Unlikely hero steadies India

Stephen Brenkley sees an emerging young star frustrate England's bowlers
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The Independent Online
When India's two brightest stars departed cheaply at Lord's yesterday a potentially long, long day for England must suddenly have begun to look much shorter. Without Mohammad Azharrudin and, more especially, Sachin Tendulkar, it was assumed by common consent that the tourists would buckle and then collapse in a heap before succumbing to an unassailable deficit of 2-0 in the series.

As suppositions go this had less to be said for it than the flat earth theory. Far from falling off the edge, India came closer to circumnavigating the globe. They were led so far by Saurav Ganguly, who played exquisitely. He is on tour partly because his near contemporary, the highly accomplished Vinod Kambli, was left behind for reasons of discipline. Had India performed to standard earlier in the tour or had not been afflicted by strife and injuries he might not have played in the series.

It must have put a huge sense of responsibility on his shoulders. With it obviously came wisdom. His innings was one of great good sense, a combination of rasping strokeplay and judiciousness. This was the same Ganguly who on England's A tour to the sub-continent two winters ago made 57 in four innings.

It was a good lesson for an England side itself still re-emerging from an age so dark that the planet might as well have been flat. Any sense of relief they felt in the morning was perfectly understandable.

Off the sixth ball of the day, Tendulkar was dropped at second slip. It was a straightforward opportunity as such edges behind tend to go, darting into Graeme Hick's midriff. Hick hardly had to move to cling to the ball but the poor fellow still managed to give the impression, as he did when driving to mid-off in England's first innings, of a man wearing diving boots. If he was hoping for the ground to swallow him up at this point he might have needed the full scuba equipment as well. It was the sort of occurrence designed to diminish the spirit of any bowler, not least one such as Chris Lewis, who is desperate to show he is not entering yet another false dawn, like the hero of the movie Groundhog Day.

When Lewis whistled one past Tendulkar's forward push, however, and Azharrudin cut with sublime carelessness to give a catch behind and continue his wretched run of form, all was well enough with England. Whether the world is flat or round, England's then went pear-shaped.

When Ganguly reached his century the ground rightly applauded him to its rafters. It was not on the Dickie Bird scale of rapture - this was after all Ganguly's first Test, not his last - but still the only pairs of hands not being put together with due regard for a wonderful achievement belonged to England players. Maybe they were miffed that Ganguly had survived both an appeal for a catch behind shortly after lunch and a perilously close call for lbw when he was 85; maybe they have no sense of history. They were after all trying to win a Test match.

Ganguly was naturally delighted, putting it on a higher plane than scoring a century at Eden Gardens, Calcutta, which one day he intends to do. His was not the loudest reception of the day. That was reserved for the triumph of the other England at Wembley. Play was held up several times with the relieved uproar as the penalties went on. Another good lesson for England. Start winning and such adulation may await them.