Cricket: Hussain holds England together

FIRST TEST: Essex batsman keeps his head in difficult No 3 position after Indian bowlers launch determined fightback; India 214 and 5-0 England 313
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A maiden Test hundred by Nasser Hussain, in his eighth Test match, has given England a sizeable advantage in this low-scoring match. Batting at the bogy No 3 position - the eighth player to do so in the last 14 Tests - Hussain, whose 128 took 227 balls, had to weather an early fightback by India's bowlers, who, aided by some indecisive batting, had threatened to undermine England's good work on Thursday.

It was a fine innings that showed great sense on a pitch that is quickening and becoming less predictable by the session. True, it needed its moments of luck, but otherwise it was a knock that required a multi-faceted approach, both in its tactics and its choice of stroke. His batting with the tail where he doubled his score from 64 to 128 may yet prove to be the most crucial part of this Test from England's point of view.

Controversy also had its say, and when the Essex man was on 14, half of the Indian team were so convinced that he had gloved a leg-side delivery from Javagal Srinath that they appealed twice after their first offering had been turned down by umpire Darrell Hair.

Hussain is a fiery, passionate cricketer who takes the game seriously. His recent appointment as vice-captain of Essex and as captain on the recent A team tour to Pakistan, have mellowed and rounded the abrasive edges without losing the tenacious whole. It is this along with recent run of good form that has brought him another chance to fulfill his undoubted talent at Test level, though the milestone achieved here yesterday, may well prove the most important yet.

Coming to the crease after Nick Knight had edged the second ball of the day to Nayan Mongia, Hussain had to survive a searching, sustained spell from Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad, who together ended up bowling 43.2 of the 71.2 overs England faced yesterday.

Atherton, who seemed to have put his recent poor form behind him on Thusday evening, was next to go, driving at a wide-ish outswinger from Paras Mhambrey. Having added just two to his overnight score, he was perhaps guilty of relaxing against the new bowler.

Hussain had almost ground to a standstill when Graham Thorpe, who had looked by far the most assured of the two at that stage, was unluckily bowled by Srinath, the ball being diverted onto the stumps off pad and inside-edge. However, it was no more than Srinath deserved for a morning spent toiling unchanged from the Pavilion End, A spell that had already seen Mhambrey push a skied hook from Thorpe for six a few overs earlier.

A similar shot, this time off Prasad, saw Mhambrey make no mistake as Graeme Hick succumbed to his old failing of not watching the bouncer closely enough. It was an irresponsible shot on a pitch where the short ball never bounced consistently and it left England in an uncomfortable state at 149 for 4.

Fortunately for the home team, Ronnie Irani then joined his Essex team- mate in a brief but brutal stand of 46. Uncowed by situation or reputation, Irani set off in a flurry of boundaries. Even Ian Botham did not start his career off with four successive fours and Irani's uncomplicated nature and strokeplay will no doubt bring out the inevitable comparisons again this morning.

In a curious way, his quickfire 34, got the England innings going and it took the pressure off Hussain who had just painstakingly made his way to 50. Once Irani had gone, edging a beauty from Srinath that climbed to shoulder level, England lost three wickets in the space of eight balls - two of them brainless strokes by Lewis and Cork - all to Prasad, who finished with excellent figures of 4 for 71.

It was the moment Hussain was forced to take control and he immediately upped a gear. Although his off-side driving had been crisp, particularly when Kumble had given him any width, it now became imperious and powerful. In all he struck 18 fours and a six, which with his hundred in the bag, was smashed disdainfully over mid-wicket.

His dismissal, attempting another hook, gave Srinath his fourth wicket. But by then dark clouds were gathering and only two overs were possible before India, still 94 runs in arrears, went off for bad light.

Edgbaston scoreboard

India won toss

INDIA - First Innings 214 (J Srinath 52; D G Cork 4-61; A D Mullally 3-60)

ENGLAND - First Innings

(Overnight 60-0)

N V Knight c Mongia b Srinath 27

(79 min, 48 balls, 4 fours)

*M A Atherton c Rathore b Mhambrey 33

(123 min, 98 balls, 5 fours)

N Hussain c sub (R S Dravid) b Srinath 128 (311 min, 227 balls, 18 fours, 1 six)

G P Thorpe b Srinath 21

(46 min, 30 balls, 2 fours, 1 six)

G A Hick c Mhambrey b Prasad 8

(41 min, 29 balls, 2 fours)

R C Irani c Mongia b Srinath 34

(41 min, 34 balls, 7 fours)

R C Russell b Prasad 0

(22 min, 14 balls)

C C Lewis c Rathore b Prasad 0

(2 min, 1 ball)

D G Cork c Jadeja b Prasad 4

(8 min, 9 balls)

M M Patel lbw b Kumble 18

(53 min, 35 balls, 2 fours)

A D Mullally not out 14

(47 min, 25 balls, 3 fours)

Extras (b16,lb3,nb7) 26

Total (391 mins, 90.2 overs) 313

Fall: 1-60 (Knight), 2-72 (Atherton), 3-109 (Thorpe), 4-149 (Hick), 5- 195 (Irani), 6-205 (Russell), 7-205 (Lewis), 8-215 (Cork), 9-264 (Patel), 10-313 (Hussain).

Bowling: Srinath 28.2-5-103-4 (nb5) (4-0-17-0 13-3-30-2 4-0-22-1 3-1- 13-0 3-0-21-0 1.2-1-0-1), Prasad 28-9-71-4 (7-2-7-0 4-3-1-0 6-2-22-1 8- 2-25-3 3-0-16-0), Kumble 24-4-77-1 (4-0-21-0 14-4-41-0 6-0-15-1), Mhambrey 10-0-43-1 (nb3) (2-0-6-0 7-0-31-1 1-0-6 -0).

Progress: 100: 146 min, 33 overs. Rain stopped play: 12.20-12.36pm at 105-2 (Hussain 14, Thorpe 18) 35.1 overs. Lunch: 114-3 (Hussain 19, Hick 0) 40 overs. 150: 214 min, 47.5 overs. 200: 259 min, 58.3 overs. Tea: 229-8 (Hussain 76, Patel 2) 69 overs. 250: 328 min, 75 overs. 300 in 374 mins, 86.3 overs. New ball taken after 87 overs at 302-9. Innings closed: 5.28pm.

Hussain 50: 171 min, 113 balls, 8 fours. 100: 275 min, 193 balls, 15 fours.

INDIA - Second innings

V Rathore not out 5

(10 min, 8 balls, 1 four)

A D Jadeja not out 0

(10 min, 6 balls)

Total (for 0, 10 mins, 2.2 overs) 5

Bowling: Lewis 1.2-1-5-0, Cork 1-1-0-0.

Progress: Rain stopped play 5.47pm.

Umpires: D B Hair and D R Shepherd.