The resemblance between India on tour, and the England team now in India was further accentuated in course of the morning session on day four.
England scored 93 runs in the session at a crackling 3.98 per over. Very good? Not when you consider that in this headlong rush, they also lost the wickets of the two openers, plus their captain.
With England facing a large deficit, the ask was for controlled, patient batting, aimed at seeing off the session without loss while gradually chipping away at the lead. Instead, all three batsmen perished to shots that were totally inappropriate in context of the game.
Sourav Ganguly began the day with Tinu Yohannan at one end and Harbhajan Singh at the other. The seamer was accurate and controlled, the offie was relentless in the pressure he built up -- but against that, both batsmen initially played with circumspection and once they got their eye in, began batting with a lot more freedom especially against seam.
During this period, the only incident of note was Shiv Sundar Das, at short square, copping a full-blooded pull by Mark Butcher bang on the shoulder. Das had to be helped off the field -- but even while you sympathise, you can't help but notice that the fielder's immediate reaction was to turn his back on the pull. They just don't make close fielders of the order of Eknath Solkar, or even the briefly seen Yajurvindra Singh, who could stand at suicide positions and keep their eye on the ball, any more.
The first hour belonged to England, thanks to some sensible batting -- until Butcher threw it all away with a predetermined pull at a Yohannan delivery. The shot selection was completely off -- the length was wrong for the shot, the angle across the batsman around line of off meant that Butcher was always going to be cramped for room and in the event, the ball hit bat before Butcher (18 off 90) was fully into his shot, ballooned up, and presented Jacob Martin, substituting at midwicket, a well judged catch. That ended a first wicket partnership of 68 off 175 balls, and England were still 163 behind.
Marcus Trescothick at the other end was batting fluently until, shortly after his partner's dismissal, he attempted to emulate the shot. This time the ball was down line of middle and leg and the batsman pulled well enough -- but hit it high and Iqbal Siddiqui, a superb outfielder, sprinted around the curve at fine leg, judged his dive to a nicety and snaffled a brilliant catch to reduce England to 82/2, the highly-rated Trescothick (46 off 95) yet again getting off to a fluent start without going on to build a big one.
Nasser Hussain's advent was the signal for Kumble to be brought on in place of Harbhajan Singh (whose analysis at that point read 10-7-8-0). And the leggie took out the England captain for the second time in two innings. This time, Hussain completely misread a googly, played for the leg break and shaped to cut, got cramped by the ball curling in and chopped it down onto his stumps (England 87/3, still 144 behind).
Mark Ramprakash and Graham Thorpe batted edgily, but kept their nerve to take England through to 127/3 at lunch, still 104 behind on the first innings.
Two aspects of the Indians in the field were noticeable. The first was the energy and stamina of Yohannan, who bowled right from start of play till well into the second hour without ever showing signs of flagging, or lapsing in line and length. The performance argued immense stamina allied to concentration.
The other relates to skipper Sourav Ganguly's reluctance to team the two spinners together. England at the fall of Hussain's wicket was vulnerable -- besides the two batsmen at the crease, the hut only contained two all-rounders in Craig White and Andrew Flintoff. You would have expected Harbhajan and Kumble to team up with a close cordon in place and really turn the screws at that stage -- which incidentally is how India has typically won games at home.
Typically, two good spinners in tandem have, partly by their art, partly by the pressure, partly by the speed with which they get through their overs, created and escalated pressure, with at least one of them benefitting to strike.
Instead, Ganguly maintained the one seam-one spin combo, replacing Yohannan with Siddiqui while the offie, who started the day with an outstanding spell, patrolled covers.
India in the second session continued with seam (Yohannan) at one end and spin (Kumble) at the other. Thorpe and Ramprakash for their part played the percentages, hitting where possible and defending when they had to, the 50 of the partnership coming up off 94 deliveries as England moved to 139/3.
17 runs came off the first six overs, before ganguly decided to bring back Harbhajan Singh -- and suddenly, batting for the England batsmen became a pain in an unmentionable part of the anatomy.
The pressure, typically, triggered the slide. Mark Ramprakash was the first to go -- making the mistake of going on the back foot to a Kumble flipper, only to find the ball hastening onto his back pad, beating the bat for pace and trapping him plumb (28/61 and England 159/4).
Andrew Flintoff came out, clubbed a four as his first scoring shot, then poked at the next one -- another regulation flipper from Kumble -- to get the pad-bat to Ganguly at silly point (England 163/5 and still 68 behind).
The very next over almost produced another wicket when Harbhajan brought Thorpe a step down the track, defending to a looping off spinner and getting pad and bat onto the ball, ballooning it just over the head of Connor Williams at forward short leg.
Craig White looked to play positive cricket in a bid to break the spin strangehold, and did well enough against Kumble against whom he, unlike his mates higher up the order, played predominantly off the front foot, negating the flipper. Harbhajan Singh took him out with the top spinner as White pushed for turn that wasn't there, to find the edge for Dasgupta to snaffle (22 off 34 White, England 196/6 and still trailing by 35).
At the other end, Graham Thorpe continued his patient vigil, bringing up his 29th Test half century (92 balls, seven fours). His success -- markedly in contrast to the performance of his mates -- owed primarily to playing spin very close to his body, and playing it late rather than reaching out into his shots.
Foster had a good example to emulate, in the way Thorpe played the spinners with patience -- but failed to profit from that example when he aimed a wild sweep across the line at a Harbhajan Singh arm ball on off and middle, missed, and gave the offie his second wicket of the innings, in a fashion almost identical to his first innings dismissal (Foster 5/20, England 206/7, still 25 behind).
Kumble in the next over produced yet another in his stream of fast, zipping flippers -- a ball too good for Ormond, who went on the back foot (another one!), got it on the pad and then onto the stumps. If he hadn't been bowled, he would have been plumb for the LBW decision and the only question in anyone's mind would have been why, after all these years, batsmen still insist on playing Kumble off the back foot. (207/8).
With the innings in tatters, Thorpe decided to chance his arm a bit, lashing sweeps at the spinners. But Kumble, around the wicket to use the rough outside the left-hander's off stump, made one kick off the rough and Thorpe, looking to hit on the up, managed only to hit a tame return catch to the bowler, ending a fine innings of 62 off 121 balls (England 224/9). Kumble got his 17th 5-fer, reward for a sustained spell mostly comprising quick, aggressive, full length flippers -- the last for the match going right through an airy drive by Richard Dawson to take out middle stump.
England were bowled out for 235 -- three short of the 238 they had made in the first innings. The second session, extended by half an hour once it became apparent that the match would end quickly, showed the fruits of teaming two spinners together in these conditions -- 108 runs, seven wickets in 30.3 overs.
India needed to make five runs to seal the win. Dasgupta and Iqbal Siddiqui walked out -- latest in the lineup of Indian opening partnerships, the tailender coming out so Das could rest a badly bruised shoulder. Siddiqui took strike, clipped the first ball he got for a four, clipped the next off his pads to seal the win, and it was all over in two balls.
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