pranks and verbals. I do believe Vaughan and Dravid have a responsibility to get their players to focus on the game instead. A bit of lip is perhaps good for the game. Matt Prior seems to think so anyway. But a continuous carry-on takes the sheen away from what has been a terrific contest between bat and ball. The worst offenders have been Sree Santh and Matt Prior. In my view, they should be given a hair cut, thrown into a cold shower, clipped behind their ears and asked to focus on their games instead.
But to be brutally frank about it, it was a slice of luck that brought India back into the game. Dravid took the 2nd new ball as soon as it was due. At that point, the game appeared to be slipping away from India’s control. England had squared off the deficit and were moving ahead with alacrity. Vaughan was batting well and Collingwood was steady at the other end. After having bowled Anil Kumble and Sachin Tendulkar for a few overs to usher in the new ball, Dravid took it as soon as it was due.
And talking of Sachin Tendulkar’s bowling, it must be that Dravid sees more in his bowling than most others. Or is it a case of the captain being in awe of his illustrious team-mates’ prowess? Who knows what the reason is, but it still was baffling to see Tendulkar fling leather for a few overs before lunch when the best man on the park had bowled a stirring spell of 6 overs in which he had taken 1 wicket for 9 runs. That apart, Dravids’ handling of his bowling resources was good. His field placings were good and he handled Sree Santh reasonably well too. He egged his players constantly. This was once more evident as soon as the new ball was taken.
Instead of getting on with the game as soon as the second new ball was taken, Dravid called for a mid-pitch huddle instead! This was certainly a first! Vaughan and Collingwood looked on in bemusement! Even the umpires looked. David Gover said with dripping sarcasm, “Hello, hello! The game will have to wait. We have a meeting going on”, or words to that effect. Dravid must have pleaded for some more intensity and focus. And that’s what he got. The Indians seemed hungry and desperate and altered the course of the match!
The first over with the new ball, bowled by Zaheer Khan, went for 14 runs and the second over, bowled by Sree Santh went for quite a few too. Dravid may have been wondering about his decision to claim the new ball. He may also have been wondering if his huddle-assemble-call had had any effect at all! However, a few overs into the new ball, Zaheer Khan thudded a fast ball into Vaughan. It clipped the bottom of Vaughan’s thigh pad and ricocheted onto the stumps.
India had prized the door open. And thanks to some smart cricket, India proceeded to smash the door open.
It was appropriate, in my view, that Zaheer Khan got Vaughan’s wicket. In the morning session, just as Sidebottom had made Tendulkar dance to his tunes on day-3, Zaheer Khan had Vaughan in all sorts of trouble. Vaughan had been extremely lucky to have survived that amazing spell of intense swing bowling from Zaheer Khan. Incidentally, Zaheer Khan is the 4th highest wicket taker in the list of left-arm-seamers. He is in illustrious company — Wasim Akram, Chaminda Vaas and Alan Davidson are the others. Zaheer Khan had bowled to Vaughan like a champ. Just as Tendulkar congratulated Sidebottom on day-3 after that left armer had completed his spell, Vaughan too seemed appreciative on more than one occasion!
Zaheer Khan was clearly the best bowler on view. He bowled with purpose and venom. While one could say that he was lucky with the Vaughan wicket and the Andrew Strauss wicket — a lazy, post-lunch waft — the deliveries that got Alistair Cook and Ian Bell was brutes. And the manner in which he set up Collingwoods’ wicket was smart.
I don’t believe Zaheer Khan was supported well. R. P. Singh was the only other India bowler who, in my view, bowled well. He is, in my view, a smart young bowler with maturity that defies his 22 years. Micheal Atherton claimed that the two left arm seamers, together, bowled the best spell of left-arm swing bowling that he had ever seen, apart from the spells bowled by the great Wasim Akram. I am quoting almost verbatim. David Gower’s response to that statement was, “High praise indeed.”
Although Kumble’s figures, at 3 wickets fro 104 runs, read reasonably well, he did have a poor day at the office. He did not pose too many threats and he did not ask too many questions.
But the worst culprit was Sree Santh. He started steadily but was mostly erratic. He nearly felled Pietersen with a terrible beamer. The fact that Pietersen got out a few balls later may have meant that Sree Santh had rattled him with the beamer. It just showed that Sree Santh wasn’t on top of his game. He once bumped into Michael Vaughan on his trudge back to his bowling mark. It may not have been a deliberate shoulder-contact. Nevertheless he has been fined for this transgression. Fair enough. He should concentrate on his game more.
Overall, Sree Santh had another ordinary day at the office. He bowled some good spells. But there was some tripe chucked in there for good measure too. On a day when Zaheer Khan was bowling probably the spell of his career so far, what one needed was a steadying support at the other end. Sree Santh definitely did not provide this support. He was erratic at worst and enigmatic at best. In amongst his beamers and over-stepped-by-2-feet no-balls, he even managed to deliver a ball from about a foot behind the bowling crease! This young lad needs to learn to channel his energies and his undoubted skills more effectively.
His reaction to being denied Collingwoods’ wicket was shocking. Collingwood had just gloved a Sree Santh ball to Dhoni behind the stumps. This was Howell’s chance to get in on the getting-it-wrong act. Sree Santh reacted by going around the wicket and bowling two deliberate no-ball bouncers. In both, his front foot had over-stepped by about 2 feet! That could be nothing other than intentional and deliberate!
Dravid immediately removed him from the attack next over and brought on Ganguly instead. Good call.
The contrast with R. P. Singh was stark. Singh had just scored a Pietersen’s snick to Dhoni and was celebrating with the slips by the time he turned back to see Simon Taufel deny him his glory. The snick was so obvious Blind Freddie would have given it out. Taufel’s nightmare series was merely continuing. Singh, meanwhile, merely trudged back to the top of his run and proceeded to bowl what I thought was the ball of the series so far. The next ball was a viscious inswinger that swung at terrific pace from about a foot outside off to catch Pietersen plumb in front.
Singh produced a similar delivery later on to dismiss Matt Prior.
Aaah! MAtt Prior! I think this goof is another one that needs to spend more time in the nets and less time practicing his sledges. He gives the impression that he takes the verbal/aggression side of his game a bit too seriously. If he took his batting as seriously as the sharpening of his mental game, he’d probably be a better player for it. When he got in, he was understandably, given the verbal make over by the Indians — and in particular from Sree Santh, his professional counterpart in the Indian team. Instead of getting on with his game, Prior reacted to the sledges. He air-kissed, winked, smiled and said something himself. It wasn’t surprising that he was out soon and sent packing.
Despite the wickets of Cook, Strauss and Pietersen, in my view, England had taken the 1st two sessions of the day and my session-by-session scorecard read 5-4 when we got to the second new ball.
Vaughan had played delectably. His balance and his poise were amazing. His front foot drives and his cover drives were poetry. His reaction to the verbals — and the shoulder-to-shoulder from Sree Santh — were lessons in how to cop it — Matt Prior should take note. The England captain was on top of his game. He had played a captains’ knock with little support from the rest of the bats. Along the way, Vaughan had also survived a first ball scare from Kumble. Kumble had started his spell with a fast-low top-spinner that thudded onto Vaughan’s pads. I am not sure why that was given not out! The nightmare on umpire street merely continued! But Vaughan put all of that behind him and built a wonderful innings.
Alistair Cook has a balance problem that has been rudely exposed by the Indian seamers. He has been found out to the inswinger thudding into his pads and on 4 times out of 4 in this series, he has been out in the same manner. A few years ago, Justin Langer had a similar exaggerated head-lean-to-the-left to compensate for the ball sliding down his leg side. Agarkar had exposed this weakness in his batting. Cook is going through a similar phase and needs to address this weakness. Strauss had lent support to Vaughan but his lazy post-lunch waft at a wide ball was a stupid lapse in concentration, especially from one who is vice-captain of the team! Pietersen came and went. Only Collingwood was able to lend support to Vaughan. The two of them had a good partnership going. England were motoring at that stage. And that’s when, with the second new ball, the game turned on its head. Vaughan was out and Ian Bell came into play.
The Indians had been pre-warned that Bell had received a viscious knock to his head in the nets. Zaheer Khan greeted Bell with a bouncer. He then bowled a beauty to trap Bell adjacent. R.P.Singh produced a peach to get rid of Prior and Collingwood was snapped up by Karthik in 1st slip. This was a smart catch take inches off the ground. Kumble wiped off the tail, India were left with 73 to make. They had won the last session decisively and should go on to win the Test match.
The session-score reads 6-4 and that is an apt reflection of India’s dominance of this match.