Mumbai: The ongoing India versus England Test is set for a throbbing finish as three possibilities are open: A win for either the hosts or the visitors or a draw. Ahead 1-0, India can’t lose the series even if they finish second-best at the Wankhede.
At stumps on Day III (Monday), England were 152 ahead with eight wickets intact. They would have been much better placed had they, too, not been hit by a virus which causes catches to be dropped.
India’s leading scorers, the maturing-at-express-speed Mahendra Singh Dhoni (64) and captain Rahul Dravid (52), were let off in one James Anderson over ' at 137 for four and 138 for four, respectively. Later, Irfan Pathan was dropped.
Wicketkeeper Geraint Jones, though, stood out. Perhaps, it was his lack of faith in the slips cordon which made him go for (and pull off) impossible ones. If England do win this Test, Jones’ effort will be somewhere at the very top.
If the honours go to India, Dhoni’s innings (at No. 6) is bound to receive top billing. He took a blow from Andrew Flintoff, but didn’t go off. Then, he featured in a series of partnerships which denied England the option of making India follow on.
If Dhoni illustrated exactly how a challenge ought to be met, Yuvraj Singh and Pathan did just the opposite. That, too, after being well set. Thankfully, Anil Kumble (30) and Sreesanth (29 not out) added 55 for the ninth wicket or else the Barmy Army would have swarmed the pubs this evening itself.
Kumble, by the way, has emerged a more prickly thorn than some specialist batsmen.
That the surplus was 121 and not, say, 171 is one reason why England began innings No. 2 on a somewhat diffident note. It didn’t surprise that the openers ' Andrew Strauss and Ian Bell ' were out rather quickly. Their dismissals allowed India to squeeze into the frame.
Even if horrible shots hadn’t been played, things could have been different had Dhoni not been given out controversially (by TV umpire K. Hariharan). There seemed an element of doubt in that run out appeal and the benefit ought to have gone to the batsman.
Dhoni’s departure made it 212 for seven.
“Initially, I’d thought that the throw (from Anderson) had missed the stumps... It’s only later I realised the bails were off,” Dhoni remarked, adding that he hadn’t straightaway seen the replay owing to the acute “disappointment”.
The team, however, must have taken heart by his refusing to be intimidated. Asked by The Telegraph whether his duel with the England captain reminded him of the face-off with Shoaib Akhtar in Faisalabad, two months ago, Dhoni answered: “I wasn’t really thinking of that... I was focused on countering England’s strategy...”
He couldn’t have done better.
Now, the onus is particularly on the spinners ' Kumble, who batted courageously for 135 minutes, and Harbhajan Singh. In Dhoni’s view, though, there’s “something” for everybody. So...
Footnote: Former India wicketkeeper Farokh Engineer (who has settled in Manchester) tore into those at the Wankhede who “questioned” the parentage of Flintoff and key bowler Matthew Hoggard. “That’s not done... We don’t have to follow the yob culture of soccer fans in England... Flintoff and Hoggard’s fault is that they took some wickets... Booing is different from hurling abuses,” he said, calling for the “setting of a good example”.