England still in the hunt

After Anil Kumble, somewhat inevitably, took his 500th test wicket and 3 in 4 balls to mop-up England’s tail quickly in the midday session, the visitors fought back by dismissing four Indian batsmen before the close of play. Among the victims was the ever-dangerous Sachin Tendaulkar, but Rahul Dravid played confidently for an unbeaten 60 to keep his team in the running by the close of play.

Kumble bowled probingly throughout the day, and took himself to 499 test wickets by dismissing Geraint Jones, who had played beautifully for his 52, and then, next ball, flummoxed Steve Harmison with a quicker, straighter delivery that rapped the new batsman on the pad. 500. Kumble’s outstanding achievement sent the crowd onto their feet in delirium, but even the most avuncular cricket supporter must have been pleased for the leg-spinner as the umpire’s finger was raised. Kumble managed to complete his destruction of the English tail when Monty Panesar prodded at a ball outside his off-stump and was caught comfortably at slip.

Earlier in the day, before Kumble’s onslaught, Flintoff had laid into the Indian bowling attack with a vengeance. He began attacking the young wrist-spinner, Piyush Chawla, and managed to smash a couple of sixes before driving on the up straight back to Patel, the bowler. Liam Plunkett followed Flintoff just seven runs later when he tried to turn the ball to the on-side, but only managed to tickle the ball to the keeper from the bowling of Patel.

The visitors had been bowled out for a reasonable total of 300, but, due to the amount of time that was lost over the first two days, a good start from the English bowlers on a wicket that offered a little more pace-wise would pile the pressure on the inconsistent-scoring members of the Indian lower order.

Harmison, whose bowling had looked relatively negligible earlier in the series, sprung to life, and bowled with a greater purpose to the Indian openers, hitting 94 miles-per-hour at one point. His reward eventually came when Virender Sehwag, who had failed to breach the double-figure barrier in Nagpur, fended somewhat uncomfortably at a short, quickly rising delivery and nicked the ball straight through to Jones for just 11.

Jaffer and Dravid, two of India’s in-form batsmen, managed to avert a collapse that would see England on top, and played together fluently for a pleasing 77-run partnership. However, the momentum that the pair built was instantly halted when Jaffer failed to get to the pitch of a turning delivery bowled by Monty Panesar, and popped up a simple catch to Flintoff at cover.

Contrary to the norm, the home supporters’ volume raised excitedly at the fall of the wicket- Sachin Tendaulkar was emerging from the hutch. However, much to the disappointment of Indian supporters, their hero did not last long, as Flintoff, who had being bowling with heart throughout this spell, got another delivery to lift, similar to Harmison’s wicket-taking ball, and Tendaulkar edged awkwardly to slip for just four.

Amidst the action at the other end, Dravid was beginning to settle into his stride, and got the scoreboard ticking over nicely without giving away anything that could be considered a chance. However, ‘the wall’ was not going to save, or indeed win, the game for his country, and thus a lot of pressure rested on the new batsman, Yuvraj Singh. Nevertheless, the new arrival put his team in even greater trouble by playing a somewhat airy cover-drive off Matthew Hoggard, leaving the Indian scorecard at 134 for four.

This signalled time for Dravid to shut-up-shop for the evening with the explosive but erratic-performing Dhoni as his partner. The number three ended up on 60 not-out, and Dhoni with an unbeaten 12 as the bails were removed.

England have fought back well after a wonderful performance by one of India’s finest spinners, but if the home batsmen can push on tomorrow, and scavenge a lead, then England’s upper-order will be thoroughly tested by the spin-attack. On the other hand, the visitors can forge ahead if Dhoni or Dravid are taken early tomorrow morning, as the fragile Indian tail will be exposed to the full vigour of a revived English attack.

England 300
Andrew Flintoff 70, Kevin Pietersen 64, Geraint Jones 52
Anil Kumble 5-76, Munaf Patel 3-72, Irfan Pathan 2-71

India 149/4
Rahul Dravid 60*, MS Dhoni 12*
Matthew Hoggard 1-19, Steve Harmison 1-28

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