The British press may have had much to say -- all of it critical -- about the BCCI in recent days, but even they can't fault the hospitality.
Mohali provided, on day one of the first India-England Test, good British weather. The ground staff provided a track with more green on it than you would see even on British grounds. And the national selectors helped the good work along by presenting the tourists with a completely raw seam attack.
Green top, green bowlers -- so what would you expect?
Why, the usual when India plays at home -- a visiting team, on a track that had nothing for spinners, getting pressurised into giving away all the advantages.
Saurav Ganguly won the toss (he must have been delighted to be confronted by a skipper whose record of losing tosses is even better than his own -- Hussain has now lost 10 on the trot) and opted to bowl first -- and whether the decision was taken to give his tyro seamers some early assistance, or to ensure that England's tyro attack didn't get first use of the deck, is anyone's guess.
The other interesting aspect about India's team selection was the decision to bring in Sanjay Bangar as third seamer and opener. On paper, that gave India a balanced attack of three seam, two spin. But against that, Bangar bowls at best marginally faster than Ganguly -- and we're yet to see how he bats at this level.
Tinu Yohannan, a former high-jumper who, two years ago, shifted mid-stream and joined the MRF Pace Academy, had a dream start to his debut, making one kick and seam away off length to square Mark Butcher up in the very first over, and find his edge for an easy take for Laxman at second slip. The debutant is tall, has a quick bowler's build and a reputation of being the fastest in the country at this point in time -- but on the day, his top pace was around 136k, which puts him in the medium pace category.
At the other end, the other debutant, Iqbal Siddique, proved to be, at best, a gentle medium fast, without the variations to compensate for his lack of pace. Which pretty much sums up Sanjay Bangar as well, Bangar if anything being even slower than Siddique.
Against this backdrop, Nasser Hussain, in at number three, started off with some flowing square of the wicket shots while Marcus Trescothick began tentaively, before opening out into some brilliant driving especially through the off. The feature of his play is that he comes fully forward when going for those shots, and hits them with venomous power.
Anil Kumble came on early, and had a bit of bad luck in his first over when a full-length flipper took Trescothik on the toe of the boot in front of off and middle, setting up the huge LBW shout. Umpire Steve Bucknor, though, thought otherwise, and that was that. Insult was duly added to that injury by the batsman taking three fours off the bowler in that over -- prelude to a calculated assault that saw the leggie go for 28 in his first four, as the English batsmen played him like a slow-medium bowler.
Once Trescothick got his bearings, he began outscoring his captain, and got to his 50 (52 off 73) and simultaneously brought up the team's 100. At the end of the first session, England had taken all the tricks, going in for the break on 107 runs off 28 overs (3.82 the run rate) for the loss of Butcher. Trescothick had 55 off 85 at the break, while Hussain went in with 44 against his name off 82 deliveries.
The most notable feature of the morning session, though, was the high number of four balls the Indians offered up -- 80 of the 107 to England's name came off fours, and that is at this level an unacceptable ratio.
Harbhajan Singh had bowled just the one over before lunch. In the second session, it was the offie -- back to bowling with the Duke's ball he is more accustomed to, and in front of an adoring home crowd -- who looked the only bowler with what it takes to cause damage. Hussain in particular was tentative against the offie, consistently misreading his arm ball and opting for neck or nothing charges and risky sweeps to try and keep him at bay.
At the other end, Trescothick looked a lot more assured against the off spinner, his habit of coming right onto his front foot helping him get balance and power into his driving. Strangely, though, he kept misplacing his off stump, and letting deliveries go without seeming too clear where that bit of lumber was. Yohannan, who stepped up a yard or two in pace in the second session, took toll with a few deliveries moving away before bringing one back in, hitting line of off on the angle across the left-hander and straightening and bending back just enough to knock back the stumpsafter the left-handed opener, in a bad misjudgement, let the ball go (66 off 107 balls, 13 fours, 129/2).
Graham Thorpe was LBW first ball, to Yohannan, if you ignore the fact that the bowler had over-stepped. The umpire didn't -- and a lovely inswinging, dipping full toss went to waste.
After that early hiccup, Thorpe looked very good against both seam and spin, using the paddle efficiently against Harbhajan and the drive against seam to score runs briskly. Two drives -- both with the batsman down on one knee to hit through the covers -- stood out in a display of ominous form. At the other end, Hussain settled down to percentage cricket, looking for the loose delivery to score runs off and gritting it out against off spin, which seems to be his vulnerable area.
The assured batsmanship had begun to raise visions of a leather hunt when Thorpe fell (23 off 34 with four fours, 172/3) against the run of play. Iqbal Siddiqui angled one across the left hander, and Thorpe drove at the back of a length delivery without getting his foot fully across. The angle, and some slight away movement off the deck, was enough to find the edge through to Laxman, who has over time become a very assured slip fielder.
At 184/3, one of Harbhajan's arm balls managed to bring Nasser Hussain (batting 74)forward into an uncertain prod. The ball found the edge, and an overeager Deep Dasgupta grabbed at the resulting edge and grassed a very simple edge. Trouble was, VVS Laxman at slip could have taken it with greater ease.
The first ball of the next Harbhajan over (50th of the innings, 186/3) again had Hussain prodding at the arm ball, but this time the edge landed just short of Laxman. The England captain decided to make a point of his own and, to the next delivery, skipped down the track and lifted the offie over wide long off for a huge six.
England brought up its 200 off just 312 deliveries -- a more than decent rate for Tests. But one ball after that landmark, Anil Kumble in his first over of a comeback spell brought Hussain forward on the prod at a flipper on line of off, the ball taking the edge onto pad and into the hands of Laxman at silly point to end a nicely paced, gritty knock of 85 (147 deliveries, 200/4) by the England skipper.
Tea was taken with the board reading 207/4 in 55 overs. England scored 100 runs off 27 overs in the second session -- a rate that matched its first session perfomance. However, the three big wickets -- Trescothick, Thorpe and Hussain -- going down meant that India had the better of the exchanges post lunch.
Post-tea bowling was opened by Yohannan, but the tall seamer seemed a tad tired, leading Ganguly to make the change and bring back his off spinner. Harbhajan, who during the afternoon session had been creating pressure without either luck or reward, got on a roll -- and the England innings promptly hit the skids.
The inevitable question is, what was he doing here that he could not do in South Africa (remember that the track had nothing to do with it -- on day one, Mohali was for the seamers)? For one thing, the offie was bowling with the Duke's ball which, with its more pronounced seam, helps a spinner get a better grip. For another, in South Africa he made the mistake of overdoing his arm ball and the doosra (in fact, for long periods against the Proteas, he did not even bowl a regular off break), whereas here he used those deliveries as attacking options, rather than stock deliveries.
The mayhem began with Mark Ramprakash, who badly misjudged a doosra. The batsman (17 off 50 deliveries) played for the off break, and shut the bat face looking to turn to leg. The ball "went" the other way, finding the edge for Das at silly point to dive and hold brilliantly (224/5).
Saurav Ganguly and Andy Flintoff have played together for Lancashire -- and this familiarity showed in the way the field was set for the big-hitting batsman. Ganguly deliberately opened up the on side, inviting the big-hitting batsman to go for the off spinner with the turn. Flintoff (18 off 38) went -- down the track swinging, misreading the top spinner and playing for non-existent turn. The ball flared off the edge of the flailing bat, for Kumble to judge and hold well, just backward at point, reducing England to 227/6.
In his very next over, the third after tea, the offie almost made it three wickets in three successive overs. This time, it was an arm ball following on the heels of an off break. Craig White pushed tentatively at it, playing a bit inside the line for the off break, got the edge and Dasgupta dumped his second catch of the day, this one even easier than the earlier one.
An over later, the offie was at it again. Going wide of the crease, he fired in a ball that went through straight with the arm. James Foster aimed a wild sweep, missed, got it on the pad and walked to the decision, with a duck against his name and England on 228/7. At that point, Harbhajan's figures read 4-2-2-3 in the post-tea spell.
By this point in time, England were well and truly in panic mode. Kumble produced a bouncing flipper outside off stump and Craig White (5 off 24), who had weighed in with very good performances in course of England's last successful trip to Pakistan but who of late has had a miserable run with the bat, chopped at a ball he could have easily left alone, and guided it to Dravid at slip. England, on 229/8, had lost four wickets for five runs in this spell.
Richard Dawson stuck it out for a bit, looking mightily relieved to see edges fall just short of the close cordon. Till, that is, Harbhajan drew him well forward with a looping off break that flew off the batsman's prod for Laxman at silly point to hold with nonchalant ease, not even bothering to appeal (238/9). Mathew Hoggard walked a long way from pavilion to pitch, only to push the first ball he got -- a bouncing off spinner, this time -- to square leg.
Harbhajan Singh, using bounce and turn to very good effect, completed the fifth five-wicket haul of his career (19.3-4-51-5, his post-tea spell producing five wickets for six runs in seven overs), and England had folded for 238 inside 77 overs -- a miserable turnaround after being 129/2 and 223/4 earlier. The post tea session saw six wickets go down for 31 runs. And funnily enough, though this track was meant for seamers, India's bowling looked at its best only in the post-tea session, when Ganguly finally brought his two spinners into harness together.
India, at start of play, had put Sanjay Bangar down as opener. However, Bangar left the field with some unspecified injury (amazing how our seam bowlers get injured, sometimes even when they hardly bowl) and it was Deep Dasgupta who walked out with Shiv Sundar Das to take on the fast-medium swing of Hoggard and Ormond -- and among other things, it is a clear indication that come the second test, Bangar will find himself looking for a new day job as Virender Sehwag comes back into the side, with Dasgupta installed as opener for the duration.
Neither Ormond nor Hoggard had the pace, even on this greentop, to bother batsmen who just last week were battling Protean quicks on inimical tracks. Dasgupta in particular opened like one to the manner born, looking relaxed and easy at the wicket and showing good judgement around off stump, and a typically Indian ease in executing the wristy shots through leg each time the seamers overpitched on the pads.
Mark Butcher with his gentle medium pace and tendency to swing, came on rather surprisingly as first change. Then again, maybe Nasser Hussain knew what he was about -- in his second over, Butcher produced a delivery just back of a length, seemingly innocuous, to which Shiv Sundar Das shouldered arms. And like Trescothick this afternoon, looked back in horror as the ball jagged back in just enough to hit the top of off stump -- India 23/1, with Anil Kumble walking in as sentry for the night.
India went in to stumps on 24/1 off the 11 overs it had to face, with Dasgupta particularly impressive. And at close on day one, the balance sheet showed that the home side had taken the afternoon and evening sessions, after England easily controlled the morning.
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