Glorious win puts series in sight for England after early wobble

England 523 & 41-3 India 316 & 247

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The Independent Online

On now to Nagpur, the city of oranges. England are five playing days away from being able to blow one of the biggest raspberries in their history. The fourth and final Test starts there on Thursday and the tourists, in a scenario barely feasible three weeks ago, are 2-1 up in the series following a pair of the most glorious victories.

Nagpur is in the dead centre of the country but for both sides there can be no middle ground. India must win to avoid being defeated in their first series at home for eight years and alienating a nation. England dare not go in to the match trying to force a draw for fear of the likely repercussions of such a policy.

Not before a heart flutter or two, the tourists prevailed in the third Test yesterday. Needing 41 to win after taking the one opposition second-innings wicket they needed in the day's second over, they tumbled to 8 for 3.

The convention is to raise the eyebrows and suggest that stranger things have happened. Not in Test cricket, they haven't. Nor did they.

Another wicket then and panic might have ripped through the dressing room more potently than Jimmy Anderson's reverse swing but, deservedly and fittingly, England duly won by seven wickets before the first hour of the day was out.

Three hours later, India's selectors responded by dropping three players. To nobody's surprise, neither MS Dhoni, the fading captain, nor Sachin Tendulkar, the fading veteran, were among them.

The selectors had to do something but were in a position they never saw coming. It may work, it may not but it is hardly selection based on a well-honed strategy and it is not planning for the future. It is the sort of sticking the pin in the donkey's tail that happens when your opponents have just wiped the floor with you.

For England, it was not quite as stirring as the 10-wicket victory in Mumbai that levelled the series two weeks ago because that came after a cataclysmic defeat and also contained one of the most captivating of all days in Test cricket. But in its way the win at Eden Gardens, England's second in 10 attempts, was the more complete.

Alastair Cook, the England captain and man of the match, pointed out that everyone from one to 11 had contributed. So they had and, if Cook's 190 understandably dominated the headlines, the less spectacular contributions should not be overlooked.

Samit Patel has by no means nailed the No 6 spot to his kit bag but in both Tests he has played important cameos, his 33 in the Kolkata first innings providing some necessary breathing space. Ian Bell tried a forgettable stroke in the first innings, part of an indifferent year, but his magnificent intervention on Saturday afternoon when he ran out Cheteshwar Pujara with a direct hit was supplemented yesterday by a mature, brisk and composed 28 not out when the chips were being pinioned to the floor.

The bowlers performed their tasks expertly. In Mumbai, the two spinners took 19 of India's wickets, in Kolkata the spoils were more evenly divided with 10 for the fast bowlers and eight for the spin twins.

On the fourth afternoon following a blaze of strokeplay at the outset of India's second innings, England were exemplary. Anderson's control was again extraordinary and his career average above 30 does not do his skills justice. Steve Finn was also commendable, fast and equally economical.

Had Graeme Swann not removed the rampant Virender Sehwag with the first ball after lunch it might have been different. But he did and he did because he knew he had to be on the button immediately and Sehwag was a trifle casual. Six wickets fell for 36 runs and the match turned irrevocably.

The batting of these tourists after the battering they took in the opening Test in Ahmedabad has been stunningly effective. True, Captain Fantastic has led the way with centuries in all three matches but, in the third Test, the whole of the top order played India at their own game.

India forgot the virtues of patience, England not only remembered them but used them perfectly. This rupee took a long time to drop, having originally been a dirham earlier in the year when England lost to Pakistan, but drop it appears finally to have done.

The way to play here is to grind it out, ball after ball, over after over. Make the opposition make mistakes. Somehow, England have done this much more cleverly than India, whose batsmen have been far too indisciplined against splendid bowling in four successive innings. At this rate the Board of Control for Cricket in India will be asking England for advice on how the longer game should be approached in the subcontinent.

After the theatrical middle session on Saturday, England should not have needed a fifth day. The resistance of R Ashwin, however, not only denied them an innings victory but left them still needing a wicket to end India's innings yesterday morning.

It arrived quickly though oddly. Ashwin had seen out the first over by smiting two fours to show his intent. With the fourth ball of the next over, Anderson beat Pragyan Ojha on the outside. There was a faint sound of ball against wood before the ball arrived in Matt Prior's gloves. Nothing happened and then slowly a bail fell from the leg stump which the ball had grazed on the way through.

England needed only 41 for victory. They could not lose and came out with a dash to the wire in mind. Cook danced down the wicket to Ashwin's off break in the first over and was stumped. Jonathan Trott was lbw playing forward to one that scooted straight through and then Kevin Pietersen edged one that did not turn as much as he estimated for.

Another 33 runs suddenly looked a planet away. Bell calmly put a full toss away for four and in partnership with the phlegmatic Nick Compton the rest followed seamlessly. And in Nagpur, avoiding banana skins at all costs, England can demonstrate that oranges are not the only fruit.


1977: The last time England won in Kolkata, Tony Greig and Bob Willis helping them to a 10-wicket win

1999-2000: The last time India lost back-to-back Tests on home soil

6-127: Jimmy Anderson's match figures are the best by an overseas paceman since Glenn McGrath in 2001

Timeline: How the final day of the third test unfolded

3.29am GMT: India Resume

Beginning the day with a three-over old ball, after four dot balls, Steve Finn loses eight to R Ashwin with two boundaries leaving him on 91, but Pragyan Ojha on strike.

3.36am: Wicket Ojha b Anderson 3

Desperate to finish, Anderson has a go. He nicks the bail on the fourth ball, which takes an age to fall. India all out for 247.

3.46am: England look to finish the job

After taking only 10 balls to finish India off, England need just 41 for an impressive victory, and who better than Alastair Cook to get them started?

3.50am: Wicket Cook st Dhoni b Ashwin 1

Cook takes a single before making a mad charge down the pitch off Ashwin's spin. MS Dhoni does the honours with the stumping, only Cook's second in his career.

3.54am: Barmy Army still singing

England want this over but the Barmy Army don't mind them taking their time, making themselves heard. Jonathan Trott comes in.

3.56am: Wicket Trott lbw Ojha 3

The tourists have chosen the right time to display their batting failures. Trott is trapped at lbw after making 3, England are 7 for 2.

4.03am: Wkt Pietersen c Dhoni b Ashwin 0

Will KP arrive to finish the job? Not quite. England's wobble continues as he nicks Ashwin's delivery behind. Impressive stuff from India, but it's still too late.

4.06am: Bell calms England down

Bell hits half a dozen off his first four balls, and negotiates a maiden over from Ashwin to momentarily halt the decline.

4.27am: England win by seven wickets

Bell makes an impressive 28 off as many balls, helping England reach their target in just under 45 minutes. England pay tribute to the Barmy Army, who have played their part too.