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Harbhajan, Bangar check England

London: Nervous Nineties has been part of cricket’s lexicon for many summers. Now, with Michael Vaughan falling in the 190s twice in this series, there perhaps is a need for an addition: Uncertain 190s or something on those lines.

At Trent Bridge, last month, Vaughan fell for 197. At The Oval Friday, the cultured opener departed for 195 (379 minutes, 279 deliveries, 29x4), to a beauty from Zaheer Khan which, incidentally, was superbly taken by Ajay Ratra. Overnight on 182, Vaughan faced only 13 balls.

Later, smiling wryly, Vaughan mumbled: “Once more, I’m so disappointed.” As it was in Trent Bridge, Vaughan deserved a double hundred here.

England also lost John Crawley and captain Nasser Hussain rather quickly — both becoming the steady Sanjay Bangar’s victims — but the home team didn’t quite pack up in a hurry. Indeed, England’s first innings in this decider continued till half-an-hour after tea by when 515 had been scored.

At stumps, India were 66 for one.

With Day-II getting underway in conditions suited for seamers, captain Sourav Ganguly utilised his spinners (Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh) for only four of the 26 overs before lunch. He didn’t have to regret, as three wickets for the addition of just 57 wasn’t a bad bargain.

England did better in the second session (90 runs), though they again lost three wickets — this time, all to Harbhajan. A feature of this period, then, was Harbhajan’s 12-over spell where he was generous with the away-going delivery. It proved productive.

After tea, Harbhajan got one more to record his best figures overseas (five for 115). More to the point, he now has five or more wickets in a Test innings nine times (thrice against England). But for Harbhajan, England would have reached an absolutely insurmountable total.

“Yes, I’m very happy, especially as I got the wickets on a track friendly towards batsmen,” Harbhajan remarked, adding: “Though we conceded more than 500, there’s much cricket still left.” Well, the batsmen now need to show this spirit.

Down the order, England were well served by Dominic Cork (52) — regarded by his captain as a “good package” — and Ashley Giles (31). While the bowling, generally, didn’t ignite the packed terraces, Bangar’s effort (24-8-48-2) was remarkable. Getting the ball to move in the air and off the seam, he again proved his utility.

Bangar continued the good work with the bat as well. As at Headingley, he knew exactly where his off-stump was and did well to remain unbeaten at the delayed stumps. With him is the redoubtable Rahul Dravid.

Not for the first time, of course, Dravid had to take guard so early. And, given that this keeps happening, one is surprised why he has strong reservations about opening. After all, Dravid ends up doing an opener’s job. This time, he had to quickly fill-in for Virender Sehwag who departed via a typical expansive drive.

Looking ahead, Bangar and Dravid must enact a repeat of their Headingley show for India to stay afloat.

Clarke for Vaughan

PTI adds: England Friday called up Surrey youngster Rikki Clarke as one of three changes to the squad for next week’s ICC Champions Trophy in Sri Lanka.

The trio come in for injured Paul Collingwood (neck), Craig White (abdominal injury) and Michael Vaughan (impending knee operation). It brings the number of changes to the original squad to five.

England squad:

Nasser Hussain, Andrew Caddick, Ian Blackwell, Rikki Clarke, Dominic Cork, Ashley Giles, Matthew Hoggard, Ronnie Irani, James Kirtley, Nick Knight, Owais Shah, Jeremy Snape, Alec Stewart, Marcus Trescothick.

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