| Nasser Hussain, who scored 110, can’t hide his emotions after England plunged to an innings defeat at Headingley Monday
Leeds: It pays to be guided by instinct. It pays to be positive. And, right now, it sure pays to be an Indian.
Last Thursday, Sourav Ganguly refused to be influenced by overcast conditions. He also wasn’t in a bind because of Headingley’s reputation of doing a bit too much early on. Instead, on winning the toss, the Indian captain chose to bat.
Five days later, that courageous move paid the dividend of the century: An innings and 46-run win over England — the biggest by India overseas — in the third Test, a result which has elevated The Oval match to decider-status.
In the red by 116 at the start of the fifth day, Monday, England lost their last six wickets in less than two hours. For England, then, this is the lowest point in bilateral engagements versus India.
Without getting carried away, it’s reasonable to say India now have a gilt-edged chance of claiming their first series outside the sub-continent in 16 years. England, after all, will require time to recoup from the ruins here.
Indeed, in the context of this series, the Indian victory (16th against England) is more relevant than the home team’s 170-run win at Lord’s in the first Test.
But for half-an-hour late Sunday, when Nasser Hussain and Alec Stewart dropped anchor, India’s dominance in the third Test was throughout.
In an era when the sport is so competitive, it’s rare for one team to hold sway for so long — in recent years, only Australia exercised this dominance during their dream run. Having done an Australia, Sourav couldn’t help saying: “Given the way we played, I doubt if there’s room for improvement.”
Of course, that’s not to suggest complacency is being invited. Sourav was just making a point, like he did when young Parthiv Patel was ready to head for the dressing room after being struck on the right knee. The captain made him wear the pads again and, later, remarked: “Test cricket is tough business... He’s got to learn...”
Sourav also made the point about not losing any of the intensity, which was much in evidence at Headingley. He added: “Things can change very quickly... In any case, I don’t like predicting.” Sourav, by the way, remembered to compliment Hussain for a “great Test innings”.
Resuming at 90, Hussain did post his 12th hundred, but fell on 110 (268 minutes, 194 deliveries, 18x4, 1x6) when he misread Anil Kumble and played for the break. The bounce also surprised him. Actually, the breakthrough came after an inspired change of ends for Zaheer Khan. While Zaheer replaced Ajit Agarkar, Kumble took Zaheer’s place at the pavilion end.
Hussain, as it turned out, was followed almost immediately by Andrew Flintoff. The latter had an outstanding Test at Lord’s but, since, has made no impact. Just as quickly, it was Stewart’s turn to go. This time, the ball spun much more and Rahul Dravid made no mistake.
Stewart, overnight on 40, added seven. Thereafter, it was a matter of time before the Indians made a dash to grab the stumps as souvenirs. Playing together for the first time in the series (defying local ‘tradition’, at that) Kumble and Harbhajan Singh picked up 11 wickets. Seven went to the senior pro, now No.14 on the list of the most successful bowlers.
For his part, Hussain refused to slam his bowlers only. “We are beyond blaming individuals... Each one of us needs to think about the reasons for the defeat, but the way forward isn’t by blaming each other. We were outplayed in all departments and shouldn’t be pointing fingers.”
However, Hussain did say his quicks need to work on their length. As of now, that’s top priority.
Dravid, adjudged MoM for an outstanding 148 — an innings which eventually made so much of the difference, dedicated his award to teammates. “I’m not the sort to usually do so but, given our achievement, it’s best I dedicate it to teammates,” Dravid told The Telegraph.
Appropriately, just about everybody contributed. The bowlers played their part, Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav got 193 and 128, respectively, and even the low-profile Sanjay Bangar produced a significant performance. Frankly, picking him for a dual role became a masterstroke. Then, one can’t forget Sehwag. He got a mere eight with the bat but, over the two innings, had his hands in six dismissals.
It was Team India at work.
Meanwhile, it’s confirmed Flintoff won’t have a role to play in the last Test. Moreover, he’s going to miss next month’s Champions Trophy. According to an ECB spokesman, Flintoff will “consult” a specialist Wednesday and undergo (hernia) surgery two days later.