London: The Brit Oval has, over the years, seen stellar performances. From Sir Len Hutton’s 364 to Muttiah Muralidharan’s match haul of 16 for 220. It has also witnessed extraordinary happenings.
The last international engagement, for example, saw Pakistan forfeit what was the series’ final Test. That dubious first and the drama’s principal characters — Darrell Hair and Inzamam-ul Haq — are still talked about.
Not in glowing terms mind you.
While that August 2006 forfeiture has been well documented, few perhaps may know that a bedecked elephant from Chessington Zoo, Bella, actually had a role in India’s only Test win at the Oval — 36 years ago.
According to old-timers, her presence on the fourth afternoon proved really lucky. She turned up at lunch and, from then on, the Ajit Wadekar-led Indians were unstoppable.
With Bhagwat Chandrasekhar at his bamboozling best, the Indians went on to win by four wickets, scripting the first-ever series success in England.
|Sourav Ganguly and Sachin Tendulkar during a training session at the Oval on Wednesday, the eve of the final Test against England.
Come Thursday and yet another India-England (npower) Test begins at the Oval. Ahead 1-0, even a draw will suffice, but captain Rahul Dravid insisted his team’s “mindset” was positive.
He won’t, by the way, be looking at a modern-day Bella (the one of 1971 fame died in 1990) for inspiration.
“I’m not aware of the elephant’s visit… I’m focused on playing good cricket over the next five days and I’d rather depend on my team,” Dravid told The Telegraph.
By his own admission, he has “challenged” the Sachin Tendulkars to repeat Trent Bridge, where Team India won by seven wickets.
For the record, the Indians haven’t taken a series in England after 1986.
“We did a lot of the basics very well there (Trent Bridge)… It takes a lot to win a Test and takes a lot more to win a series… You’ve got to play to potential and if you still get beaten, that has to be accepted,” Dravid said.
The bigger challenge is for Michael Vaughan’s England. They haven’t lost a series at home for six years and Vaughan wouldn’t like to be remembered as the one in whose captaincy that excellent run came to an end.
England’s openers need to make a big impact and the new-ball bowlers simply have to evict Wasim Jaffer and Dinesh Karthik before a solid foundation is laid. Vaughan’s worries won’t end there, but a beginning would’ve been made.
Vaughan, of course, is bound to take comfort from India’s awful record in defending leads. As recently as December-January, Dravid and Co. won the first Test in South Africa, but lost the next two.
It’s different for England — at best, they can draw the series. They got a boost when top-shot Kevin Pietersen, who missed Tuesday’s workout owing to “high fever,” turned up for the Test-eve practice.
There was talk that James Anderson would be dropped and Stuart Broad given his first cap, but indications are that England’s XI is going to remain unchanged. Ditto for India.
The wicket, traditionally the quickest and with the most bounce in England, is expected to live up to its reputation. So, anything less than a character-laced effort will be disastrous.
Given the sparks that flew at Trent Bridge, Match Referee Ranjan Madugalle has had a word with both Vaughan and Dravid.
The captains, after all, are responsible for ensuring their players respect the laws and the spirit in which cricket is supposed to be played.
“The Match Referee spoke to me this (Wednesday) morning… He didn’t have any big issues… There were just a couple of areas at Trent Bridge where he thought it got close and I agreed with him,” is what Vaughan had to say.
Dravid chose to play it down. “We had a friendly chat… Nothing different from the interaction which keeps happening with Match Referees… Such meetings are informal… Very casual…”
The serious business, however, is at hand.
India: Dinesh Karthik, Wasim Jaffer, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, V.V.S. Laxman, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Anil Kumble, Zaheer Khan, Rudra Pratap Singh, Sreesanth.
England (likely): Andrew Strauss, Alastair Cook, Michael Vaughan, Kevin Pietersen, Paul Collingwood, Ian Bell, Matt Prior, Chris Tremlett, Ryan Sidebottom, Monty Panesar, James Anderson.
Umpires: Steve Bucknor, Ian Howell. TV: Peter Hartley.
Match Referee: Ranjan Madugalle.
Match starts: 3.30 pm (IST).