Faltering fielders take gloss off day

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The Independent Online

England, under Nasser Hussain's cool guidance, did well to keep their heads in the tightest of finishes. But during India's innings they twice almost managed to throw the match away and one can only wonder how much real progress they have made in the build-up to next year's World Cup.

After the second match in the series, at Cuttack, it really looked as if they had discovered a discipline and a method which meant that they were well on their way. The next three matches have shown that this was nothing more than an illusion.

It was the batting that cost them their last two games, in Madras and Kanpur. Both times they appeared to bat without a basic plan which must always be to set your sights on the minimum target you think will bring victory. They had clearly worked on that and the batting here in New Delhi was geared to the pursuit of a minimum target.

The poor and unthinking cricket came this time from the bowlers and the fielders – and this after the law of averages had at last worked in their favour. Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag had both got themselves out before they had run away with the match, and Dinesh Mongia also went quickly.

They now had to bowl and field with tight discipline and watch India's required run-rate rise. Sourav Ganguly was the one batsman who could still win the game for India and they had to contain him by bowling a good line.

As it happened Ganguly should have been stumped off Michael Vaughan when 13 and after that he and Mohammad Kaif put on 111 for the fourth wicket as England's bowling and fielding faltered horribly.

The bowlers played the ball about on both sides of the wicket and the fielding, which has been so good in India, was now strangely fallible. Jamie Foster dropped Kaif off Paul Collingwood and a number of misfields turned ones into twos. England's last chance seemed to had gone when Kaif drove wildly at Darren Gough. The ball skied to mid-off where Vaughan dropped the simplest of catches.

But then, Ganguly holed out at deep mid-off, Ashley Giles took five wickets in 30 balls bowling an unwavering line outside the off stump, and at 239 for 8 in the 47th over England again seemed home. But Ajit Agarkar now drove straight and hard and England were again well on their way to panicking before Gough bowled a good last over and they just managed to hang on. But how much real progress have they made?