From the publishers of THE HINDU
Vol. 25 :: No. 01 :: Jan. 05, - 11, 2002
England shows commendable resolveG. VISWANATH
TO have shaken India in the second match of the Hero Honda Test series at Motera in Ahmedabad, by having much the better of the drawn game was a big achievement for Nasser Hussain's England. Last year, across the border, Hussain's men had begun the three-Test series in Pakistan with a win in the first Test at Karachi. They drew the second and third Tests and returned home triumphant.
Early this year, England's players showed that they had an iron will. After losing the first Test by an innings and 28 runs to Sri Lanka, owing to what they alleged was poor umpiring, in Galle, they won the second and third Tests by three and four wickets respectively.
England basked in the glory of this double strike, but the Ashes series at home put things in perspective. England came second best to Australia again, though a remarkable knock by Mark Butcher saw England pull back a Test in the most adverse circumstances and against a most difficult adversary. The Ashes result was more or less expected with England handicapped at times by the absence of Hussain, Michael Vaughan and Craig White.
England had marked its winter itinerary to India carefully. Its confidence bolstered by the fact of having outwitted both Pakistan and Sri Lanka, England believed that it could beat India, too, to bring about a sort of a miracle in the sub-continent. Hussain's team might have succeeded, too, had it not been for the decisions of Alec Stewart, Darren Gough and Andrew Caddick not to travel to India for various reasons and the decision of Michael Atherton to retire at the end of the Ashes series.
England stumbled at Mohali. Even before its batsmen could read and assess the spinners, Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh, they surrendered 15 wickets to the duo to be outplayed. The fact that the pitch at the Punjab Cricket Stadium did not raise a 'dust storm', raised questions about the England batsmen's skills against the spinners.
But Hussain's team was mentally prepared to face the spinners on a flat deck at Motera. The last Test match here between India and New Zealand had ended in a glut of runs with Sachin Tendulkar scoring his first Test double hundred and Sourav Ganguly and Sadagopan Ramesh, too, helping themselves to centuries. So the signs were very clear of the surface favouring the batsmen. Had Mumbai-based Nadeem Memon been given a free hand, the pitch might have been a sporting one, but somehow things led him to make a flat track.
Graham Thorpe pulling out of the scheme of things the night before the Test must have been a big setback for England. Thorpe, considered to be the best player of spin bowling in the squad, cited 'personal reasons'. He was homebound soon to sort out marital problems. But England recovered from this blow rather quickly with Hussain winning the toss and the left-handed openers Marcus Trescothick and Mark Butcher raising 124.
This was, indeed, good going for a team that was dismissed for less than 250 runs in each innings in the first Test at Mohali. Butcher, though uncomfortable against spin, made a half century (51, 175m, 130b, 9x4). Trescothick, tipped to take over as captain from Hussain in the future, followed his 46 and 66 at Mohali with a 99, so near and yet so far from a century.
England's visits to India are so infrequent - this is just its third visit in 15 years - Trescothick would have treasured a century in only his second Test match on Indian soil. Trescothick must have spent a most nervous 20 minutes at tea time on the first day, placed as he was at 99. Then Kumble, who would regard his over after tea as his best of the match, made the ball do his bidding.
It was an extraordinary over. Trescothick (99, 244m, 156b, 11x4, 1x6) appeared to be a nervous wreck and he succumbed to the fifth ball, clipping Kumble into the hands of Deep Dasgupta. Everything looked rosy for England when Butcher and Trescothick were on song, but their dismissals 20 runs apart from each other (124 and 144) saw a temporary decline. England subsided to 180 for five wickets, both Kumble and umpire Ian Robinson, having a hand in reducing the visitor to this sorry state of affairs.
Things had happened much against the run of play, and this manifested itself again, but in England's favour on the second day when Craig White (121, 343m, 265b, 12x4, 2x6) rode his luck (reprieved three times in the 40s and 60s by Dasgupta and Kumble). He and James Foster raised 105 for the seventh wicket which enabled England to reach 400 plus, a performance that conveyed that it was determined to counter the home team's spinners, among whom Kumble was the most successful, taking seven for 115 in 51 overs.
The England bowlers matched their batsmen colleagues. Hussain had talked of a game plan before the commencement of the Test for each batsman and bowler. He worked towards implementing that when he was on the field, his main bowlers being the two seamers Matthew Hoggard and Andrew Flintoff and left-arm spinner Ashley Giles (playing his first Test in seven months). The result of their resolve was that India was bowled out for less than 300. Tendulkar (103, 254m, 197b, 12x4, 1x6) took his century tally to 27 with Venkat Sai Laxman (75, 297m, 192b, 9x4) turning out to be an able ally in the stand of 118 for the fifth wicket.
Hussain said after the match ended in a draw that, "This is as well as the team can play. Should we play anything less than this, we will come second best at Bangalore." Though England gained a first innings lead of 116 runs, it was not in a position to force a win because of its inability to raise a sizeable second innings total well inside the fourth day to declare and apply pressure on the home team. Butcher became the second England batsman to miss a century in the match. He was brilliantly held by Rahul Dravid (at slip) off Harbhajan Singh, who took five wickets, for the second time in two Tests.
England might have been in an awkward situation had the Indians accepted all the chances. Dasgupta missed quite a few. But even in the draw Hussain saw a remarkable revival in the batting form of Butcher, Trescothick and White and the bowling display of Giles. Hussain got a raw deal from umpire Robinson in the first innings, but made a fifty in the second, the same umpire negating a confident leg before appeal when he was a few runs short of the half century mark.
India's captain Ganguly defended his team's approach on the last day saying: "It was a slow turner and it would have been very difficult to score the runs at 4 plus an over. I would not blame Nasser Hussain for not declaring and for setting a defensive field on the fifth day."
Well, England was pleased with its showing. White took the 'Man of the Match' award of Rs. 35,000. This meant that Match Referee Denis Lindsay did not reckon Kumble's 10-wicket haul as being worthy of the award. There was no performance that helped a team win the match, Lindsay said. He had summoned Ganguly (for a mild reprimand perhaps) at tea time on the fourth day and Hussain too for a supposedly 'pleasant' exchange of words. Evidently, Lindsay wanted the fifth day's play to be played in the same way as the first four days were. It turned out to be a very ordinary, nay a dull, drab and dreary day, whatever one wants to call it.
The scores: England 407 (M. Butcher 51, M. Trescothick 99, M. Ramprakash 37, C. White 121, J. Foster 40, Kumble 7-115) and 257 (M. Butcher 92, N. Hussain 50, M. Vaughan 31 n.o., Harbhajan 5-71, Kumble 3-118) drew with India 291 (S.S. Das 41, S. Tendulkar 103, V.V.S. Laxman 75, Giles 5-67) and 198 for 3 (S.S. Das 58, D. Dasgupta 60, R. Dravid 26 n.o., S. Tendulkar 26).
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