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India race to victory

Sachin Tendulkar and Pragyan Ojha in Ahmedabad, on Monday. Ojha finished with a match-haul of nine wickets. (Picture courtesy BCCI)

Ahmedabad: Monday morning blues? Well, if you are really desperate to explain England’s loss in the Motera Test, you could use that excuse. But after the third day’s play, hoping that the Englishmen would ultimately somehow save the first Test of the four-match series, would have been like expecting the elephant to take a shot at pole-vault!

So India’s nine-wicket victory to take a 1-0 lead was pretty much what the script had promised. After all, when you bat as well as the Indians did in their first innings, you seldom end up thinking that you could have done better. In the bowling, too, the hosts were far more professional than the guests.

 

The first four days portrayed a detailed catalogue of cricket in the subcontinent… Wrong selection of the playing XI by the visiting team, fast bowlers being reduced to goods-train status, the home team plundering runs with the ferocity of the 11th century Turks, the spinners having a fat turnover for their business and someone from the visitors single-handedly trying to overpower the adversities — seemed to be a Discovery Channel guide to life in these parts of the world.

The fifth and final day of the match was actually not accounted for. After the second day’s play, when England lost three wickets in the evening session, pundits predicted a three-day finish. Then, even after Alastair Cook and Nick Compton took their team safely to sunset on Day III, there weren’t many who were sure that the Test would need five days for a result. That it did was because of Mr Hercules, you can call him Alastair if you like, and his Man-At-Arms Mr Matt Prior.

So, while the cerebral instincts said that India would win the match, the heart was playing hide and seek with the possibility that from 340 for five, England would bat with their life to ensure that they didn’t proceed to Mumbai one down.

For nine overs on Monday morning, the Cook-Prior duo battled tooth and nail, probably with miniature goals as their batting consultant Graham Gooch had prescribed the previous evening.

But in the fourth ball of the 10th over of the day, and after 35 minutes of journey on the route to escape (with a draw), Prior misread the bounce of a Pragyan Ojha delivery and his backfoot effort was lobbed straight back at the bowler. The England wicketkeeper’s 240-minute stay at crease, that produced 91 runs, came to an end.

As Cook stood still at the non-striker’s end, watching Prior walk back to the dressing room, one knew that the last chapter had begun… That the tale, or the tail, would be over soon.

Twenty-three balls later, when Cook (176 off 374 balls) got castled by Ojha while trying a backfoot jab through the covers, even the greatest optimist must have given up. England were 365 for seven, and with a 35-run lead, that is if you can call that a lead.

To be honest, Cook couldn’t have saved England, not when the four middle-order batsmen’s combined effort earned the team just 68 runs from two innings. Tim Bresnan (20), Stuart Broad (3) and Graeme Swann (17) together added 40. But that’s okay, you don’t expect the fork to dig a pond. England ended on 406 in their second innings and India needed 77 for victory.

In between, Ojha, who finished with a match-haul of nine wickets, and Broad had a chit-chat.

Chesteshwar Pujara opened the innings with Virender Sehwag in Gautam Gambhir’s absence. Boundaries flew thick and fast as India galloped towards the target. Sehwag (25) fell while attempting to clear the long-on boundary, but Pujara (41 not out) and Virat Kohli (14 not out) ensured that there were no further loss of wickets and India won in 15.3 overs.

Broad posted a message for the England fans on his Twitter account after the match. “…before u listen to too many ex-playing ‘experts’ being negative, ask them if they ever won a Test series in India....#28years.”

Well, Geoffrey Boycott, doing commentary for the series, would probably reply: “I reckon my mum would bowl better than you did lad.”