India secure victory for the spirit of Test cricket

Sourav Ganguly's touch of madness in his passion for winning has surely invigorated this English summer

It's true the Indian cricketers are a noisy lot. They appeal too often and too stridently, and this no doubt has much to do with the nature of their captain, Sourav Ganguly. In any field of driven sportsmen he can never be far from the front rank of the starting grid.

But then it is surely right that sometimes we should say to hell with tranquillity and the comfort zones of well-heeled success. If there is a touch of madness in Ganguly, if his ear-splitting cries of triumph can have the effect of breaking glass, his passion for winning has surely invigorated this English summer.

Which patriotic Englishman could, if he still had within him the embers of a love of sport as it should be played, as it should carry us away from the day-to-day realities of our lives, suppress a surge of pleasure when the Indians levelled the series at Headingley yesterday? If he exists, he is surely to be avoided when the talk turns to what is most important about the games we play.

Nasser Hussain, who rose for a while so majestically above the trough of mediocrity which gripped his team after such crushing work at Lord's in the opening battle, will probably not appreciate the point, but the Indians won not only for their own fervent following but for anyone with an enduring taste for the wonderful ebb and flow of Test cricket.

Its inherent superiority over all other forms of the game was once again comprehensively restated as Anil Kumble winkled out the last English resistance and his team-mates fielded and caught with a passion and a dexterity that must have satisfied even the remorseless Ganguly.

There were a score of cameos to linger in the mind as the Indians pushed to create the stirring prospect of a decisive final Test at The Oval, and none was more moving than the sight of the Prince of Indian cricket, Sachin Tendulkar, who had so recently played such a god-like innings, holding the boyish head of 17-year-old Parthiv Patel in his hands and explaining why it was so important that he pushed aside the pain which had reduced him to a hobble and made it through to the moment of triumph in India's biggest ever win on foreign soil.

Patel is the little drummer boy of the Indian team. He may have had a bit of a nightmare behind the sticks, but he never lacked for psychological nourishment from his senior team-mates. It is the kind of thing you don't see a lot of in modern sport. You see a lot of posing and self-interest and professional contentment, but the Indians have brought another spirit.

Their unabashed joy at their moment of victory at Lord's when they won the final of the one-day tournament was unforgettable – so, too, were the zig-zagging celebrations when Ashley Giles was run out and a famous victory was suddenly within touching distance yesterday. Hussain kept a stiff upper lift in defeat, and spoke well and graciously. It was worth noting that his innings, during which at times he looked a very major cricketer indeed, had been such a big help in defining the extent to which the Indians craved the win which they had begun to fashion from the opening shots five days earlier.

Rahul Dravid's award of man of the match for his magnificently conceived century was apparently a unanimous decision, which told us, among other things, that there had been at least one point in the commentary box when Michael Atherton and Dermot Reeve found it possible to agree.

Their dispute over whether or not Hussain had attempted to play a shot while surviving an lbw appeal was wonderfully knockabout and encouraged the wild belief that it might eventually be accompanied by thuds and groans. Such a possibility was reduced yesterday when the combative Reeve was joined by the urbane Mark Nicholas, whose rhetorical style, while not mealy mouthed, is less inclined to produce instant mayhem.

This, however, is not a complaint. Channel Four's coverage, guided with his usual brilliance by Richie Benaud, remains a model for intelligent and entertaining sports broadcasting. Indeed, it might only be enhanced by the recruitment of Geoff Boycott, who will no doubt sail beyond, as he does all other incon- veniences, the troublesome effect of the nodules discovered at the back of his throat. Boycott v Atherton, in anything like their more trenchant moods, would be a treat for any cricket fan.

In the meantime, however, Ganguly v Hussain will do very nicely. Above all, they are fighters who care deeply about what they are doing, and they have lifted the summer quite gloriously.

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