May the less bad team win
Shortly before 4pm in Mohali, the floodlights were turned on, and the
pensive buzz of the crowd was drowned by a massive roar - a sound made not by human beings, but by what had been eloquently described by a press-box co-ordinator as a "low-plying flane". Almost every session, two flanes plew
over the ground - separately - and provided some distraction from the drab cricket.
It would have made sense if they had dropped food packets for the battered Englishmen, who must already be desperately homesick. Just as India had been creamed in South Africa by a side playing well below its best, so have England been outclassed in this Test by a side that is merely less bad than they are.
While India's defeat in SA was mainly due to temperamental problems, England suffer from lack of ability. Their bowling is ludicrously weak, and the day began on a familiar note, with Nasser Hussain setting a defensive seven-two field for his fast bowlers.
England's strategy to get Sachin out was clearly to dry up the runs and wait for a mistake. A desperate plan, it did not seem to be working, as Tendulkar ground it out and still punished every loose ball. But Sachin playing the patience game may well be a square peg in a round hole. Fishing outside off at Hoggard, he was eventually snapped up for a well-made 88 - not enough for his manic fan club.
For the third time in three innings against England, Rahul Dravid failed to convert 80 into 100. Sourav Ganguly was immediately made to hop, skip and jump by Hoggard and Flintoff, who bowled liberally short. No surprise then when he was out off a snorter. He had made 47, but looked uncomfortable; he may win this series, but can he retain his place in the team?
And then came VVS. Since that magical 281 in Calcutta, too many of his innings have been full of many good strokes and the occasional irresponsible one. But he played like a chastised man today, with many dour strokes and
the occasional irresponsible one. He eventually got out slashing uppishly at a short one from Dawson - a variation on a theme.
Sanjay Bangar, who would have opened if not for a hamstring injury, came out with a runner and made 36 in what may well be his only Test innings. He played well within himself and hit some fine shots square of the wicket - especially off Dawson - but given that he didn't bowl too well, and Dasgupta has sealed up an opening slot for the time being, he may never get another chance. Horrid luck; three years ago, he was on the verge of making his one-day debut for India after a sparkling performance in the Wills Trophy, but injury kept him out for a few months. He is 29 now, and time is sprinting out.
England survived the last 20 overs, but it was disconcerting to see Sourav Ganguly turn to his spinners from the tenth over. Iqbal Siddiqui was bowling very well, lurking in the corridor like a demented voyeur and getting much movement, but Ganguly, once he loses faith in the bowlers he's been given, tends to underbowl them. Murali Kartik would surely agree.
Amit Varma is assistant editor, Wisden.com India.
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