Bengali tiger shows undiminished appetite

THIRD TEST: Tendulkar makes England captain pay for dropped catch as India rack up highest partnership of series; India 287-2 v England
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The Independent Online
Two unbeaten centuries, by Sachin Tendulkar and Saurav Ganguly, have put India into an almost indomitable position after the first day of this final Test. But if regrets were few for India, England will look back to the moment when their captain dropped Tendulkar in the gully before he had scored. Unless wickets tumble quickly this morning, his team are likely to spend the rest of this match fighting to prevent India from levelling the series.

Handing such good fortune to a batsman of his calibre at any time is an expensive habit. On a pitch as bland as this it is cricketing suicide, and England's bowlers were made to toil long and hard paying for Mike Atherton's folly. To add insult to some already injured pride, hardly a ball was missed and England's ploy of strengthening their bowling looked misguided.

Ganguly certainly thought so as he cut and drove England's attack to distraction. This is the 23-year-old Bengali's second Test and he celebrated by scoring a second century. It is an achievement that leaves the left- hander from Calcutta in some pretty esteemed company, and he joins the West Indians Lawrence Rowe and Alvin Kallicharran as the only other players to have scored successive hundreds in their first two Test innings.

One has perhaps come to expect big scores from Tendulkar, and yet considering Ganguly started this tour tagged as a token political selection made to appease the powerbrokers of Indian cricket in Calcutta, his form has been nothing short of a revelation. The people of Bengal have, at long last, a champion of their own to cheer. As India's most audacious cricket fans, they will have particularly enjoyed his cheeky six off Min Patel, from the penultimate over of the day. A shot that brought a swift rebuke from his partner who pointed to an imaginary watch on his wrist.

In between the milestones, spectators were treated to some sublime batting and there was little to choose between the hundreds. Apart from Tendulkar's early dose of good fortune - he also played a ball from Mark Ealham on to his stumps when he was 10 - there were no great anomalies in scoring rates, with Ganguly taking 22 balls more to reach three figures.

Both innings, however, were compiled with a grace and timing of shot that was both wristily Indian and yet somehow classically textbook as well. The pair left England helpless in their thrall and their unbeaten stand of 254 is the highest by either side so far in the series.

The duo complemented each other well and England's bowlers, especially Patel, were constantly being tested with the shifting line demanded to keep a right and left-handed batsmen batting together, in check. He was not the only one to struggle and, just after lunch, Tendulkar took such a liking to Dominic Cork, that he took 29 off 16 balls unleashing a thrilling array of off-side drives.

Cork's response was untypical and he immediately hobbled off to have a pesky toe nail clipped. In the morning, one of his overs had spanned 30 minutes, rain suspending play for twenty-nine of them, after his first ball had removed Vikram Rathore, caught behind by Jack Russell for four.

Soon after Chris Lewis had Nayan Mongia also held by Russell after an edged drive had rebounded off Graeme Hick at second slip. It was the same height as the chance Hick spilled at Lord's, though this time he had to go to his left, where something of a blind spot appears to exist.

England, who opted for Ealham instead of Ronnie Irani, could not have wished for a more decisive start. With the ball still hard, another wicket would have dented India's confidence and pushed them on to the back foot.

That chance came almost immediately, as Tendulkar cut uppishly at Lewis, sending the ball rocketing towards Atherton's thigh at gully. His anguish at spilling the chance was plain to see and it was not until Tendulkar was caught off a Cork no-ball just before the close that another mistake was made.

To be fair, on a blustery day England did not bowl all that badly and Lewis and Alan Mullally in particular bowled well in unhelpful circumstances. After lunch, the left-armer manfully got through an eight over spell without ever looking threatening. During such passages, unless a wicket looks likely, it is imperative for a captain to give his bowlers short sharp spells. Atherton did not and he let the game and his bowlers drift, with Ealham sending down just 12 overs.

The inclusion of Ealham was by all accounts a strongly debated decision. But whereas the Kent all-rounder celebrated his first day of Test cricket with a character-building 0-35, Irani was returned to the Essex side at Grace Road, where he fared little better, by scoring nought.

Trent Bridge scoreboard

India won toss

INDIA - First Innings

V Rathore c Russell b Cork 4

(13 min, 7 balls)

N R Mongia c Russell b Lewis 9

(38 min, 24 balls, 1 four)

S C Ganguly not out 136

(347 min, 260 balls, 17 fours, 2 sixes)

S R Tendulkar not out 123

(321 min, 258 balls, 16 fours)

Extras (b4,lb2,w2,nb7) 15

Total (for 2, 361 min, 90 overs) 287

Fall: 1-7 (Rathore), 2-33 (Mongia).

To bat: *M Azharuddin, S V Manjrekar, R S Dravid, A Kumble, J Srinath, B K V Prasad, S L V Raju.

Bowling: Lewis 20-4-52-1 (nb3) (7-0-23-1 5-1-16-0 4-1-9-0 4-2-4-0), Cork 17-4-70-1 (nb4) (8-2-27-1 3-0-29-0 6-2-14-0), Mullally 20-4-46-0 (3-1- 9-0 8-2-15-0 2-0-8-0 7-1-14-0), Ealham 12-4-35-0 (6-1-17-0 6-3-18-0), Patel 16-1-67-0 (nb2) (1-0-6-0 5-0-20-0 9 -1-30-0 1-0-11-0), Hick 4-1- 8-0, Thorpe 1-0-3-0 (one spell each).

ENGLAND: *M A Atherton, A J Stewart, N Hussain, G P Thorpe, G A Hick, M A Ealham, C C Lewis, R C Russell, D G Cork, M M Patel, A D Mullally.

Umpires: K T Francis and G Sharp.