Pathan and Sreesanth hit England

Irfan Pathan and Shanthakumaran Sreesanth shared five wickets as a disciplined Indian effort in the field took the first day honours against England in the First Test at Nagpur, England closing a disappointing 246 for seven despite half centuries from Alastair Cook and Paul Collingwood.

The England side, reeling from the losses of senior batsmen Marcus Trescothick and Michael Vaughan, plus veteran spinner Ashley Giles and talismanic paceman Simon Jones, fielded a side with three debutants for the first time in more than six years.

Essex opener Alastair Cook, freshly arrived from England’s ‘A’ tour of the Caribbean, joined spinning pair Ian Blackwell and Monty Panesar in making their first appearances. The three left-handers became the first English trio to debut since Michael Vaughan, Chris Adams and Gavin Hamilton in Johannesburg.

India, meanwhile, gave a first cap to quick bowler Shanthakumaran Sreesanth, who formed part of a four-man attack with Irfan Pathan, Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh, whilst Mohammad Kaif was preferred to a fifth front-line bowling option. Sreesanth instantly had a chance to make his impact on the International stage as stand-in England captain Andrew Flintoff had no hesitation in opting to bat first.

On a wicket with little bounce and scant encouragement for the Indian pacemen, the first handful of overs saw Pathan and Sreesanth squandering what little assistance the Vidarbha CA wicket offered. Cook opened his Test account with an authoritative pull shoot, cracked behind square as Sreesanth dropped short. Strauss swiftly followed his junior partner into the runs, taking 17 from Pathan’s second over as the left arm seamer strayed both short and full, offside and legside.

With the help of a rapid outfield, both opening batsmen were quickly into their stride, collecting boundaries all around the ground. Cook impressed with a brace of sweetly struck boundaries off Sreesanth, a back foot drive and a perfectly straight push past the non-striker’s stumps, and England reached 50 without loss in the twelfth over.

The introduction of Harbhajan, after just four overs from Sreesanth, added a measure of control to the Indian attack, and Cook escaped a loud LBW shout from the offspinner as Aleem Dar correctly ruled that the ball pitched outside leg. Sreesanth returned following seven unthreatening overs from Pathan, and broke through with the first ball of his second over after the drinks break.

Strauss drove wildly at a wide delivery, slashing a thick outside edge at pace to the left of VVS Laxman at second slip, who hung on smartly to the chance. Ian Bell was very fortunate to escape following without scoring, as a first-up doosra rapped the Warwickshire man on the pads only for Dar’s finger to remain resolutely down.

It didn’t take the off spinner long to claim his man, however, courtesy of a second athletic catch from an Indian slip fielder. This time it was Rahul Dravid, throwing himself to his left, and behind Mahendra Dhoni, to snaffle an outside edge at the second time of asking and end Harbhajan’s 90-over wicketless streak in Test cricket. Lunch was taken with the tourists at 89 for two.

Cook showed an ability to combine patience with strokeplay in the afternoon session, taking fully half an hour to add the six runs he needed to go to fifty. The straight face of his Gray-Nicholls bat was decisive in facing both Harbhajan and Kumble, and his shot selection was unflustered as he reached a half century from 113 balls.

Pietersen, meanwhile, failed to follow the debutant’s example as his strokeplay proved his downfall in Sreesanth’s third spell. Not content with swishing the first, reverse-swinging, delivery to second slip – only for VVS Laxman to spill the catch – he chopped an ambitious pull shot onto leg stump.

India’s methodical strangulation of the runrate then brought a fourth wicket, Cook becoming the second Englishman to play onto his own stumps – this time Pathan the bowler to benefit as he found late inward movement. An outside edge from Andrew Flintoff then found the vacant gap at second slip – with Dravid and Laxman stationed at one and three – before the batsman slashed the next ball wide of Laxman, now at second. England reached the tea break without any further alarm, the score 157 for four.

Flintof resumed after the interval with a brace of authentic boundaries, driving Sreesanth to the long off ropes and pulling the same bowler through midwicket to move to his highest score in India. A thick edge later, the all-rounder had surpassed the yield from the whole of his previous visit to the country.

England’s captain greeted the reintroduction of Kumble with an arrow-straight loft over the spinner’s head, and a brace of expansive flicks from Collingwood took the fifth-wicket partnership past sixty and the team total towards 200.

Yet once again an English batsman wasn’t able to convert a start into an innings of substance, as Flintoff played across the line to Kumble and was pinned in front of middle and leg. Geraint Jones took severe toll of two abject deliveries from Sachin Tendulkar, disposing of a full toss through midwicket and crunching a half volley through extra cover.

The wicketkeeper was less assured against Pathan, however, as he found himself trapped LBW – the left armer finding swing with an old ball and bringing Ian Blackwell to the middle for his first taste of Test match batting. Collingwood took this as a signal to lift his own intensity, flicking Kumble for a four and a six to bring up his third Test half century.

Blackwell became Pathan’s third victim, and the third Englishman to chop on, as he aimed a flat-footed smear at a long hop outside off stump and lost his off bail. Matthew Hoggard and Paul Collingwood survived until close, but with the score at 246 for seven on a benign track, India are well in control.

England 246-7
Alistair Cook 60, Paul Collingwood 53*
Irfan Pathan 3-52, Shanthakumaran Sreesanth 2-56

Leave a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until they have been approved

More articles by Neil Pickup