Mumbai Test Hangs in the Balance

Throughout this enthralling series, England have wrestled with the twisting, spitting Indian cobra, attempting to silence it time and time again before being caught by a ruthless sting in the tail. In Nagpur the snake appeared consigned to the draw when it struck out venomously. In Mohali it reared up again, and delivered a telling blow. Now in Mumbai it is running for cover, though with the dense sanctuary of an undergrowth of one-day internationals within sight.

A twisting series has reached it’s a potentially thrilling climax. That, of course, relies much on the early toppling of the obdurate Rahul Dravid and the potency of the England seamers come tomorrow. On a day of contrasting fortunes, England fell to pieces against the spin of Harbhajan Singh and Anil Kumble, but finished the stronger of the sides, leaving the home team 18 for one chasing an unlikely 313.

Flourishing debutant Owais Shah and nightwatchman Shaun Udal grinded out the first hour, with both seemingly intent on remaining at the crease rather than adding to England’s lead. However this only succeeded in allowing the Indian bowlers, particularly the at times wayward Irfan Pathan, to build a decent rythym. It came as no real surprise to see Udal eventually depart for 14, pushing slightly nervously to second slip off Pathan.

Kevin Pietersen has been criticised of late for failing to convert assertive starts into more substantial scores and again fell trying to hit to leg of the spinners, chipping a caught-and-bowled back to Kumble for just seven. Collingwood and Shah remained resolute, but hardly rampant until lunch, taking England into the interval on 85 for four.

Immediately after the break, however, a sluggish piece of running from Shah coincided with a slick piece of Indian fielding as Dhoni whipped off the bails following Tendulkar’s throw from fine-leg. Andrew Flintoff joined Collingwood, though he also refused to play his regular game, and England crawled along at a pace resembling a tortoise’s marathon.

Yet again sloppy glovework from Dhoni proved costly for India, with the Jharkand keeper fumbling a catch and stumping chance when Flintoff had just 14. Collingwood and Flintoff remained obdurate throughout the afternoon session, and it was only when his partner departed, clipping a return catch to Harbhajan for a resilient 31, that he began to open up and find the boundaries.

The relieving riposte was however to prove short-lived: a mammoth six over mid-wicket was closely followed by his eventual downfall off Kumble, stumped by Dhoni. His loss, for a second exact 50 off the match, followed the wickets of Geraint Jones and Matthew Hoggard: the former falling to a mistimed pull stroke off Harbhajan, the latter missing an attempted sweep off Kumble. James Anderson then prodded to Dravid at slip off the leg-spinner to close the England innings at 191, setting India a target of 313.

There was a short spell before the scheduled close for India to navigate, without normal opener Virender Sehwag, who can only bat as high as number seven after being absent from the field with a back injury. A stand-in opener in Irfan Pathan was duly called for, and he fell early on, dragging on a full-toss from James Anderson.

Much tomorrow rests on, as already mentioned, the defiance of Wasim Jaffer and Rahul Dravid. The imaginary form-book would tell the punter that while Dravid is out in the middle, a draw beckons. But should he fall early, and Tendulkar’s poor form continues, then England’s Asian odyssey may yet end on a pleasant note.

England 400 All out
Andrew Strauss 128, Owais Shah 88, Andrew Flintoff 50
Sreesanth 4-70, Harbhajan Singh 3-89

India 279 All out
Mahendra Singh Dhoni 64, Rahul Dravid 52
Matthew Hoggard 2-54, James Anderson 4-40

England 191 All Out
Andrew Flintoff 50, Owais Shah 38, Paul Collingwood 32
Anil Kumble 4-49, Harbhajan Singh 2-40

India 18-1
Wasim Jaffer 6*, Anil Kumble 8*
James Anderson 1-9

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