Ashley Giles had not bowled in a Test for five months when he was confronted by Sachin Tendulkar, the world's best batsman. In a straight duel, there was bound to be just one winner and yesterday Tendulkar duly reached the 27th century of his stellar career. But cricket, as England are proving here, is a game that can be decided in the detail and it was Giles' 5 for 65, his best Test figures, which gave England and their strategists the honours for the third day in a row.
For those in the team's "brains trust", who have been scouring videos of the recent series here with Australia for clues of how to beat the home side, the "bore or draw" tactics used by Giles and the other bowlers worked a treat. Yet Nasser Hussain's team must remain wary after Steve Waugh's record-breakers got turned over when they seemingly had the series in the bag.
There is still a lot to do, and conjuring another 10 wickets – a feat shared evenly until Giles cleaned up the tail – will not be simple should some of India's swanky pretenders show as much resolve as Tendulkar and VVS Laxman second time around.
Until Wednesday, Giles had not bowled to any of India's batsmen in any form of cricket. He had also managed just 17 overs since his operation last Auguston his Achilles tendon, a tally he more than doubled in India's first innings here, and that after a cortisone injection in his heel a week ago.
"Getting five-wicket hauls are what bowlers dream of, but to come back after what I've been though with my fitness problems, it's got to be the high point of my career," Giles said. "I owe a lot to our physio here, Dean Conway, and the Warwickshire physio, Gerard Mostert, for getting me playing again."
Amazingly, the left-arm spinner's five wickets, in his first sortie here, is a feat that has proved beyond Shane Warne, whose two series in India have been something of a nightmare. Perhaps the secret is not to spin the ball and, although Giles removed Anil Kumble with one that spun sharply, that was one of three deliveries that turned all day.
Given that he hobbled about during the practice match in Jaipur a fortnight ago, his presence here must have been a huge gamble. "I don't think it was that enormous a risk," he said. "Obviously I hadn't bowled much in the middle, but I felt fine after bowling in the nets."
Although admitting to "dry mouth" nerves for the first few overs, Giles quickly slotted into his rhythm and England's game plan. Bowling into the rough from over the wicket, as Giles did almost exclusively to Tendulkar and later to Laxman, is a cynical tactic designed to block out a batsman's scoring options. As an off-spinner Richard Dawson does not pose the same threat using it, which may explain why his 15 overs cost an expensive 73 runs.
To prevent its abuse, the International Cricket Council recently introduced legislation giving discretionary powers to the umpire to call any balls passing down the leg-side wide, as they are in one-day cricket.
The umpire has to be certain that the intention is negative but with James Foster at times positioning himself two feet outside leg-stump this must have been obvious to everyone bar Ian Robinson, who after his errors on the first day did not call one.
To Tendulkar's credit he bore the burden well. In front of their noisy home crowds, there is a pressure on India's batsmen to please by playing big shots. Yet, Tendulkar bided his time picking off the bad balls that came his way as Giles and the quicker bowlers sought to frustrate him into making errors with their defensive lines and fields.
"It is what Test cricket is all about," said Tendulkar, whose 27th Test century took him equal third with Steve Waugh and Allan Border in the all time list behind Don Bradman (29) and Sunil Gavaskar (34). "You are not always going to get the ball where you want it. Sometimes you have to be patient, other times you must take calculated risks. I think I did both."
The psychology used by Hussain, who has so far worked wonders with his slender bowling resources, has been brilliant and interesting. He knows that Tendulkar is used to climbing mountains for India and that he must do everything within the laws to make the sides steeper. By using special tactics for him, the England captain is trying to make him feel persecuted.
It may not be pretty, but these are essentially Vinnie Jones-style tactics designed to stop the opposition's best players from playing, or at least to slow him down. In the end, despite Tendulkar's century, both aims were achieved, though not before the little master had made a mockery of the eight-one off-side field by whipping balls from Matthew Hoggard from at least six inches outside off-stump for four through the near vacant leg-side field.
As he had done at Mohali, Hoggard claimed the prize scalp when Tendulkar on-drove him to mid-on, where Hussain, after a heart-stopping juggle, clung on to the catch. Unlike Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly, who both hung their bats out like begging bowls, it was a rare error.
Ganguly's demise to his old Lancashire team-mate, Andrew Flintoff, will have tickled a few back at Old Trafford. It certainly pleased Flintoff who, having delivered a quick aside as Ganguly passed him on the way in, celebrated his departure as if he had scored an extra-time winner in the FA Cup final.
Of the main batsmen, only Laxman matched Tendulkar's determination and the pair shared a 116-run stand for the fifth wicket. Laxman is a fine player and he must have watched in dismay, after Craig White had got rid of the dangerous Virender Sehwag for 20, as Giles demolished the tail by taking three wickets in 13 balls.
A fourth was Laxman, last man out caught in the deep by Mark Butcher, by which time the shadows had grown as much as England's hopes.
* England's tour of India will not be affected by yesterday's attack on the Indian Parliament building in New Delhi, the team's spokesman, David Clarke, said. "It's a most unfortunate incident. But it's got nothing to do with cricket ... The tour of India will not be affected. We're satisfied with security arrangements and haven't been unduly concerned."
Third day; England won toss
ENGLAND First Innings 407 (C White 121, M E Trescothick 99, M A Butcher 51; A Kumble 7-115).
INDIA First Innings
(Overnight: 71 for 2)
S S Das c Butcher b Flintoff 41
111 min, 95 balls, 5 fours
ÝD Dasgupta c Hussain b Giles 17
90 min, 67 balls, 2 fours
R S Dravid c Foster b Hoggard 7
93 min, 60 balls
S R Tendulkar c Hussain b Hoggard 103
256 min, 197 balls, 12 fours, 1 six
*S C Ganguly c sub (M C J Ball)
b Flintoff 5
23 min, 13 balls
V V S Laxman c Butcher b Giles 75
297 min, 192 balls, 9 fours
V Sehwag lbw b White 20
46 min, 34 balls, 2 fours, 1 six
A Kumble b Giles 5
37 min, 32 balls
Harbhajan Singh c Flintoff b Giles 0
8 min, 7 balls
J Srinath c Butcher b Giles 0
9 min, 10 balls
T Yohannan not out 3
33 min, 19 balls
Extras (b6 lb5 w1 nb3) 15
Total (506 min, 120.3 overs) 291
Fall: 1-54 (Dasgupta) 2-64 (Das) 3-86 (Dravid) 4-93 (Ganguly); 5-211 (Tendulkar) 6-248 (Sehwag); 7-268 (Kumble); 8-272 (Harbhajan Singh) 9-274 (Srinath).
Bowling: Hoggard 28-7-65-2 (7-2-10-0, 6-4-5-1, 4-0-23-0, 3-0-9-1, 2-1-5-0, 6-0-13-0); Flintoff 22-7-42-2 (nb2) (3-0-6-0, 6-4-5-1, 6-1-15-1, 6-1-16-0, 1-1-0-0); Giles 43.3-16-67-5 (15-6-22-1, 6-3-5-0, 4-1-5-0, 10-2-22-0, 1-0-2-0, 7.3-4-11-4); Dawson 15-0-73-0 (4-0-21-0, 1-0-6-0, 1-0-3-0, 2-0-10-0, 2-0-16-0, 5-0-17-0); White 12-2-33-1 (nb1 w1) (1-0-1-0, 2-1-4-0, 5-0-15-0, 4-1-13-1).
Progress: Second day: 50: 79 min, 20.5 overs. Close: 71-2 (Dravid 5, Tendulkar 2) 36 overs. Third day: 100: 224 min, 55.2 overs. Lunch: 126-4 (Tendulkar 37, Laxman 10) 64 overs. 150: 287 min, 70.4 overs. 200: 346 min, 84 overs. New ball taken after 84 overs at 200-4. Tea: 220-5 (Laxman 34, Sehwag 2) 91 overs. 250: in 422 mins, 99.4 overs. Innings closed: 5.05pm.
Tendulkar's 50: 168 min, 128 balls, 7 fours. 100: 238 min, 183 balls, 12 fours, 1 six. Laxman's 50: 224 min, 144 balls, 6 fours.
ENGLAND First Innings
M A Butcher not out 5
13 min, 9 balls
M E Trescothick not out 10
13 min, 9 balls, 2 fours
Total (for 0, 13 min, 3 overs) 15
Bowling: Srinath 1-0-4-0; Yohannan 1-0-8-0; Kumble 1-0-3-0.
Umpires: A V Jayaprakash (Ind) and I D Robinson (Zim).
TV Replay Umpire: Jasbir Singh.
Match Referee: D T Lindsay.