Nottingham: A move, driven by desperation, proved a masterstroke and has carried Team India to within 63 runs of a 1-0 lead in the three-Test npower face-off.
As that should be knocked off without much sweat on the final morning (Tuesday), whatever happens at The Oval, Rahul Dravid’s men cannot lose this series.
England captain Michael Vaughan’s worst fear — that the Indians would bounce back after their narrow escape at Lord’s — has almost come true within a week of his having expressed that apprehension.
The move centred around the second new ball, taken when it was due. England had, by then, reached 270 for three — a mere 13 away from wiping off the first-innings deficit.
Zaheer Khan went for 13 in the first over, raising doubts over whether the move would actually pay off. In his next (the innings’ 83rd), though, he evicted Vaughan and Ian Bell.
In the space of three deliveries, England’s gutsy fightback ended. For a while, it seemed the Test would end on the fourth evening itself — providing the icing to a rather sensational last session — but Ryan Sidebottom’s unbeaten 25 denied the Indians.
At stumps, called an hour after the scheduled close, the Indians had (in three overs) trimmed the 73-run target by exactly ten. Wasim Jaffer, however, had a close call.
The forecast is good, so Dravid and Co. need not be on edge. The last Indian win in England had been at Headingley, in 2002, under Sourav Ganguly’s captaincy.
Zaheer, who swung the ball both ways and was aggressive throughout, returned the best figures (five for 75). The damage he did at one end allowed the terribly below par Anil Kumble to finish off the tail.
In between, the fast-maturing Rudra Pratap Singh produced two beauties.
Till the collapse (last seven going down for a mere 68), triggered by the Dravid-move, the ball had been rolling in England’s favour. Only one wicket fell in the morning (Alastair Cook’s) and two (Andrew Strauss and Kevin Pietersen) between lunch and tea.
Robin Hood’s tales abound in these parts and, as long as the classy Vaughan was at the crease, there was a good chance that his innings would become the latest talking point.
Sadly, from England’s point of view, Vaughan got out unusually (for 124) and the innings derailed quicker than the fastest lap recorded at the European GP in Nuerburgring.
Vaughan had, of course, played the lead role in England’s brick-by-brick approach. Building partnerships, in other words.
He added 82 with Strauss for the second-wicket. That was followed by 45 with Pietersen (who received a beamer from the crazy Sreesanth). The last was the biggest — 112 for the fourth when Collingwood was at the other end.
Vaughan, who crossed the 5,000 runs mark during his outstanding innings, drove in sublime fashion and late-cut too. Nowadays, that’s rarely seen. The way he handled Kumble was a lesson for those aspiring to master quality spinners.
Had the ball not struck Vaughan’s thigh pad and rolled on to the stumps, the end-of-play script would surely have read very differently.
“There’s no point being at the ground and watching others bat... You might as well bat yourself... Vaughan believes in that and produced an innings of such high quality,” lauded former captain Graham Gooch during a brief interaction with The Telegraph.
Having conceded such a huge lead, by making 198 in the first innings, England had been heading in one direction from the very second morning. That the road wouldn’t change got confirmed on Monday evening.
Sreesanth in trouble
Speedster Sreesanth, who got carried away in the England second innings, is likely to be disciplined by Match Referee Ranjan Madugalle. He was, one learns, called for a hearing late on Monday.