England 393 India 322-9: Panesar's unforgettable day upstages brilliance of Hoggard

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The Independent Online

The late wickets of Anil Kumble and Mohammad Kaif sealed another profitable day for England in the first Test against India here yesterday. The eighth-wicket pair, who had frustrated Andrew Flintoff's combative team for more than four hours, looked as though they were about to negate the brilliance of Matthew Hoggard, who bowled as well as he ever has in an England shirt during India's first-innings total of 322 for 9.

Stephen Harmison and the mightily impressive Monty Panesar claimed the scalps of Kumble and Kaif in the final two overs of an enthralling day, but it was Hoggard, with the outstanding figures of 5 for 57 in 30 overs, who proudly led a tired but satisfied England team from the field.

Hoggard was not the only England player to walk off with a broad smile. He was closely followed by Panesar, who looked every inch a Test bowler during his first full day in the field. Who knows how many Test wickets Panesar will go on to take, but he will never forget the sight of Aleem Dar raising his finger to give Sachin Tendulkar out to give him his first victim at the élite end of the game.

Tendulkar did not appear happy with the lbw decision but the ball hit his pad before coming in to contact with his bat and he was rightly given out. In the wild celebrations that followed, it took the England team about 10 seconds to catch up with Panesar, but he had every reason to celebrate.

India is a country where cricketers are the superstars. It is their images that occupy the gossip pages of newspapers and it is they who advertise products for multinational companies. Yet for the first three days of this Test, it has been the unfashionable, workmanlike members of each team who have shone. The opening two days were dominated by Paul Collingwood's superb hundred and Wasim Jaffer's fine 73, and yesterday it was the Hoggard, Kaif and Kumble show.

That this was the case was largely down to the nature of the pitch. Slow, lifeless surfaces do not encourage rousing cricket but they reward those who are prepared to get their whites dirty and scrap.

And there is no England player who enjoys a scrap more than Hoggard. "I would say this is one of my best performances," Hoggard said after taking his sixth five-wicket haul for England.

"It was a lot easier in Johannesburg a year ago [where Hoggard took 12 for 205 against South Africa] and to concede only 57 runs in 30 overs shows that I put the ball consistently in the right area. Thankfully I got my rewards.

"Our game plan at the start of the day was a simple one. All we wanted to do was put the ball in the right area, dry the runs up and put the Indian batsmen under pressure. It was a bonus that the ball started reverse swinging and thankfully we picked up some wickets. We would have settled for being 71 ahead and having them nine down at the start of the day."

It was reassuring to see these old-fashioned principles work in an era when many coaches are attempting to reinvent the wheel. And it was the combination of line and length, along with the relatively modern phenomenon of reverse swing, which dumbfounded India's batsmen in a morning session which conceded five wickets.

Rahul Dravid was the first to go when an inswinger beat his defensive lunge and wrapped him on the pad. The Indian captain looked disgruntled when Dar gave him out and he probably had every right to be - the ball struck him quite high on the pad and would have missed leg stump.

Yet there could be no doubt about the wickets Hoggard claimed with consecutive deliveries in his next over. Jaffer, on 81, drove loosely at a widish away-swinger and was well caught by Flintoff at second slip, and V V S Laxman was trapped plumb in front by an excellent delivery that was angled in to him.

There are very few similarities between Test cricket and an Under-13 colts game, but the one tactic that always holds true is bringing the field up to a hat-trick ball. With India reeling on 149 for 4, Flintoff positioned a short leg and a silly mid-off as Hoggard attempted to take the second hat-trick of his Test career. The ball was straight and full but Kaif kept it out.

Panesar replaced Hoggard after a six-over spell in which he took 3 for 6. Bowling at Tendulkar is an enormous challenge for any spin bowler but Panesar held his nerve and the little master had no option but to play him with respect. Whether Tendulkar, and India's batsmen, employ the same tactics for the remainder of the series will be fascinating to watch but this was Panesar's day.

The film star looks and swashbuckling batting of Mahendra Singh Dhoni have made him the new heartthrob of Indian cricket, but he will not remain that for long if he continues to play strokes like the one that caused his downfall yesterday. Flintoff could hardly believe the heave he had at him and Geraint Jones took a simple catch behind the stumps.

Irfan Pathan became Hoggard's fifth victim in the third over after lunch when he too edged a wild slash and was caught at slip. With India on 190 for 7 England would have been hoping for a first-innings lead of more than 150 but Kaif and Kumble wrecked the party with a responsible and sensible partnership of 128.

Kumble was dropped by Jones on nine and Flintoff grassed a difficult caught and bowled catch off Kaif on 18 but the pair deserved their luck. Like Collingwood they showed that runs could be accumulated if you were prepared to show patience and wait for the bowlers to tire.

But with their day's work almost complete both fell. Harmison, who bowled poorly, had Kumble well caught at slip by Alastair Cook and Panesar spun a beauty past the outside edge of Kaif's bat. Watch out Ashley Giles.