Brilliance of Bell magnified by abject India
Double hundred a pleasure to watch before Swann turns the screw and tourists' predictable demise follows shambolic display in the field
The question is now being asked regularly. How good are this England team?To which the answer is "very good indeed" and "considerably better than their woeful opponents in this series".
It has been wonderful to watch England this past month, remorselessly and spectacularly grinding down India. Unfortunately, it has been rather less marvellous to see India, a side all too willing to be ground down.
Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells and probably Mad As Hell from Tadcaster will be writing letters about it, because the feeling is universal. This is not what was promised on the packet and it has been far from it, an epic that has fallen flat.
The two sessions of play possible yesterday were starkly contrasting. England made 134 in the first, Ian Bell completing his alluring maiden double hundred, and then declared at 591 for 6. India then staggered to 103 for 5, their only resistance supplied, as it has been throughout, by Rahul Dravid.
It took all of six balls for the first wicket to fall. Poor Virender Sehwag, out first ball in both innings at Edgbaston, at least scored eight this time. Four more wickets followed as night follows day, including that of Sachin Tendulkar, whose 100th international century continues to prove elusive in a profoundlydisappointing series.
By the time play ended India had reduced the deficit to 488, about as mountainous as the gap between these teams. Graeme Swann, with three wickets, was casting a spell for the first time in the series.
The tourists came here as the No 1-ranked Test side, not to mention being World Cup winners. They have signally failed to justify either the rating or the billing and have paid for it by surrendering their place at the top of the Test charts to their opponents.
England were already out of sight when the third day of the Fourth Test began, and the horizon simply kept moving further away. The rain that prevented play in the second session merely reduced India's chances of losing the match, thus preventing the series scoreline of 4-0 that both sides, for different reasons, deserve.
The day's first session merely allowed England to extend their first innings. India did not bring along the silver plate on which they have handed England most sessionsin the past few weeks, but theirbowling was still innocuous, their fielding shambolic.
Without any alarm and with much panache, Bell cruised to his first Test double hundred. He had been denied by one run three years ago, when he made 199 against South Africa at Lord's, but Bell is different now. "Ding dong," as the great Leslie Phillips might say.
The shot of the morning was a crisp straight drive for four, the one that brought up the milestone was a leg glance to the boundary. It was the 51st double hundred by an England batsman and the fourth this season, all by different batsmen.
Without denigrating the others and bearing in mind Kevin Pietersen's pyrotechnics at Lord's (and latterly at The Oval on Friday), this was the most glorious. Bell is now conveying the impression that he can achieve in the game all that was said to be possible when he was a kid of 12.
Bell was out lbw, missing a sweep against Suresh Raina, the occasional off-spinner who had accounted for Pietersen on Friday evening. Matt Prior and Ravi Bopara then added a dashing 44.
Bopara looked at home in the Test environment at last. It was as if he had convinced himself that he must go out and play as he knows and to heck with the consequences. The result was pleasant and although the circumstances were propitious tothe point of batting on a bed of roses, such an assured cameo may make a difference to his future prospects.
Presumably, England's plan was to bat on until mid-afternoon, by which time they might have reached 650 or 700, given the paucity of what was in front of them. As it was, this was only the second time they had made above 500 in three consecutive Test innings. It is what is known in the dressing room as scoreboard pressure, and India felt its hot breath on their collaras soon as they went out.
Sehwag left his first two balls alone outside off stump, to enormous relief. Nobody, least of all such an adornment to the game, deserved the ignominy of three ducks in a row. When he punched the third and fourth balls for four past point it seemed the splendour of Virender might be back. But he played across the last ball of the over, which nipped back, and was plainly leg before.
There was no hope for VVS Laxman, an electrifying, charming player who is completely out of sorts. It was a decent ball from StuartBroad which got him, a good length, bouncing, moving away, but Laxman could hardly wait to follow it.
Which brought together the old warriors, Dravid and Tendulkar. They settled down to business, imperturbable, taking runs when they presented themselves.
Tendulkar had hit four off Swann when he swept at the next ball and gloved it behind, where Anderson, running from first slip, held the catch. Raina spent 29 balls without scoring before he was stumped to give Swann his second wicket. Ishant Sharma, the nightwatchman, gave him his third.
It was as sad as it was predictable.
The Oval scoreboard
England won toss
England – First Innings (Overnight 457-3: K P Pietersen 175)
I R Bell lbw b Raina 235/364/23/2
J M Anderson c Laxman b Sreesanth 13/26/2/0
E J G Morgan c Dhoni b Sreesanth 1/10/0/0
R S Bopara not out 44/75/3/0
†M J Prior not out 18/28/2/0
Extras (b6 lb8 w7 nb10) 31
Total (for 6 dec, 153 overs) 591
Fall (cont): 4-480, 5-487, 6-548.
Did not bat T T Bresnan, S C J Broad, G P Swann.
Bowling R P Singh 34-7-118-0, I Sharma 31-7-97-1, S Sreesanth 29-2-123-3, S K Raina 19-2-58-2, A Mishra 38-3-170-0, S R Tendulkar 2-0-11-0.
India – First Innings
V Sehwag lbw b Anderson 8/6/2/0
R Dravid not out 57/108/9/0
V V S Laxman c Prior b Broad 2/7/0/0
S R Tendulkar c Anderson b Swann 23/34/4/0
S K Raina st Prior b Swann 0/29/0/0
I Sharma c Cook b Swann 1/9/0/0
MS Dhoni not out 5/5/1/0
Extras (lb5 w2) 7
Total (for 5, 33 overs) 103
Fall 1-8, 2-13, 3-68, 4-93, 5-95.
To bat G Gambhir, A Mishra, S Sreesanth, R P Singh.
Bowling J M Anderson 5-1-21-1, S C J Broad 10-1-22-1, T T Bresnan 7-0-25-0, G P Swann 10-3-27-3, K P Pietersen1-0-3-0.
Umpires S J A Taufel (Aus) and R J Tucker (Aus).
TV Umpire S J Davis (Aus).
Match referee R S Madugalle (SL).
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