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England look down the barrel

Leeds, Aug. 24: Englandís most capped cricketer, Alec Stewart, was playing a lone hand as the home team struggled to avoid the follow-on. Faced with Indiaís highest-ever total, in bilateral Tests, England were skating on thin ice at Headingley.

At 264 for nine (stumps on Day III), England are well and truly hurtling down the follow-on road. And, barring a dramatic twist in the Leeds tale, India look good to take to The Oval 1-1. Itís another matter England have reasons to question two lbw decisions ó one each by Asoka de Silva (Nasser Hussain) and Dave Orchard (Andrew Flintoff).

Fact remains Englandís batsmen were often clueless and simply had to pay for indecision/poor judgement. Moreover, Sourav Gangulyís captaincy was spot-on. He got his calculations right ó though some were surprised by Harbhajan Singhís second spell being delayed ó and, yes, was aggressive.

At close, then, Stewart was on 71 (156 minutes, 110 deliveries, 10x4) and though partner Matthew Hoggard is on home turf, itís beyond the otherwise hard-working No. 11 to facilitate a miracle. Not when Anil Kumble and Harbhajan have begun to make the Duke talk.

While Sachin Tendulkar fell seven short of what would have been his third double hundred, fans with the tricolour still had much to cheer throughout Saturday. Sachin, in fact, could extend his stay by just eight minutes and eight balls as the Sri Lankan umpire adjudged him leg-before to Andrew Caddick.

Sachinís 193, a personal best against England and his highest Test score in 21 months, came in 434 minutes and off 330 deliveries (19x4, 3x6).

Sourav, of course, had declared after an eventful 37 minutes. By then, 44 were added but four wickets lost. The declaration was timed with Harbhajanís dismissal. Clearly, Sourav didnít wish to tire his opening bowlers.

While Tendulkar was the first to depart, he was quickly followed by Ajit Agarkar, V.V.S. Laxman and, then, Harbhajan. All fell trying to collect the maximum runs. It was, after all, time to place the teamís agenda ahead of everything else.

Of the wickets that fell, Caddick got three, with the other going to Alex Tudor. Parthiv Patel remained unbeaten, but his short stint had no less than two let-offs ó Robert Key couldnít Ďlockí the teenager; then Hoggard couldnít do the needful. Key dropped Harbhajan as well. Yesterday, in any case, he had dropped Sourav (on 79) off Caddick. The captain more than made capital, smashing his first hundred (ninth overall) overseas as captain.

Incidentally, never before have Rahul Dravid, Sachin and Sourav all got tons in the same innings.

When England began, much of the attention was on Michael Vaughan. He didnít disappoint, till being deceived by a slower one from Agarkar. It appears a let-off on the very previous ball unsettled him. Vaughanís 61 came in 166 minutes and off 116 deliveries (9x4).

Only, before Vaughan, England had lost Key and Mark Butcher. After Vaughan, it became a procession. Kumble, in particular, made the most of the dual bounce while Harbhajan got reasonable bite. Zaheer Khanís role canít be discounted either.

Extraordinary gesture

Meanwhile, in an extraordinary gesture, both teams and the near-capacity turnout observed a minuteís silence in memory of two murdered schoolgirls before the start of the second session.

The 11-year-olds, Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells, were recently kidnapped and their bodies found a few days ago. Both, apparently, were fond of sport and, at the time of their disappearance, were wearing Manchester United T-shirts.

In fact, a minuteís silence was even observed before the Manchester United-Chelsea match Friday. While the national outrage over the girlsí murder keeps growing, they ought either to have been remembered before the start of this Test or, at least, before the commencement of the second/third day.

n Duncan Fletcher interview on Page 14

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