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Monday, December 15, 2008

India chases and gets 387 to beat nonplussed England: First Test at Chennai

India 241 (MS Dhoni 53, A Flintoff 3/42, M Panesar 3/69) and 4/387 (S Tendulkar 103 no, Yuvraj Singh 85 no, V Sehwag 83, G Gambhir 66) defeated England 316 (A Strauss 123, M Prior 53 no, A Cook 52, Harbhajan Singh 3/96, A Mishra 3/99) and 9/311 dec (Strauss 108, P Collingwood 108, Z Khan 3/40, I Sharma 3/57) by six wickets: First Test at Chennai.

I've seen a lot of this match on television: today I was glued to the couch, watching as the Test slipped, then was wrested from, England's grasp.

Until the final session of the fourth day England were on top. Batting first they mustered, thanks chiefly to Andrew Strauss (123/233b, 15x4), Alistair Cook (52/116b, 5x4) and Matt Prior (53/102b, 1x4), what looked like a reasonable score. When India batted good bowling and fielding (including a sharp Monty Panesar c and b), together with some casual top order shot selection reduced them to 5/102 and 6/137 before MS Dhoni (53/82b,5x4) and Harbhajan Singh (40/58b/7x4) added 75 for the 8th wicket.

Even so, 241 was a sub-standard reply, and after an early wobble to 3/43, Strauss again (108/244b, 8x4) and Paul Collingwood (108/250b, 9 x4) added 214 for the 4th wicket. Collingwood was 6th out at 277 and a declaration, or at least some quickfire scoring, seemed imminent, but it wasn't to be.

The game began to drift and when the declaration came it appeared to be too late.

But Virender Sehwag had other ideas. He came out with all his considerable armament of shots blazing and frightened the daylights out of the England team with a crackerjack 83/68b, 11x4, 4x6. The bowlers, except for Andrew Flintoff and Graeme Swann, wilted.

Sehwag was dismissed before stumps but he'd shown what might just be possible on the final day, which saw India 1/131 needng another 266 to win on a pitch which seemed to be wearing, even though the Indian spinners hadn't extracted much from it on day 4.

The final day saw India work methodically towards their goal. While everyone except Rahul Dravid played a part, the cornerstone of the innings was Sachin Tendulkar's 103/196b,9x4, a masterclass in how to win a game which seemed for so long to be beyond his team's reach. His strokeplay was assured, his defence watchful and his focus on what needed to be done sharp. Only Flintoff, the best of the England bowlers in both innings, troubled him more han occasionally. He was well supported by Gautam Gambhir's solid 66/139b, 7x4 and Yuvraj Singh's aggressive 85 no/131b, 8x4, 1x6.

I thought that Yuvraj, who in the first innings had effectively been sledged out by Flintoff (though Steve Harmison claimed his wicket), would be a weak link in India's chain, but I was wrong.

After lunch the score kept ticking over and Tendulkar looked increasingly settled (and determined). England needed at least one, then two, then three quick wickets to keep in the game. Swann had VVS Laxman, who'd looked ominously in touch, caught at short leg for 26/42b, 4x4. 4/224. That was the last wicket to fall as Yuvraj, who might have been caught behind once and adjudged lbw on another occasion, with Tendulkar took their team to an assured and, despite England's dominance of much of the game, emphatic victory.

The result was not unexpected, though the manner in which it was achieved was a very good advertisement for Test cricket.

England will need to regroup quickly before Friday if the Second Test is to approach it in quality.
After their performances against Australia and now England, India are to my mind clearly the best Test playing nation at present. Which is in a sense ironical given the sub-continental obsession with 20 over cricket.


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