Wednesday, December 24, 2008

India takes series from England

As expected, the Mohali Test petered out to a draw with Gautam Gambhir and Yuvraj Singh getting some functional but meaningless batting practice on a hollow final day. Neither got to their centuries and India's declaration left England a hypothetical 403 to win or, more pragmatically, 44 overs to bat.

Ishant Sharma removed Alastair Cook cheaply, but that was as good as it got for India - Ian Bell and Andrew Strauss denied them further success, batting out the remainder of the Test.

The fourth innings was but a formality. Cook nicked Ishant Sharma to VVS Laxman at second slip, and an out-of-form Bell poked and prodded, shuffled and swayed against pace and spin to accompany Strauss to the close. The match was dissolving into a farce when Mahendra Singh Dhoni brought himself on to bowl slow dibbly-dobblers, after which the umpires called off play.

Resuming on 134 for 4, India added 82 without fuss in a truncated 13-over morning session after thick fog delayed play by two-and-a-half hours. Gambhir and Yuvraj started cautiously before opening up with a range of aggressive strokes, Yuvraj fetching himself three sixes.

By the time lunch was taken, India's run rate for the morning was well over six and the way Yuvraj, especially, and Gambhir were batting, it appeared a spent England were cruising towards a bruising. Instead the two batsmen came out of the interval quite content to bide their time, but England snapped up three wickets.

If Bell's demolition of the stumps yesterday snubbed Virender Sehwag before he could ignite, his direct hit cut Yuvraj short of a century. Yuvraj swept the ball towards short fine leg and Bell swooped in to nail down the stumps with an accurate throw after Yuvraj had turned back.

Eight deliveries later, England saw the back of Dhoni, who handed Monty Panesar his easiest wicket on a thoroughly disappointing tour. Bell then stunningly intercepted a loose cut to his left at backward point, leaving Gambhir short of his hundred by three runs and prompting India to declare.

For practical purposes, it should have happened earlier, after Yuvraj and Gambhir batted England out of contention. India had dug themselves into a pattern of nervous watchfulness yesterday afternoon, their strenuous approach numbing a sparse crowd into a coma, but Yuvraj's sparkling innings before stumps had livened up proceedings.

This morning, as the gloom steadily cleared, Yuvraj carried on in the same vein and succeeded in drawing some aggression from Gambhir too, whose bat had attracted barnacles on day four.

Yuvraj grabbed the initiative with a medley of punchy drives and slogs, including one particularly disdainful six off James Anderson. The last couple of Yuvraj's sixes came against his old sparring partner Broad and recalled images of that famous over in Durban, when he hit six in a row.

First came an audacious shot, a front-foot, flat-batted bludgeon over mid-on, and then a scoop over backward point. Broad then bowled a clever wide yorker which Yuvraj edged to third man for a single, and Gambhir saw out the over.

India's decision to come out after lunch will draw plenty of debate. The two set batsmen had already shoved England into a deep corner, and it appeared the only reason to continue batting was to hunt individual records.

In the end, neither Gambhir nor Yuvraj raised landmarks while India scored just 35 runs in the last 10 overs. After the thriller in Chennai, it was the weather, ultimately, that scuppered what could have been a great Test.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Gambhir holds fort, prevents collapse

Gautam Gambhir stone-walled even as Yuvraj Singh cut loose. Cricket is a team game that is often played out in partnerships. And India has been finding the right answers in stressful situations this home season.

The 54-run unbeaten association between the two left-handers of contrasting heights — the duo forced the bowlers to bowl different lengths — swelled India’s lead to 285 with six wickets remaining going into the final day.

Outside chance

At stumps on day four of the second and final Test at the PCA Stadium, India was 134 for four in its second innings. England was in with an outside chance after V.V.S. Laxman was run-out and India was down to 80 for four.

Then, Yuvraj (39 batting, 40b, 5x4, 1x6) joined Gambhir. Kevin Pietersen, rightly, kept attacking fields for most part but missed a trick by not employing Andrew Flintoff for a longer period against Yuvraj. Flintoff has troubled Yuvraj with his bounce and movement in this series.

Panesar gets the stick

Monty Panesar had dismissed Yuvraj in the first innings but then a left-arm spinner is hardly the right option against a left-handed batsman in a pressure situation. Yuvraj took a heavy toll off Panesar even as the left-armer struggled with his action. Under the circumstances, Flintoff was under-bowled.

Gambhir’s innings (44 batting, 155b, 3x4) was a lot about character and fight; the Indians have played tough, hard-nosed cricket this year. Ahead 1-0 with just one full day left in the series, India’s ploy was to completely shut the door on England.

When the Indians batted again, the England pacemen hit the right areas. There was a measure of assistance for the pacemen from the surface as well. Wickets had fallen in clutches in this Test and India — despite a 151-run lead — had to ensure against a collapse.

Gambhir’s determined knock has to be seen in this context. He concentrated hard and put a lid on his attacking instincts. The left-hander played close to the body, was sure about his off-stump, and countered movement with front-footed play.

Creating pressure

James Anderson and Stuart Broad created pressure from either end with the new ball. The duo, rightly, employed a fuller length and got the ball to deviate late.

It was, however, a brilliant display of fielding that ended the opening partnership. Racing in from short cover, Ian Bell dived full length to shatter the stumps and catch Virender Sehwag short of the crease.

England continued to strike. Rahul Dravid committed the error of not getting on to his front foot to a good length off-cutter from Broad and Sachin Tendulkar opened the face of the willow to an Anderson delivery well outside the off-stump.

Flintoff steamed in to bowl an unerring stump-to-stump line and Anderson probed the batsmen with two-way movement. There was some encouragement for off-spinner Graeme Swann but the England close-in fielders failed to snaffle half-chances.

Fog delays start

Earlier, fog delayed the start by two hours but the Indians brought the England first innings to a swift conclusion. In a collapse beginning late on Sunday, England slumped from 280 for four to 302 all out.

Harbhajan Singh varied his trajectory and spun the ball in from a shade outside the off-stump for most part. However, he struck with a different kind of delivery — one that pitched on middle and spun to leg. Attempting to work the ball, Matt Prior got a nick.

Then, the left-handed Broad shouldered arms to a Harbhajan delivery angled into him from round-the-wicket. The off-spinner had done well to switch angles to the southpaw.

Impressive record

Harbhajan extracted turn and bounce, bowling in a relaxed frame of mind. His bowling has often come under the scanner in the last few months but Harbhajan — to his credit — has 63 wickets in 13 Tests (including the on-going match) this year.

He is snapping at the heels of South African paceman Dale Steyn who leads with 64 scalps in 12 Tests so far.

Left-arm paceman Zaheer Khan bowled with precision. Zaheer is at the peak of his ability; his run-up, load-up, wrist and seam positions, and the release blend into one synchronised motion from both over and round the wicket.

Zaheer speared one through Swann’s defence; swing does sting.

The paceman is just three short of 200 wickets in Test cricket.


  India — 1st innings: 453.

England — 1st innings: A. Strauss lbw b Zaheer 0, A. Cook lbw b Zaheer 50, I. Bell b Ishant 1, K. Pietersen lbw b Harbhajan 144, P. Collingwood c Dhoni b Mishra 11, A. Flintoff c Gambhir b Mishra 62, J. Anderson (not out) 8, M. Prior c Dhoni b Harbhajan 2, S. Broad b Harbhajan 1, G. Swann b Zaheer 3, M. Panesar c Gambhir b Harbhajan 5; Extras (b-1, lb-7, nb-6, w-1): 15; Total (in 83.5 overs): 302.

Fall of wickets: 1-0 (Strauss), 2-1 (Bell), 3-104 (Cook), 4-131 (Collingwood), 5-280 (Pietersen), 6-282 (Flintoff), 7-285 (Prior), 8-290 (Broad), 9-293 (Swann).

India bowling: Zaheer 21-3-76-3, Ishant 12-0-55-1, Yuvraj 6-1-20-0, Harbhajan 20.5-2-68-4, Mishra 24-0-75-2.

India — 2nd innings: G. Gambhir (batting) 44, V. Sehwag (run out) 17, R. Dravid b Broad 0, S. Tendulkar c Swann b Anderson 5, V.V.S. Laxman (run out) 15, Yuvraj (batting) 39; Extras (b-4, lb-3, nb-2, w-5): 14; Total (for four wkts. in 50 overs): 134

Fall of wickets: 1-30 (Sehwag), 2-36 (Dravid), 3-44 (Tendulkar), 4-80 (Laxman).

England bowling: Anderson 15-8-32-1, Broad 11-2-22-1, Flintoff 9-1-16-0, Swann 8-2-20-0, Panesar 7-0-37-0.