A happy end is a priceless gift. We saved the Test match. Donít let the English press tell you it was the weather. Dhoni saved us. In the final overs of the match, with no hope of making the winning score and every chance that the English bowlers would take Indiaís last wicket, Dhoni raged against fate by going for Vaughanís bowling and pulling him viciously to the deep-midwicket fielder many times in a row for a single which he then refused to take. They thrice presented him a singly crown, which he did thrice refuse, as someone once said.
Moved by his futile heroics, the gods commanded the clouds to foregather and weep. In case youíre the nervous sort of desi fan and havenít asked what happened after they went in for bad light for fear of finding out, I can confirm that we saved the match, Dhoni and me. Yes, I had to take a hand. There was a bad moment when Panesar appealed for an lbw decision against Sreesanth and Steve Bucknor, who has form when it comes to pushing us off the edge, got all twitchy. He would have grimaced and nodded and raised his finger, but taking advantage of how slowly he gets to the point I whipped out my wand and yelled ďStupefy!Ē That stopped him. Nobody noticed that he was unconscious for a bit because a) he was standing up and b) he isnít too animated to start with.
As I was saying, a happy end makes a difference to the whole story and all the characters in it. At the end of the first dayís play, when England were two hundred and plenty for four, I wanted to sack the pace Ďattackí. When you need Ganguly to take the first wicket and Kumble to take the second (after giving away more than two hundred runs), three specialist seamers begins to seem a bit extravagant. R.P. Singh was high on my list of least-favoured bowlers. I found his run-up and follow-through deliberate to the point of absurdity: why, I wondered, did he bowl fast if he was worried that some body-part was about to fall off' And when Dinesh Karthik put down Andrew Strauss, he was lucky I had forgotten the Cruciatus curse, or heíd still be writhing at point.
By the end of the second day, it was clear to me that I had been right about our seamers all along: they were the fulcrum of our side, the pivot on which the teamís fortunes turned. To get England out for under three hundred in spite of a fielding side like ours amounted to genius. Which is more than you could say for our batsmen. Karthik batted as well as he had caught and Dravid died defending, so you could say he didnít throw his wicket away, but he hadnít scored very many, so that wasnít much of a consolation. The next morning, reading the reports on the match, I wondered why no one pointed out that Dravid hadnít scored Test runs in a long time. Not in South Africa, not against Bangladesh and now out for two.
By the time we crawled to two hundred all out, I had demoted M.S. Dhoni to Jharkhandís second eleven. To be out nudging a short ball to slip like someone providing catching practice made me wonder what Dravid thought he was doing with two wicket-keepers in the same side. Three if you counted Dravid. They should have left Dhoni at home given that he was a specialist batsman, a sub-continental specialist. His batting technique was so homespun that it looked home-made.
By the time the fourth day was done, I was vindicated in my early faith in R.P. Singh, specially the tigerish litheness of his bowling action. After he had torn the heart out of the English middle-order, I could see the Wasim Akram in him, the same effortless rhythm, the same capacity to slip in the lethal bouncer. Dravidís terminal decline continued apace and while Tendulkar and Ganguly got a few, it was clear to my unsentimental eye that the sun had set on our galácticos. In terms of bad selection, England 2007 was proving to be the batting equivalent of the bowling disaster of Pakistan 1978, when we dispatched our great, storied spinners for one tour too many, only to have them slaughtered by the Pakistan batsmen, led by Zaheer Abbas and Javed Miandad.
But really, how much a day, specially a rain-curtailed day, can change things. Laxmanís 39 doesnít sound like much, but when you think of how much it must have helped us reach that moment when the light turned and we returned to the pavilion with a wicket left, you see at once what a doughty knock it was. And you have to make allowances for the man: that short ball from that brutishly tall Tremlett kept low, decidedly low. Yes, it did hit the top of the stumps but given where it bounced, in a just world and off a true pitch, it would have sailed over them. And even Ganguly, with a thirty in the first innings and a forty in the second, had done his bit. Tendulkar, too, had shown intent: slashing and pulling, looking like the aggressive Tendulkar we once knew and loved. And come to think of it, Dravid wasnít out at all, even the English commentators pointed out that he had been hit outside the line.
No, overall, it had been a wonderful Test match and given the advantage of surprise England had in fielding a brand-new pace attack about which the Indian batsmen knew little if anything, it was very creditable that India had survived the ambush. And on a normal ground, the teams would have lost much more time and it wouldnít have come down to this last wicket drama that English sports writers (and, I regret to report, some Indian writers too) have made so much of. The match would have been drawn as a matter of course. I think the Indian management, perhaps Borde himself, ought to register a discreet complaint that the Indian team hadnít been briefed by the ECB on their new, fast-draining grounds. Shouldnít the speed of drainage have been specified under playing conditions' Still, all said and done, a draw was a fair result. Though given the Indian teamís experience and its champion middle-order, I would, as a neutral observer, have to say that going into the second Test, India start favourites.