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December 14, 2001

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India let game slip through butter-fingers

Prem Panicker

England skipper Nasser Hussain, in his column at the end of day three, wondered which side of the bed India would get off on, going into the crucial fourth day.

He needn't have worried -- the beds at Ahmedabad, at least the ones in the Indian hotel rooms, apparently have only one side, and that one the wrong one.

Even for those used to witnessing shambolic displays, today set standards. Catches fell short of a slip cordon that obstinately refused to move forward the mandatory two or three paces you take when, a, this happens with any regularity and b, on Indian pitches towards the latter half of the match when the bounce is lower and consequently, the edges fall further forward. Other catches went to hand and were spilt. Batsmen paddled singles at will because it apparently did not occur to the captain that there is a fielding position known as short fine leg.

It is no wonder that Hussain, after being dropped by his counterpart, Ganguly, sported a broad grin.

India began the day well with Srinath inducing a pull from Marcus Trescothick. The shot was hit with tremendous power. Shiv Sundar Das, both in South Africa and here, has gone out to field with a target painted on his body and the words "Hit Me" in big bold type -- and batsmen have duly obliged. For once, he found himself standing at orthodox square leg -- and clung on to the catch despite the brute force behind the shot (England 21/1).

Nasser Hussain Nasser Hussain came out with a bat comprised solely of edges. One dropped short of Dasgupta. One split the difference between Dasgupta and Dravid at first slip. Two more landed a foot in front of slips. By way of variety Anil Kumble, a fixture at the opposite end through most of the day, twice induced leading edges from Mark Butcher, he dived, he got his fingertips to the ball, he saw them go down.

Such incidents, from a batsman's point of view, are the equivalent of a million dollar insurance policy -- and Hussain and Butcher cashed in, hitting through the line with increasing assurance, the England captain in fact celebrating one of those 'edges to nowhere' with a waltz down the track and a clubbed six, back over the bowler's head, off Kumble.

Not to be left out of the fun, Umpire Ian Robinson did his bit just before lunch. The Kumble googly had Hussain, misreading the ball and playing for leg spin, tucking his bat behind the pad, not even pretending he was offering a shot. The ball spun back in, beat the pad, beat the front pad, and hit the back pad in front of off and middle. Not out, says Robinson -- redressing the balance somewhat, after having wrongly declared Hussain out in the first innings.

England made 82 runs in the first session for the loss of Trescothick, off 28 overs, and went in to lunch comfortably placed on 92/1, which has to be read in tandem with the 116 run lead they enjoy on the first innings. Both batsmen went in on 40 apiece, with Butcher being the more solid and Hussain riding his luck like an accomplished windsurfer.

Post Lunch Session

The second session saw Butcher earn his second half century (114 balls) of the match -- this knock, more than the first innings, being a display of controlled cricket, most noticeable for the way he countered spin by coming well forward.

Harbhajan Singh, ignored by his captain for most of the first session, was by then bowling his heart out. With the score on 124/1, the offie looped one up at Hussain and the England skipper, frustated at being unable to get Harbhajan away, went down on his knee and aimed a slog-sweep at it. The top edge put the ball high in the air and Saurav Ganguly, at midwicket, ambled along under the ball, his hands doing funny things in the air as he tried to figure out whether he wanted to take it straight, reverse-cup, whatever. Perhaps because he couldn't make up his mind which technique he wanted to use to complete the catch, he let the ball go.

The batsmen meanwhile crossed. The next ball hurried onto Butcher, took the edge and did everything but knock the bail off its perch. The ball after that went the other way, Butcher (59) pushed at it blind, got the edge -- and Dasgupta, who has invented an astonishing variety of ways to drop catches, used the heel of his hand to kick the ball up onto his face. The wicket-keeper then rubbed his injured eye, the injured bowler looked as though he couldn't believe his eyes.

Harbhajan, not to be denied, again teased Hussain with flight, this time looping a topspinner up around off and middle. Unsure of whether the ball was the off break or the one going away, Hussain pushed tentatively, got the edge onto his pad, and Sehwag at short square held the catch. Everyone celebrated -- except for Harbhajan, who stood there with a grim look on his face. (Hussain 50 off 116, England 133/2, 249 ahead).

Michael Vaughan Mark Ramprakash came in ahead of the unwell Michael Vaughan, and straightaway went for Anil Kumble, swatting him over midwicket for a huge six and, an over later, clubbing him over long on for an even bigger one. At the other end, Harbhajan Singh got Butcher sweeping, found the top edge with a topspinner, and the ball ballooned high. Tinu Youhannan at point had all the time in the world -- but at no point did it look like he knew what to do with that time, as he misjudged horribly and watched the ball fall well in front of him. The only question that merits asking at that point was, what on earth was Yohannan, your typical fast bowler, doing at point anyway?

The increasingly -- and very visibly -- frustrated off spinner got some salve finally, when Ramprakash (19 off 27) in his turn top-edged an attempted sweep, this time to an off break, straight to Tendulkar at short fine leg. ramprakash sweeping and the top edge goes to short fine leg for a simple take by tendulkar (178/3 England).

Andrew Flintoff came out, Anil Kumble came on, and the batsman slashed a cut at a skidding top spinner that stayed low outside off and managed to drag it back onto the stumps. The way it looked, Flintoff figured that Kumble would get him anyway, so he might as well make it easy for him and commit suicide (183/4).

Two balls later, Craig White attempted to push Anil Kumble to leg, got the edge onto pad, the catch was duly held (which alone merits celebration), but Umpire Ian Robinson kept his hand firmly at his side.

The session ended three deliveries before schedule, when Harbhajan flighted an off spinner on a very full length, then made it kick shoulder high and turn away. Butcher, unsure of what to do, finally poked a parodied cut at the ball and got the edge for Dravid to hold at first slip. Butcher, dropped on 48 and again in his eighties, finally walked back for 92 (202 balls), the second England batsman in this Test to miss out on the century (England 183/5 at tea).

Post Tea Session

Vaughan and White, post tea, batted to put India out of the game -- using up overs to make sure that the final target would never be a viable proposition. The tactic was intended to force India into a situation where going in, it knew that it couldn't win, and therefore had to defend and play for the draw -- making it possible for the England bowlers to attack and push for a possible win.

Sadly, India didn't seem to catch on. In half an hour before tea, Harbhajan Singh had taken three wickets, Kumble one -- this despite a bad umpiring call, and the usual amount of spilt chances. In the post tea session, the two spinners produced three successive maidens. You would have thought that against that background, the Indians would come out after tea and surrounded the uncertain White, and the unwell Vaughan, with close fielders. Instead, you had the two spinners bowling with a slip and short square, and the rest of the field pushed right back -- a very clear indication that they had already given up the game as a lost cause.

The two batsmen profited -- the push into the outfield was a guaranteed single given the depth of the field, and the occasional bad ball could be hit with more vim. Overs ticked by, runs ticked over. For some reason, Kumble through this session decided to go round the wicket -- and the line outside leg stump added a few more easy runs to the board.

A Vaughan sweep hit Sehwag -- today's sacrificial lamp at short square leg -- on the helmet. Dasgupta, who through the day had failed to react to edges lobbing up and dropping by the side of the batsman, this time did well to cover, dive and hold -- futilely, of course, given that you can't take a catch off a helmet. Sehwag, with bells going off inside his head, walked off the field. The normal practise is for junior players to stand in this position -- but the way the Indians have been going through their juniors (Shiv Sundar Das, stripped to the skin, sports more damage than Kabul after George Bush's bombers have done their stuff), soon enough the seniors will have to take their turn under the helmet -- and all things considered, Ganguly et al might actually benefit from getting their coconuts rung.

Vaughan clipped one out to deep square leg, the batsmen pushed for two, Yohannan's throw from the line was hard, fast, and at the right end and Craig White was a good two feet outside his ground when Harbhajan collected and broke the stumps. Adding to the day's quota of inadvertent comedy, the third umpire first pressed the green light, realised his blunder, and corrected himself (England 225/6, White 18/47, lead 341, 17 overs left to play).

Foster aimed a hoik at Kumble's leg break, playing for the googly and looking to hit with the turn but managing only to get the toe of the bat to ball. Yohannan, now installed at mid off, judged the up-and-down skier and held, reducing England to 229/7 (345 ahead, 15 overs yet to go in the day).

Harbhajan Singh Harbhajan Singh floated one up, tempting Ashley Giles into a hoik. SS Das, being rewarded for taking all those body blows in the first innings with an easy posting out on the midwicket fence, held comfortably (England 247/8, leading by 363, 11.2 overs yet to go in the day).

Next up at the plate, Dawson with the hoik off Kumble, down the throat of Tendulkar at long on (England 251/8, 367 ahead, just over ten overs left in the day, and wicket number 299 for Anil Kumble in his 65th Test).

Harbhajan got his five-for (71) -- Hoggard duly swiping him to Das at deep midwicket to finally end the England innings on 257 off 83.2 overs. England were 373 ahead, giving India 374 to win, or 97 overs to play out to save the Test.

If the Indians are into thinking sobering thoughts late in the evening, here's one, gratis, for them to chew on: Barring Trescothick (probably because he didn't last long enough), every single one of England's top batsman, right down to the all-rounder White, got at least one life. Add these to the ones gifted in the first innings and then think on this: If it is hard to dismiss a Test team twice inside five days, how much harder must it be for India, which regularly has to dismiss teams thrice? Give the guys some credit, here!

Hussain opted to give Ashley Giles the left arm spinner first use of the new ball, letting the spinner use the hardness of the ball and therefore the extra bounce. Das promptly rocked back and cracked a square cut for four to signal what he thought of that ploy.

Other than that show of aggression and a paddle sweep, again by Das, off Dawson in the day's final over, the opening firm of Das and Dasgupta saw through the seven overs of the day for 17 runs.

On the final day, tomorrow, India has 90 overs to play for a draw, 10 wickets to lose for a series-levelling defeat, or 357 to get to win.

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