Hussain's Indian summer

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David Lloyd, England's cheerful but dogged coach, made no secret of it: England would be playing "session cricket" yesterday. He meant that India's first-innings total of 521 was so forbidding that the way to reach it was to treat each session separately and to survive each one in turn. England have rarely survived so well or given less away; they lost only one wicket and scored 290 runs. The follow-on was saved with the last ball of the day, which England finished on 322 for one. It was like a score from an old volume of Wisden.

Mike Atherton and Alec Stewart had played splendid session cricket before lunch. True, Stewart got the second session off to an inappropriate start as he was out to the fifth ball after lunch when the thinnest of inside edges carried to the wicketkeeper. But Nasser Hussain batted brightly, as if he were not acquainted with Lloyd's modest ambition: he scored his second century in this series, and played like a man who not only expects to keep the No3 position, but deserves to.

Atherton did what captains do in story-books: scored a grand hundred, and, at 145 not out in 408 minutes, was playing as though he intended to get his first Test double-century. Session cricket was looking like a good recipe for avoiding defeat.

England have won only four Test series in the 1990s and three of those were against New Zealand, so a win in this series against India would be especially welcome. That now looks the likeliest outcome. An awful lot of blood would have to rush to a great many heads to bring a result in this match.

When the day began, the clouds were high and the breeze was stiff, and, to be frank, an England victory seemed quite uncertain. The reason was not to do with the pitch but rather the collective memory of what happens to England teams when their opponents bat first and score more than 500. This is a doom-laden legacy of 1993 when on four occasions England lost by an innings after their opponents had scored more than 500 batting first.

In fact, this variety of defeat has not occurred since then, but that does not prevent England supporters fearing humiliation, even when the wicket is as easy as this is. In fact, the wicket was, if anything, slightly more pert than on Friday, but it remained true. Any difficulty experienced by the batsmen was going to be the result of skilful bowling rather than of a spiteful wicket. Lloyd described this as a good Test wicket; it is as well that they are not all like it.

Atherton and Stewart's torrid first hour was entirely caused by the commitment and skill of Javagal Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad. Both consistently got more bounce than England's seamers had. Atherton especially was ducking and weaving, and, when he changed his bat in the sixth over of the day, you felt it was to give himself a break.

Atherton's luck, which had made an appearance when he was dropped before scoring, was still intact yesterday when he was surprised by a rising ball from Srinath. Mohammad Azharuddin was not quick enough to catch the snick off the shoulder of the bat which went through his upraised arms for four runs.

The first bowling change, in the 13th over of the morning, was the first good evidence that England's openers were winning this game of session cricket. When Venkatapathy Raju came on at the Pavilion End, the tension slackened. By 12.25pm Atherton had reached his 50 (another bit of luck, incidentally, as the ball skied to the boundary off a top edge); by lunch they had added 96 to the overnight score of 32 for no wicket and the fear of defeat was already less pressing.

Before lunch, Azharuddin had retired to the dressing-room, having taken a drive from Stewart on the foot. A precautionary X-ray showed that nothing had been fractured, but the parts of the Indian captain's body that have suffered most are his mind and his heart. He is one of the world's great batsmen and yet he has scored exactly 34 runs in four Test innings in this series.

His tragedy - if the loss of a Test series can ever justify such depth of pity - is that India now look like a team that could win a five-match series. They had begun to recover from the depression that had clouded them at the beginning of the tour, though they were not yet sufficiently confident at the start of this Test to score quickly enough to impose themselves on the game.

By the end of yesterday's second session, during which Atherton and Hussain added 110 runs in 33 overs, it was slipping away fast. Sachin Tendulkar was getting some useful practice at captaining the team, and their enthusiasm did not slacken, but Hussain began like a man inspired, scoring 25 off 16 balls and 50 off 82 balls. Unaccountably, he slowed down as the day drew to a close.

Only Srinath created any suggestion of insecurity in a century that came off 165 balls; Atherton had needed 223 balls, though, oddly, he had 14 boundaries in his century, which was two more than Hussain.

When the England score reached 321 in the final session, the question of survival had become academic. The first shouts of "boring, boring" went up at 4.30 exactly. They should have been directed at the groundsman, not the players.

Atherton's glory, page 31

Third Test scoreboard

India won toss

INDIA - First Innings

V Rathore c Russell b Cork 4

(13 min, 7 balls; gloved catch down leg side to wicketkeeper)

N R Mongia c Russell b Lewis 9

(38 min, 24 balls, 1 four; edged drive to second slip [Hick], parried to keeper)

S C Ganguly c Hussain b Mullally 136

(358 min, 268 balls, 17 fours, 2 sixes; well caught at third slip off thick edge)

S R Tendulkar c Patel b Ealham 177

(459 min, 360 balls, 26 fours; mistimed pull, caught at mid-on)

S V Manjrekar c Hick b Patel 53

(217 min, 144 balls, 5 fours, 1 six; mis-hit to midwicket)

*M Azharuddin c Patel b Lewis 5

(17 min, 11 balls; caught in leg trap at short leg)

R S Dravid c Russell b Ealham 84

(179 min, 149 balls, 12 fours; swish outside off-stump caught by diving keeper)

A Kumble lbw b Mullally 0

(4 min, 6 balls; struck on back foot to inswinger)

J Srinath c Cork b Lewis 1

(8 min, 9 balls; skied to third man)

B K V Prasad run out (Stewart) 13

(78 min, 32 balls, 1 five; direct hit at bowler's end by Stewart running in from cover)

S L V Raju not out 1

(9 min, 8 balls)

Extras (b6, lb12, w7, nb13) 38

Total (697 min, 167 overs) 521

Fall: 1-7 (Rathore), 2-33 (Mongia), 3-288 (Ganguly), 4-377 (Tendulkar), 5-385 (Azharuddin), 6-446 (Manjrekar), 7-447 (Kumble), 8-453 (Srinath), 9-513 (Prasad).

Bowling: Lewis 37-10-89-3 (nb9, w1) (7-0-23-1, 5-1-16-0, 4-1-9-0, 4-2- 4-0, 5-2-11-0, 2-1-4-0, 3-1-12-1, 7-2-10-1); Cork 32-6-124-1 (nb4) (8- 2-27-1, 3-0-29-0, 6-2-14-0, 7-2-22-0, 3-0-8-0, 5-0-24-0); Mullally 40- 12-88-2 (nb1, w1) (3-1-9-0, 8-2-15-0, 2-0-8-0, 7-1-14-0, 7-2-15-1, 5-3- 5-0, 3-2-1-1, 2-0-16-0, 3-1-5-0); Ealham 29-9-90-2 (6-1-17-0, 6-3-18-0, 6-3-20-0, 3-1-11-1, 5-1-13-0, 3-0-11-1); Patel 24-2-101-1 (nb2) (1-0-6- 0, 5-0-20-0, 9-1-30-0, 1-0-11-0, 1-0-6-0, 7-1-28-1); Hick 4-1-8-0; Thorpe 1-0-3-0 (one spell each).

ENGLAND - First Innings

*M A Atherton not out 145

(409 min, 329 balls, 17 fours)

A J Stewart c Mongia b Srinath 50

(170 min, 115 balls, 6 fours; thinnest of inside edges to keeper)

N Hussain not out 107

(238 min, 180 balls, 12 fours)

Extras (b3,lb9,nb8) 20

Total (for 1, 409 min, 102 overs) 322

Fall: 1-130 (Stewart).

To bat: G P Thorpe, G A Hick, C C Lewis, R C Russell, D G Cork, M A Ealham, M M Patel, A D Mullally.

Bowling: Srinath 27-7-82-1 (nb5) (13-3-45-0, 8-3-21-1, 3-1-10-0, 3-0- 6-0); Prasad 24-6-78-0 (nb3) (4-1-16-0, 6-2-15-0, 4-1-16-0, 3-1-12-0, 7-1-19-0); Kumble 18-3-62-0 (nb1) (1-0-2-0 3-1-4-0 4-0-21-0 10-2-35-0); Raju 22-4-45-0 (10-3-21-0, 11-1-23-0, 1-0-1-0); Gang uly 6-0-24-0 (nb2) (1-0-6-0, 5-0-18-0); Tendulkar 5-0-19-0.

Progress: Second day close: 32-0 (Atherton 21, Stewart 10) 11 overs. Third day: 50 in 74 min, 16.5 overs. 100 in 130 min, 30.4 overs. Lunch 128-0 (Atherton 69, Stewart 49) 42 overs. 150 in 183 min, 45.4 overs. 200 in 246 min, 62.1 overs. Tea 238-1 (Atherton 111, Hussain 57) 74 overs. 250 in 300 min, 78.3 overs. New ball taken after 83 overs at 268-1. 300 in 363 min, 92.5 overs.

Atherton's 50: 129 min, 102 balls, 7 fours. 100: 262 min, 223 balls, 14 fours.

Stewart's 50: 168 min, 114 balls, 6 fours.

Hussain's 50: 100 min, 82 balls, 5 fours. 100: 207 min, 165 balls, 12 fours.

Umpires: K T Francis and G Sharp.

TV replay umpire: D J Constant.

Match referee: C W Smith.