Graduation day inspires Ganguly

Second Test: Left-handed debutant scores a memorable century to bolster his country's reply and keep England in check
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On the third day of the First Test a dazzling 122 by Sachin Tendulkar merely delayed England's progress towards victory. At the same stage of the second Test yesterday, a century of a very different but no less impressive character by the debutant Saurav Ganguly put India in with a realistic chance of bringing the series back to 1-1.

When bad light stopped play five overs before the scheduled close, India were 324 for 6 in their first innings, trailing England by only 20 runs. Ganguly, a 23-year-old left-hander, had made a marvellously controlled and stylish 131, and on a remarkable day for men new to this level of cricket, another player making his Test debut, the 22-year-old Rahul Dravid, was unbeaten on 56. England will want to shift him quickly this morning in order to keep alive their own hopes of winning this match.

As it is, a draw is now the likeliest result. That would count as a minor triumph for the Indians, who came to Lord's in apparent disarray but have shown far more fight than they had been given credit for. The fact that they scored runs without a major contribution from Tendulkar was, for them, the most encouraging aspect of their performance. And while Mohammad Azharuddin remains woefully out of touch with the bat himself, he can draw strength from the way two of the most inexperienced members of his party produced the goods when needed most.

Ganguly's achievement was enough to earn him an immediate place in cricket history. Only two other batsmen had scored a hundred at Lord's on their Test debut: Harry Graham of Australia, with 103 in 1893, and Jack Hampshire, with 107 against West Indies in 1969. It was a disciplined piece of batting from Ganguly, but when he attacked he did so with great authority. His driving and cutting were those of a player of the highest class. And if the circumstances were not quite as desperate as those which Tendulkar had risen above a fortnight ago, he was still under huge pressure.

When Azharuddin followed Tendulkar back to the pavilion with India on 154 for 4, the match, and the series, was there for England's taking. But Ganguly's response was exemplary. He kept his cool, played everything on its merits, and steadily turned the match round, putting on 48 with Ajay Jadeja for the fifth wicket and 94 with Dravid for the sixth. Like Ganguly, the right-handed Dravid played calmly and with maturity.

England's bowlers did little wrong that a touch more accuracy would not have put right. The lack of a front-line spinner meant there was a uniformity about their attack, and Alan Mullally and Peter Martin laboured somewhat, but Mike Atherton did what he could by bowling his men in short spells.

It was another day of old-fashioned Test cricket in which events moved as slowly but not as tediously as they had on Friday. Unusually for the Saturday of the Lord's Test, the ground was not full, and it was clear that those here had occasional difficulty engaging with the action. The knowledge that there was something else going on up the road at Wembley had something to do with it, and while the penalty shoot-out in the England- Spain match was in progress, the cheers that kept breaking out around the ground as news came in on spectators' radios seemed to render the cricket temporarily meaningless.

The day began brightly enough with Ganguly, 26 not out overnight, leg- glancing Chris Lewis for four off the first ball of the first over. Off the last ball of that over, two remarkable things happened. Tendulkar play- ed a poor shot, waving his bat at a shortish ball outside off-stump and sending it, via a thick edge, straight to Graeme Hick at second slip. To England's consternation, Hick spilled the ball.

When, in Lewis's next over, Tendulkar carved him to the cover-point boundary to bring up the hundred, it looked as if England would pay a big price for their lapse. But in Lewis's fourth over, he produced a near-perfect delivery that beat Tendulkar's forward push and hit the top of his off- stump. Azharuddin came to the wicket with a big contribution from him long overdue. His timing was rarely there, though. There was a lovely on-drive for four off Martin, but then he chased a wide ball from Mullally and Russell caught him at the wicket.

Ganguly, though, was a picture of serenity in comparison with his captain. He had reached his 50 with an impeccable four to cover point off Martin and was plainly not bothered by the fact that he then scored only another five in the next hour.

At lunch India were 166 for four, with Ganguly on 63 and Ajay Jadeja on 2. The afternoon then belonged almost exclusively to India, with England only having the wicket of Jadeja to show for their efforts. Atherton had just tried to break up the pattern by bringing on Graeme Hick, but it was the introduction of Ronnie Irani that made the difference. Jadeja fancied his chances against him, but only succeeded in hitting all around a straight one.

England took the new ball in the 82nd over, bowled by Dominic Cork, whereupon Ganguly straight-drove him for four to the Nursery End, taking his score to 94. Two Cork overs later, Ganguly brought up his hundred with a cover drive down to the Tavern, and raised his arms in triumph.

He opened out briefly, tired, survived a confident appeal for a catch at the wicket, and then was done by a full-length ball by Mullally. He had batted for 439 minutes, faced 301 balls, hit 20 fours and had done something most cricketers can only dream about.