England 400 & 191 India 279 & 100: Makeshift marvels give England greatest triumph of Fletcher era
Thursday 23 March 2006
England have performed many amazing feats since Duncan Fletcher became head coach in September 1999, but yesterday's 212-run victory in the third Test against India was the most remarkable of them all.
England entered the match with a team unrecognisable from those who regained the Ashes last summer. Injury, illness and personal problems had deprived Andrew Flintoff's side of their captain and five players. England had been comprehensively beaten in the second Test, too, and they were due to take on India at a venue where conditions were supposed to suit the hosts' style. It therefore came as no surprise to hear that the bookmakers were giving England little chance of levelling the series.
Yet somehow Flintoff's green and frayed side pulled it off, dismissing India's formidable batting line-up for 100 in their second innings, a total that allowed England to claim their first Test victory in India for 21 years.
Winning the Ashes was a magnificent achievement, but defeating India here with - on paper - only half a side was as significant a performance as any of those against Australia.
The victory was no more than Flintoff and England deserved. Since taking over the captaincy from Vaughan two days before the first Test, Flintoff has been a truly awesome figure. He has led the team by example and inspired the side to perform at a level they could not have imagined three weeks ago.
The only disappointment yesterday was that Flintoff did not have the satisfaction of knocking Munaf Patel's middle stump out of the ground to win the match.
It would have been a fitting end, but that honour went to Shaun Udal when Munaf slogged a high catch to Matthew Hoggard in the deep, and it gave the off-spinner remarkable figures of 4 for 14.
England players ran wildly in all directions as Hoggard held on to the catch before coming together in a huddle on the pitch and dancing with delight.
England were superb but they were helped by a spineless batting display from India, who lost their last seven wickets for 25 runs in 14.5 overs. India began the final day on 18 for 1, still requiring 295 runs for victory. And they got off to the worst possible start when Hoggard trapped Anil Kumble in front in the third over of the day.
Flintoff rightly won the man of the series award for scoring 264 runs at an average of 52.8 and taking 11 wickets at 29.6, but the contribution of Hoggard should not be underestimated. Hoggard cannot have bowled better for England than he has in this series. On five occasions he took a wicket with his opening spell of the day and the 13 wickets he claimed cost only 17.9 runs each.
There was delight and relief among England as India's nightwatchman trooped off. Kumble's batting has frustrated them on more than one occasion and it was important for the fast bowlers, on another sweltering day, not to waste energy on a lower order player.
The wicket brought Rahul Dravid, the Indian captain, to the crease. Sachin Tendulkar's poor form has placed Dravid's batting under enormous pressure, and he did nothing to alleviate this when he foolishly invited England to bat on the first morning.
India's decision was the result of a team who are controlled by batsmen. Flintoff, a bowler who bats very well, made it clear that he would have batted had he won the toss. He said: "For me to have bowled when the coin came down, the grass would have had to be round my knees."
Dravid, Tendulkar and Greg Chappell, the India coach, are greats of the game but they obviously did not fancy batting on a morning when the ball may have swung and seamed around. So rather than take on the responsibility of winning the series themselves, they passed it on to Sri Sreesanth and Munaf, two highly promising but inexperienced fast bowlers. It was a decision that cost India the Test and the series.
Flintoff replaced Hoggard and trapped Wasim Jaffer in his second over of the day. Tendulkar joined Dravid in the middle, much to the delight of another big crowd, and everyone knew that this partnership would decide the result of the match.
Tendulkar survived a close lbw shout from Flintoff and the all-rounder nearly got his fingertips to a leading edge in his follow-through, but at lunch, and with India on 75 for 3, he was beginning to look a wee bit ominous.
England sat through the interval knowing they were one ball away from almost certain glory, but which player was going to produce a moment of inspiration. In an attempt to gee up his team for one final surge, Flintoff took control of the dressing-room stereo, turned the volume right up and put on Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire". Every member of the squad joined in and bellowed out the words to the song, and once they had finished out they went.
The strategy brought an instant response when Dravid flirted with the third ball after the break from Flintoff and edged a simple catch to the wicketkeeper. Dravid had scored just nine runs in almost two hours of batting, figures that highlight how well England were bowling.
Indeed, Dravid's statistics - 309 runs in 1,233 minutes - show how well England have bowled throughout the series. Inzamam-ul-Haq proved to be as difficult to dismiss as Dravid before Christmas, but the Pakistan captain scored 431 runs in 1,082 minutes at the crease. Dravid's poorer strike rate underlined the control England have had over India's batsmen.
"The Wall" may have disappeared but the "Little Master" , the scorer of 74 international centuries, was still there. Udal may never play for England again, but if this is the case, he could not have bowed out on a bigger high. Tendulkar has scored numerous centuries against Shane Warne and Muttiah Muralitharan, but yesterday the gentle off-spin of the 37-year-old Udal proved to be too much for him when he gave a sharp bat-pad catch to short-leg.
Within nine balls of their karaoke session England had removed their two biggest obstacles and were on the verge of a series-levelling victory. With Dravid and Tendulkar back in the pavilion, India lost their appetite for a fight.
Virender Sehwag, batting at No 7 because of a back spasm, never looked comfortable before an Anderson inswinger thudded into his pads, and Mahendra Singh Dhoni decided to slog. Monty Panesar failed to get a hand on a steepling catch offered by the Indian keeper before accepting a simpler chance two balls later.
Yuvraj Singh edged a drive to third slip, Harbhajan Singh slogged Udal to Hoggard at deep backward square leg, a stroke that was repeated by Munaf 10 balls later.
After collecting a cold beer from the dressing-room Flintoff led his side on a lap of honour. Without doubt he had a few more in the evening before returning to England to spend a couple of days with his two-week-old son, and he deserved every one of them.
Overs and out: How the wickets fell
* THIRD OVER OF DAY Anil Kumble is trapped in front of the stumps by one that nipped back from Matthew Hoggard.
* 11TH OVER Andrew Flintoff ends Wasim Jaffer's torment with another lbw.
* 26TH OVER Rahul Dravid, India's captain, nicks Flintoff's third ball after lunch to wicketkeeper Geraint Jones.
* 27TH OVER Sachin Tendulkar hits an inside edge on to pad and is caught at short leg to give Shaun Udal a first success.
* 32ND OVER Virender Sehwag is undone by James Anderson.
* 37TH OVER Mahendra Dhoni miscues off Udal and pays as Monty Panesar holds a skier.
* 38TH OVER Harbhajan Singh sweeps Udal to deep square-leg.
* 39TH OVER Yuvraj Singh hits thick edge to third slip off Flintoff.
* 40TH OVER Munaf Patel produces an action replay of Harbhajan's demise to be held by Hoggard off Udal.
Final-day scoreboard from Bombay
India won toss
England - First Innings 400 (A J Strauss 128, O A Shah 88, A Flintoff 50; S Sreesanth 4-70). Second Innings 191 (*A Flintoff 50, O A Shah 38; Kumble 4-49).
India - First Innings 279 (M S Dhoni 64, R Dravid 52; J M Anderson 4-40).
India - Second innings
W Jaffer lbw b Flintoff 10
90 min, 57 balls, 1 four
I K Pathan b Anderson 6
15 min, 11 balls
A Kumble lbw b Hoggard 8
33 min, 22 balls, 1 four
*R S Dravid c Jones b Flintoff 9
111 min, 60 balls, 1 four
S R Tendulkar c Bell b Udal 34
77 min, 57 balls, 5 fours
Yuvraj Singh c Collingwood b Flintoff 12
68 min, 45 balls, 2 fours
V Sehwag lbw b Anderson 0
20 min, 16 balls
ÝM S Dhoni c Panesar b Udal 5
24 min, 11 balls
Harbhajan Singh c Hoggard b Udal 6
9 min, 8 balls, 1 four
S Sreesanth not out 0
9 min, 2 balls
M M Patel c Hoggard b Udal 1
3 min, 4 balls
Extras (b 1, lb 4, w 1, nb 3, pens 0) 9
Total (234min, 48.2 overs) 100
Fall: 1-6 (Pathan), 2-21 (Kumble), 3-33 (Jaffer), 4-75 (Dravid), 5-76 (Tendulkar), 6-77 (Sehwag), 7-92 (Dhoni), 8-99 (Harbhajan Singh), 9-99 (Yuvraj Singh), 10-100 (Patel).
Bowling: Hoggard 12-6-13-1 (8-3-9-1 4-3-4-0), Anderson 12-2-39-2 (3-1-9-1 5-1-16-0 4-0-14-1), Panesar 4-1-15-0 (1-0-2-0 3-1-13-0), Flintoff 11-4-14-3 (nb3,w1) (3-1-3-0 4-2-8-1 3-1-2-1 1-0-1-1), Udal 9.2-3-14-4 (one spell).
Progress: Fourth day: close: 18-1 (Jaffer 4, Kumble 8) 8 overs. Fifth day: 50 in 116 mins, 23.5 overs. Lunch 75-3 (Dravid 9, Tendulkar 34) 33 overs. 100 in 233 mins, 48 overs. England won at 1.56pm.
England won by 212 runs; 3-Test series drawn 1-1.
Umpires: D B Hair (Aus) and S J A Taufel (Aus).
TV replay umpire: K Hariharan
Match referee: R S Madugalle
Man of the match: A Flintoff
Man of the series: A Flintoff.
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