| Sreesanth celebrates after scalping Kevin Pietersen on Saturday
Mumbai: England, it seems, are most competitive when saddled with a major problem on the eve of a Test. The visitors were outstanding in Nagpur, despite the drama which preceded that first face-off, but fell flat in Mohali to trail 0-1.
If losing Steve Harmison wasn’t a big enough blow in the lead-up to the third and final Test (at the Wankhede), England had to cap Middlesex’s Owais Shah at the last minute after Alastair Cook (a centurion on debut, Nagpur) pulled out with Mumbai-belly symptoms.
Yet, by stumps, the visitors were on a pretty decent 272 for three. If that came as a bit of a surprise, the bigger one was when Rahul Dravid chose not to bat.
Having packed his XI with three new ball bowlers (Irfan Pathan, Sreesanth and Munaf Patel), Dravid probably had no choice. But, then, the composition of the XI comes into question as V.V.S. Laxman again had to sit out.
“It appears the thinktank read the wicket wrong... If I had to play five bowlers, I would have picked three spinners and most certainly have batted... Unless, the circumstances are extraordinary, it’s best to make first use of the wickets in India,” former captain (and coach) Ajit Wadekar told The Telegraph.
In fact, even opener Andrew Strauss (who ended a dismal run in the subcontinent with a fine, though not chanceless, 128) acknowledged they were surprised. “We would have batted, but didn’t expect to be put in,” he said.
The left-hander had poor scores ' highest being 23 in four Test innings ' on the tour of Pakistan, late last year, and didn’t score very many in the first two Tests of the onging series either. A big one, therefore, was due.
“This (eighth) hundred took a little while coming... There are lots of things to learn in the sub-continent, patience being one of them... I didn’t try to dominate too much and, yes, was conscious about the shots to play,” he remarked.
The Johannesburg-born Strauss also accepted “not feeling great” in recent times as the runs weren’t coming in the numbers he would have liked. “It’s important to keep working hard... That done, things look after themselves... Of course, in the subcontinent, it’s important to work out a method,” he added.
Strauss picked Munaf for special mention ' “he bowled a couple of good spells when the ball was old...” The breakthrough, however, came from Sreesanth. And, having got the centurion, Harbhajan Singh’s confidence is bound to grow.
The wicket does have some bounce and conditions did help both the conventional and reverse swing. No demons, but it’s all about exploiting to the fullest...
Team India’s catching, though, has to improve: Dravid dropped Strauss (off Harbhajan) on 92, Mahendra Singh Dhoni couldn’t hold on with the opener on 123. Anil Kumble had to suffer then.
Hoggard may stay
Meanwhile, with there being a question mark over Harmison, Matthew Hoggard is expected to stay back for the seven ODIs.
SHARAD PAWAR PRAISE FOR RAHUL DRAVID
| Rahul Dravid is felicitated by BCCI president Sharad Pawar at the Wankhede on Saturday. (PTI)
The Board of Control for Cricket in India president, Sharad Pawar, had much praise for captain Rahul Dravid when he made his 100th Test appearance, at the Wankhede, on Saturday.
The following is the text of Pawar’s statement:
“Hearty congratulations to you on reaching a personal milestone of hundred Test appearances for India.
“We in the BCCI place on record your outstanding contribution to Indian cricket ever since your debut in 1996.
“Your international career started on a sedate note, but with every Test you played, you matured and exhibited in abundance the qualities of discipline, commitment and focus, which has helped you carve a niche for yourself as one of the world’s best batsman.
“You are a quiet and humble person who conducts himself with grace and dignity on and off the field.
“You have been a perfect ambassador for India and the game of cricket and the recent honour bestowed on you by the United Nations is another feather in your cap.
“You have always given your best to the Indian team, whether it was playing as a wicketkeeper-batsman in one-day Internationals or helping the Indian team recover from early setbacks while batting.
“You have been in excellent form over the last few seasons, as is reflected by your batting averages. You were rightfully adjudged as the Test Player of the Year and the Player of the Year by the ICC in 2004.
“I am sure that the younger generation in this country looks up to you as a role model particularly to adopt your determination to do well and your work ethics.”