| Sanjay Bangar celebrates after claiming Mark Butcher in the third Test at Headingley Sunday. (Reuters)
Leeds: Nasser Hussain is built in the Steve Waugh mould. Neither will he offer excuses, nor concede a millimetre even when all escape routes have been sealed. At Headingley Sunday, Hussain was in the thick of battle as England struggled to avert defeat in the third Test.
With the wicket dual-paced, the advantage definitely remains with India. However, they didn’t exactly dominate the fourth day in the manner of the three preceding ones. And, at the wicket is England’s most experienced pair — Alec Stewart and Hussain. They have already added 91.
“We will take it session by session... In any case, Hussain has set an example,” remarked England coach Duncan Fletcher. Opposite number John Wright chose to be cautiously optimistic. “The game isn’t over, but we should draw level... If we need to chase, we are prepared,” he said.
Following-on 355 behind, England are still 116 in the red with the captain on 90 (238 minutes, 171 balls, 15x4, 1x6) to senior pro Stewart’s 40 (152 minutes, 112 deliveries, 6x4). Stewart, in fact, has had to take guard in different innings on the same day.
In the morning, Stewart was left unbeaten on 78 (169 minutes, 120 balls, 11x4) as the first innings closed in four overs. For India, both spinners (Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh) had three wickets apiece — so much for the track here having a reputation for being distinctly unhelpful towards their tribe.
Kumble passes Willis
Kumble (who has overtaken Bob Willis in the 300-plus list) and Harbhajan haven’t been short on enthusiasm in innings No. 2, but Sourav Ganguly had surely set sights on more wickets. While Kumble has one — he should also have had Hussain at the stroke of tea — Harbhajan is wicketless.
Should England achieve what seems impossible, young Parthiv Patel will be crucified. Hussain, after all, was then on 47. Now, he is ten short of registering his 12th hundred. Incidentally, Hussain is past 2,000 runs as captain.
With the arrears so heavy, only a muscular start would have given England some hope of trying to maintain their 1-0 lead. As it turned out, the in-form Michael Vaughan left early (to Ajit Agarkar) and the pressure became more choking.
That Robert Key is hardly the ideal replacement for a Marcus Trescothick didn’t make it any easier. This time, he misjudged Kumble’s length to be trapped plumb leg-before.
Thereafter, Mark Butcher — who had such a memorable outing at Headingley exactly a year ago, against Australia — played a poor shot to become Sanjay Bangar’s second Test wicket. He had no business behaving as if he was on the Aire angling for trout.
Butcher contributed 42 (123 minutes, 100 deliveries, 6x4).
Next to go was John Crawley. He, too, became a Bangar victim when the ball stopped and, then, took off. Virender Sehwag fumbled for that split second, but held firm at the second attempt. Crawley’s dismissal brought Hussain and Stewart together.
Bangar, of course, has justified the team management’s faith: 68 with the bat and two wickets with a day remaining.
Zaheer all fired up
Significantly, though Zaheer Khan hasn’t got a wicket in the second innings, the last two spells (four overs with the old and two with the new Duke) were brilliant. All six were maidens with Hussain often misreading the swing. Indeed, Zaheer was all fired-up and the England captain survived because it was his day.
Actually, the last session was quite dramatic. For instance, there was a phase when 32 deliveries were bowled without a run being scored. At the other extreme, seven boundaries (five by Hussain, two by Stewart) were struck in a mere 21 balls.
The Indians, by the way, haven’t been conservative with their appealing and could be cautioned by Match Referee Clive Lloyd.