From the publishers of THE HINDU

VOL.32 :: NO.01 :: Jan. 03, 2009


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Dhoni’s men of mettle

With chunks of valuable time lost due to poor light, the Test was destined for a draw. However, the 1-0 series win enabled India to reclaim the second spot in the ICC Test rankings. S. Dinakar reports.

It was winter time and the woollens were out. The icy winds did not make the cricketers’ job easy. Considering the chunks of valuable time lost due to poor light, the second and final Test was destined to end in a draw. The Test, though, was not without its moments.

With a 1-0 series triumph, India reclaimed the second place in the ICC Test rankings. Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s men had combined well as a unit and found the right answers in stressful situations. While the side was strong in batting, it possessed great variety in its attack — right-arm pace, left-arm pace, off-spin and leg-spin. India also played tough, hard-nosed cricket; it did not leave its flanks open.

Rahul Dravid regained his form under difficult conditions; the pacemen achieved movement under cloud cover on a surface with a tinge of green but Dravid held firm with his technique and resolve. The deeply introspective cricketer believed in his ability and his 26th Test hundred was a significant effort.

Gautam Gambhir was solid, yet enterprising. The left-hander has tightened his game around the off-stump without compromising on flair. He made 179 in the first innings and 97 in the second. He was adjudged the Man of the Match.

Kevin Pietersen conjured a 144 of dash and dazzle — his inspired innings included the debatable switch-hit. The England captain’s batting is light on feet and heavy in entertainment content.

Gambhir appeared solid at the crease; his batting was an amalgam of front-footed defence, judgement in the corridor and some bright strokeplay. When provided the width and length, the left-hander employed the cut and the pull. He responded to fuller length deliveries with flowing drives. Among the finest players of spin in the land, Gambhir used his feet and read the spinners from the hand. He whipped and swept them, created room for the inside-out cover drives and milked them down the ground.

For all his stroke-making ability, Gambhir stonewalled on day four. India, ahead in the series, had lost early wickets and the left-hander blocked or left deliveries alone; it was an innings of a team man.

Despite a healthy lead, India had to ensure against a collapse; wickets had fallen in clusters in the match.

Gambhir went past the 1000-run mark in Tests for the year; he had achieved the feat in the ODIs as well. Gambhir is one who can switch gears rather effortlessly.

As for Dravid, much of his batting is about him entering a zone mentally. In this territory, he is relaxed without losing his intensity, his mind and body in harmony. There have been occasions this year when Dravid, in a manner not suited to his style of play, had attempted to rush through the early phase.

Technically, he was not balanced in his early movement and this resulted in Dravid reaching out for deliveries outside the off-stump. Mentally, he was not backing the methods that had made him one of cricket’s foremost run-getters. Dravid’s rhythm is built around a strong defence; he increases the tempo gradually.

Dravid got his batting rhythm right at Mohali; his 136 brought an extended dry run to conclusion. His was also an innings of minor technical changes. Dravid had opened up his stance slightly. His stance was not wide enough to hamper his front-footed drives, but enabled him to have a good look at deliveries on or around the off-stump.

Dravid played or left the ball, covering for the possible inward movement. Whether getting a big stride forward or going right back, he was decisive in his footwork. When Andrew Flintoff sent down the short-pitched stuff, Dravid swayed away from the line. On those rare occasions when he was unsure about the direction of movement, Dravid loosened his grip on the handle; even if the edge was found, the ball would not carry to the cordon.

For most part, Dravid watched the bowler’s hand closely to pick the deviation. He used the depth of the crease well in defence and offence.

Dravid and Gambhir put on a record 314 runs for the second wicket.

Kevin Pietersen innovated. He was almost balletic in his movements. The intrepid batsman created scoring opportunities out of nothing. The switch-hit over the mid-wicket fence had Harbhajan Singh looking on in disbelief.

Pietersen employed the sweep and the reverse sweep to disrupt the length of the spinners. He drove the pacemen off either foot and was not averse to giving the quicker bowlers the charge.

Batsmen adopting a two-eyed stance like Pietersen does are in a good positions for the pull shot or the back-footed punches on the off-side. However, getting their front foot across for the drives can be hard. But then, Pietersen moves into a much straighter position at the point of delivery. The Englishman’s ability to pick the length early, bat-speed and an extremely keen eye enable him to dominate the bowlers.

The feature of his batting is balance — even while moving across to essay the flick or whip the ball through the leg side. And he continues to unsettle bowlers — when Mishra bowled from round-the-wicket, the loose-limbed batsman negated the tactics with stunning reverse sweeps.

Pietersen also called Yuvraj Singh — or rather the manner in which the Indian cricketer sent down left-arm spin — a “pie-chucker”. This, predictably, invited a response from Yuvraj. The punishing left-hander boomed in the second innings with some big drives, inside-out strokes and front-footed pulls. He missed a hundred but is growing in confidence in Tests.

Flintoff’s pace, heart and precision was another highlight of the Test; his tally of wickets did not reflect the intensity of his bowling. Ian Bell failed with the willow but did a Jonty Rhodes on the field while running out Virender Sehwag in the second innings.

Alastair Cook made a pleasing half century in the first innings.

Mishra consumed Paul Collingwood with a classical leg-spinner of flight, dip and away spin to underline his potential. Off-spinner Harbhajan Singh has not looked at his best this year but his tally of wickets tell a different story — he has 63 scalps in 13 Tests.

The Indian pace combination of Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma impressed. The left-right duo struck with the new ball, reverse swung the old and maintained the pressure on the batsmen. This is a high-quality pair of control and craft. Zaheer, rightly, was adjudged the Man of the Series.


Second Test, Punjab Cricket Association Stadium, Mohali, Chandigarh, December 19-23, 2008.

Result: Match drawn.

India — 1st innings: G. Gambhir c Cook b Swann 179, V. Sehwag c Prior b Broad 0, R. Dravid c Panesar b Swann 136, S. Tendulkar lbw b Swann 11, V. V. S. Laxman lbw b Flintoff 0, Yuvraj Singh c Prior b Panesar 27, M. S. Dhoni c sub (O. A. Shah) b Anderson 29, Harbhajan Singh c Swann b Panesar 24, Zaheer Khan b Flintoff 7, A. Mishra b Flintoff 23, I. Sharma (not out) 1, Extras (b-5, lb-5, nb-6) 16. Total: 453.

Fall of wickets: 1-6, 2-320, 3-329, 4-337, 5-339, 6-379, 7-418, 8-418, 9-446.

England bowling: Anderson 32-5-84-1, Broad 26-9-84-1, Flintoff 30.2-10-54-3, Panesar 23-2-89-2, Swann 45-11-122-3, Collingwood 2-0-10-0.

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

Fall of wickets: 1-0, 2-1, 3-104, 4-131, 5-280, 6-282, 7-285, 8-290, 9-293.

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

India — 2nd innings: G. Gambhir c Bell b Swann 97, 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 Singh (run out) 86, M. S. Dhoni c & b Panesar 0, Harbhajan Singh (not out) 5, Extras (b-10, lb-8, w-5, nb-3) 26. Total: (for 7 wkts. decl.) 251.

Fall of wickets: 1-30, 2-36, 3-44, 4-80, 5-233, 6-241, 7-251.

England bowling: Anderson 19-8-51-1, Broad 14-2-50-1, Flintoff 13-1-39-0, Swann 17-3-49-1, Panesar 10-0-44-1.

England — 2nd innings: A. J. Strauss (not out) 21, A. N. Cook c Laxman b Sharma 10, I. R. Bell (not out) 24, Extras (b-4, w-1, nb-4) 9. Total: (for 1 wkt.) 64.

Fall of wicket: 18.

India bowling: Zaheer Khan 3-0-11-0; I. Sharma 5-1-7-1; Harbhajan Singh 11-3-25-0; A. Mishra 8-1-16-0, M. S. Dhoni 1-0-1-0.

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