S. Ram Mahesh
A match to remember for Freddie `Fantastic' Flintoff and his men
Mumbai: The fourth day had left the third Test in a three-quarter knot of tension only the final few threads needed to be tied together. For India, though, it unravelled rather quickly after lunch on the final day here at the Wankhede Stadium. Set 313 to win, the home side had ended Tuesday on 18 for one. Seventy-four minutes after lunch, the English huddle quivered. India was rolled over for 100 courtesy a frenzied passage of play in the second session that witnessed a capitulation like few other seven wickets for 25 runs in just over 15 overs.
The series was shared 1-1, and Andrew Flintoff had won his country its first Test in India since David Gower's men put one over Sunil Gavaskar's side at the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium in January 1985. India's total of 100 also has the ignominy of being the second lowest score against England in its backyard; in 1976/77, India had been bundled out for 83, again, at Chennai.
Through Wednesday's first session Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid seemed to be setting things up for the kind of finish ideal for the ornamented, dewy-eyed reconstruction on a winter day in front of grand-kids and a fireplace. But, any thoughts of a post-prandial settling into seats to watch these modern-day masters both in milestone Tests, both subjected to the crowd's harangue combat England in a battle of wills were quickly dispersed.
The third ball after the lunch break was characteristic of the many its creator had delivered before taut swing borne of a high muscular arm, not the banana loop of the slingy round arm, and just enough grip on the pitch to hold its line. Dravid, drawn into it, pushed, nicked and walked. With India's best batsman gone, the mantle fell on Tendulkar the side's only other batsman with the defensive technique to bat out time.
In the midst of an inexplicable slump in form in Tests he's been doing all right in the instant format during the same period and with a shoulder injury that will put him out of circulation for at least eight weeks, the home town man had walked to the crease with India at 33 for three after Kumble and Jaffer had been dispensed with within the first eleven overs of the day.
Tendulkar took the score in his skipper's sedating presence to 75 before Dravid left. The next over, he squeezed out one that turned from Shaun Udal to see Ian Bell, at short-leg, move sharply to his left. Nine balls after lunch, India's two kingpins were back in the hut. "That was the killer blow," Dravid said later. It was a pity, for Tendulkar, while not quite the Tendulkar of old (will he ever be? and will we recognise it then?), had looked full of possibilities.
A wristy on-drive struck sweet off Anderson after an educated edge to get off the mark suggested the spark wasn't far off. When a leading edge went past the mosquito-crushing clap of bowler Flintoff, the Indian fans thought the force was with him. A back-foot punch for three off Anderson, a full toss put away and a lean-back cut off Monty Panesar looked encouraging. But, it wasn't to be.
Virender Sehwag, who came in at seven with Wasim Jaffer as his runner, left much the same way his opening partner and current runner had nailed leg-before on the move to one that reversed. At least Jaffer would have had the perverse consolation of being the victim of some excellent, sustained bowing: a short ball put him on his back heel, consequently he couldn't press forward enough or get his bat down in time for the one that arced in.
Udal finishes with four
M.S. Dhoni found out that not even Panesar as comically inept a fielder as one would hope to see would forgive stultifying strokes and the contest was long over before Munaf lofted Udal to Hoggard. The balding 37-year-old off-spinner finished with four, but it was his skipper, Freddie Fantastic, who had done the star turn: a fifty in each innings, four wickets in the match and captaincy predicated on elementary cricket logic short, switching spells for the quicks in the heat on the back of good batting first up.
For India, the shake-up was rude: through the series the top-order failed and the catching was abysmal as captain Dravid pointed out. Despite the gains of two promising pacemen in Munaf and Sreesanth, and Kumble's customary excellence, soul-searching would be in order.
INDIA'S LOWEST TOTALS AT HOME
75 vs West Indies (Delhi, 1987-88)
83 vs England (Chennai, 1976-77)
83 vs New Zealand (Chandigarh, 1999-2000)
88 vs New Zealand (Mumbai, 1964-65)
89 vs New Zealand (Hyderabad, 1969-70)
90 vs West Indies (Kolkata, 1983-84)
100 vs England (Mumbai, 2006)SCOREBOARD
England 1st innings: 400.
India 1st innings: 279.
England 2nd innings: 191.
India 2nd innings: W. Jaffer lbw b Flintoff 10, I. Pathan b Anderson 6, A. Kumble lbw b Hoggard 8, R. Dravid c Jones b Flintoff 9, S. Tendulkar c Bell b Udal 34, Yuvraj c Collingwood b Flintoff 12, V. Sehwag lbw b Anderson 0, M.S. Dhoni c Panesar b Udal 5, Harbhajan c Hoggard b Udal 6, S. Sreesanth (not out) 0, M. Patel c Hoggard b Udal 1; Extras (b-1, lb-4, nb-3, w-1) 9; Total (in 48.2 overs) 100.
Fall of wickets: 1-6, 2-21, 3-33, 4-75, 5-76, 6-77, 7-92, 8-99, 9-99.
England bowling: Hoggard 12-6-13-1, Anderson 12-2-39-2, Panesar 4-1-15-0, Flintoff 11-4-14-3, Udal 9.2-4-14-4..