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Home > Cricket > Columns > The Wisden Verdict on India
December 14, 2001

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Can't field, can't captain...

Rahul Bhattacharya

Mistakes, like headlines, shouldn't repeat themselves, but it's true - India had their chance ... and they dropped it. Said Mahatma Gandhi, whose ashram is not far from this venue: "If somebody slaps you on the cheek, do not slap in retaliation. Instead, turn the cheek." India dropped four catches in England's first innings, and came back courageously to drop four more today.

The Test, however, is not lost. This scrambling, tumbling day of cricket has pushed the series to the most titillating edge of the knife. India still stand a very good chance of drawing, and a slim one of winning. Their last good chase came at Kandy just four months ago when Sourav Ganguly made a brave, chancy 98* to see India through to a target of 264. He might need to whip up something as worthwhile tomorrow to convince his country that he should be one of the 11 men representing them.

In this Test he has paraded every facet of his incompetence. Compared to Nasser Hussain's move-a-minute, he's been a dawdling bureaucrat - his only real trick today was to confront Hussain with an ultra-short cover that didn't bother him, and for the briefest of moments, hand back the 8-1 offside-field treatment. Yesterday he meekly lost a battle to Andy Flintoff that had been sparked off at Mohali. And this morning, Ganguly the sluggish fielder, a bona-fide lethargio, was exposed to the hilt when he ran back with arms outstretched and spilled a not-too-difficult chance.

England have gritted away efficiently in this Test but they are still a team enormously prone to collapse, and Harbhajan Singh is a triggerer of collapses. He is a hot-streak bowler: he doesn't meticulously stack them up, he swoops down for a handful, and then soars away for a wander. At one stage today, he picked up three wickets in eight overs, but really, it should have been two in three balls, and who knows what could have happened from 124 for 3. But Ganguly and Deep Dasgupta, arguably the two worst fieldsmen in the team, dropped Hussain and Mark Butcher. Harbhajan let out some frustrated abuse, but he was just incredulous when Tinu Yohannan emulated Ganguly.

There was another miss too, of Hussain, when he was on 10, and the total on 30. It was a half-chance for Dasgupta, who didn't get far enough across, as well as Virender Sehwag at first slip, who didn't get forward enough. Two halves made a hole.

India have all to play for tomorrow. They've been stealth-attacked from the back door that they carelessly left open, by a team written off perhaps even more than Zimbabwe were when they came here last winter. They are not likely to go for a win, although few things could be more fascinating to watch. A draw would be almost a victory for England, and India will look back at the scores at the end of day three and probably see it the same way.

Rahul Bhattacharya is a staff writer with India.

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