India cut short

The first Test of England’s tour of India ended in a dramatic draw today, as India’s batsmen launched a daring late assault towards a target of 368, which had previously looked unreachable after Wasim Jaffer and Rahul Dravid had dropped anchor for most of the day. Bad light cut India short with 108 runs still needed and 11.4 overs remaining in the day, meaning the series remains locked at 0-0.

The day began with England having declared overnight on 297-3, and India needing to either chase down the large deficit they faced, or – more likely – bat out the final day for a draw. England picked up a huge early boost when first-innings hero Matthew Hoggard bowled Virender Sehwag in just the fifth over of the day – Sehwag and his flashing strokeplay had appeared India’s best chance of snatching a victory in the game, but the early dismissal of Sehwag for nought seemed to put paid to any such hopes – at least for the time being.

The fall of the first wicket brought captain Rahul Dravid to the crease, who proceeded to show exactly why he has earned the nickname ‘The Wall’ – he and Wasim Jaffer negotiated the vast majority of the morning session with no alarms, despite stand-in England captain Andrew Flintoff rotating his bowlers well. It was gone lunchtime before England managed to create an opportunity, Dravid getting the finest of edges to a delivery from the otherwise innocuous debutant Ian Blackwell, but the chance became wicketkeeper Geraint Jones’ 13th dropped catch in only his 24th Test. England were made to pay for their mistake, with Dravid and Jaffer’s partnership continuing throughout the afternoon session – at the tea interval, the elegant Jaffer was nearing a maiden Test century, whilst Dravid had blocked his way to a stodgy unbeaten 46.

It was after the tea break, however, that the landscape of the game began to change. Dravid brought up his fifty in quick time after the resumption, then proceeded to unfurl one or two slightly more expansive shots, bringing his score up to 71, with the score at 168-1. Monty Panesar then bowled his second outstanding delivery of the match, knocking back Dravid’s off-stump with one that pitched outside leg, and adding the Indian captain to his list of Test dismissals, which already included Sachin Tendulkar from the first innings. This wicket did not,as expected, bring Tendulkar to the crease, however – Indian coach Greg Chappell pulled a rabbit out of the hat in promoting Irfan Pathan to number four in the order, and Pathan proceeded to reward his decision with some daring strokeplay.

With 200 required from 25 overs once Dravid was dismissed, Pathan set about the England bowlers with abandon, hitting Andrew Flintoff for a straight six – this was a clear signal from India that they had not given up hope of an unlikely victory. Meanwhile, at the other end, Jaffer had brought up a well-deserved maiden Test century, having batted with resolute defence, and no little class, throughout two and a half sessions. He perished soon after bringing it up, however, falling to one of three catches from Andrew Strauss for a round 100. This brought on another audacious promotion from India, with the flamboyant MS Dhoni joining Pathan at the wicket.

Pathan did not last much longer, however, as he spooned another catch to Strauss at mid-off, from the bowling of captain Flintoff – he did succeed in hitting a valuable 35 off 25 balls, though, and his team were still motoring along at a fast rate. Sachin Tendulkar finally arrived at number six, joining Dhoni at the crease – and while Dhoni struggled against some fast and accurate bowling from Steve Harmison, Tendulkar wasted no time in flicking Flintoff twice through the on-side for four. He then unfurled a series of amazing strokes off the bowling of Ian Blackwell, hitting three fours in an over – one an incredible reverse-paddle, one a slapped sweep stroke, and one a glorious loft over extra cover. With Tendulkar going strong, India still harboured hopes of a surprise victory, even with a required run rate touching nine an over.

Indian hopes were such that when Dhoni smacked Harmison straight to Strauss (again) at long-on, the new batsman was not VVS Laxman or Mohammad Kaif, but tail-end slogger Harbhajan Singh, sent in to have a dart at the tired English bowlers from number seven. He succeded in depositing Harmison over mid-on for four, before having his stumps destroyed by a yorker from the Durham man next ball. His dismissal brought the innings and the match to an end, as the fading light persuaded Tendulkar and new batsman Laxman that victory was no longer possible given the lack of wickets in hand, and they accepted an offer of the light from the umpires with 11.4 overs still scheduled in the day.

Both sides will be fairly happy with a draw from this game – England because they began it with so many injuries, and because they lost the first day heavily; India because they could easily have capitulated on the final day if it were not for the efforts of Jaffer and Dravid. Matthew Hoggard won Man of the Match for his first-innings effort of 6-57 – but in a game with three maiden Test centuries, from Paul Collingwood, Alistair Cook, and Jaffer, there were a number of candidates. It was an astonishing end to what had been a gritty, attritional Test match beforehand – the capability of this Indian team to produce the unexpected, plus the quality and application of the England side, should produce a fantastic next two Tests.

England 393 & 297-3 declared

India 323 & 260-6
Jaffer 100, Dravid 71; Harmison 2-48

Man of the Match – Matthew Hoggard, 6-57 and 1-29

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