Monday, March 27, 2006

The unbearable greatness of Ponting

Ricky Ponting scored yet another century yesterday. In the first innings, he was reprieved by Boucher on 5, and by Smith and Kallis on 36, he tooks his tally to 29. Now he's reached the big Three-Oh. It is surely only a matter of time before he surges past Tendulkar's 35 centuries and Lara's runs total. The plaudits are ringing from far and wide already - with one writer suggesting that Ponting is now one of the greatest players of all time, and others calling him the greatest Australian batsman since Bradman.

I know I've harped on about this before, but quite simply, these comments smack of either ignorance or prejudice, and I am in no position to say which. A truly great player must demonstrate his prowess in all conditions that he is pitted against. In 14 innings in India, Ponting has scored 172 runs at an average of 12.28. Quite simply, that's not good enough.

Inzamam ul Haq averages 30 in Australia and South Africa, and that is rightly held against him when we come to evaluate greatness. They don't rate in the same bracket, but I draw the parallel only to illustrate that Ponting must be measured by the same yardstick. In a world in which Sachin Tendulkar's greatness is under question, Ponting must conquer his own final frontier before being admitted to that pantheon.

He is a superb batsman, and currently in a patch that is a very deep purple indeed. Nobody can argue with that. He is also a destructive batsman, in the mould of several of the genuine greats, and he has as good a pull shot as I have ever been fortunate to see. It is in fact almost unfair that he has that Indian blot on his record, perhaps desperately so. But it is real, and if he is half the cricketer I suspect he is, then he himself will be all too aware of it.

The real difficulty is that he will have at most one opportunity remaining to set the record straight. Australia's next tour to India will be in October 2010 per the current schedule. Ponting will be just shy of his 36th birthday at that point, and presumably at the tail end of his career. He will have close to 50 Test centuries to his name, and will have rewritten every record in the book, but his place in history will come down to those 4 weeks he spends in the sub-continent. If he doesn't succeed there, or if he doesn't play for that long, then he will forever remain just one notch below the top rung.

Reality Bites, as the movie espoused.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

England Report Card

Andrew Flintoff: A+. And that's just for his outstanding leadership, most notably the way he got his bowlers to execute on specific plans for individual batsmen. There can be no doubt that he has just concluded his second wonderful tour of India, and he led by example with bat, ball, in the slips and everything else. This man can do little wrong at the moment, and will hopefully go on to be one of the genial legends of the modern game.

Matthew Hoggard: A+. Hoggard was absolutely outstanding, and what really stuck out for me was the way he adapted so smoothly to the different pitches. He used the slower ball and other variations to good effect at Nagpur, and when he found some bounce in Mumbai, he was right in at the throat, unsettling batsmen despite his relative lack of pace. He seems to improve with every outing, and while he may not yet be England's strike bowler, he certainly is their leading man.

James Anderson: A. Three years ago, Jimmy Anderson was the pin-up boy of the England side, and was going to go on to great things. Three weeks ago he was a forgotten man enjoying a sunny A-tour in the Caribbean. Today, he's firmly a part of England's quintet of world class seamers. Quite a ride he's been on. His bowling in Mumbai was a revelation to the England camp - control and movement, at a brisk pace, never allowing the batsmen to settle. Harmison and Jones will vault straight past him when they return, but he now knows that he really can belong, and that should bode well for his future.

Alistair Cook: A-. He fell away somewhat after a stunning debut performance, and that's what keeps him from getting a perfect grade. However there can be little doubt that England have unearthed a potential gem - a young batsman with the mental fortitude and technical competence to go a long way in this game. It'll be interesting to see if Marcus Trescothick winds up in the middle order this summer.

Owais Shah: A-. I'm probably being a little generous here, if only because I've followed Owais Shah for many years even if I've never really been a fan, per se. As I've already said elsewhere, he showed remarkable poise and panache on debut, and made it very clear that he was going to assert himself on the game, and not be dictated to. He played both the spinners and paceman with aplomb, and really only misses out on the perfect grade because he failed to turn the 88 into a century, and ran himself out stupidly in the second innings. 120 and 60 rather than 88 and 38, and Kevin Pietersen would have been looking over his shoulder come the summer.

Paul Collingwood: A-. You can't really downgrade a guy who saved his country's blushes with a terrific knock to open up the series, but as one other critic noted, he appeared to bat himself completely out of form over the three weeks. He remains England's best fielder, even if his bowling is clearly not going to cut it in a Test match. With Flintoff and Strauss certain picks, England have to choose 4 from Vaughan, Trescothick, Cook, Bell, Shah, Pietersen and Collingwood. The utility man can't afford a sustained drop in form.

Andrew Strauss: B+. Strauss has not been at his best all winter, with the pitches not suiting his preferred cuts and dabs. However, despite looking unsure as to how to put an innings together, he came to the party with a series-defining century in Mumbai, which probably helped cement his place at the top of the order for some time to come. His fielding and catching were a little up and down, but the same could be said of most in this series.

Shaun Udal: B+. Quite an amazing story, as England's 4th choice spinner came to the fore in a handful of overs after lunch on the final day of the series. You can only be happy for him, as there's every liklihood that he has played his last Test match, and what could be better than to go out like that? He fought hard with the bat as well, even if Darrell Hair did help him out, and showed that a little bit of experience and nous can be a match for the most talented of cricketers. He didn't do much, but he didn't need to, as the hara-kiri attitudes of the Indian tail (beginning at #6) played right into his hands.

Monty Panesar: B-. I debated giving Panesar a C, but at the end of the day didn't have the heart. He flew in as the third-best spinner in team management's eyes, and flew out as the understudy to Ashley Giles. He bowls with a nice loop, and can extract turn and bounce when it's on offer. He was not fazed by anything, until the nerves betrayed him in the final innings at Mumbai with so much on the line. His captain used him intelligently, coaxing the confidence into him throughout the series, and he showed a hitherto unseen stickability with the bat as well. His fielding of course is a throwback to the old days - there could not have been a dry eye in the house when he held out his hands to trap that Dhoni skier and missed by about two yards.

Kevin Pietersen: C+. I realy struggled with this one, because KP was neither here nor there in this series. He had some astounding luck with the third umpire, and he had a bum decision go against him as well. His contributions with the bat were as positive as ever, but he never got away to the extent England may have wished him to. Test cricket is not an easy game, however absurdly talented and confident you might be. He gets the + modifier for his livewire ground fielding which was one of the highlights of the tour. Part of him will be hoping that both Vaughan and Trescothick don't make a comeback this summer - if they do, then his place will be under serious threat.

Stephen Harmison: C. He didn't quite get it right in Nagpur, but he made up for that with a terrific display at Mohali, even if the stats show just 2 wickets taken. The extra yard of pace, and the well-targeted steepling bounce are always going to be a handful, and it's not just Indian batsmen who will be troubled by it. The trouble is, since the Lord's Test against Australia, he hasn't really put in a commanding performance, and it will be his place that Anderson is targeting.

Geraint Jones: C-. I'm always a contrarian when it comes to keepers for some reason, and this case is no different. For my money, Chris Read should be back behind the stumps for England, as there's no doubt that he's a better keeper, and Jones has done little with the bat to justify his continued selection. He certainly salvaged some pride with an improved display in Mumbai, and Duncan Fletcher is known to favour his presence in the side, but he can't have much rope left to play with.

Ian Bell: D. For a batsman who seems to have all the raw ingredients, Ian Bell is rapidly starting to disappoint. He doesn't seem to be able to knuckle down and convert the starts, and it's very hard to see him retaining his place in the side this summer. To give credit where it's due though, he pulled off a couple of good catches at bat-pad, and in general taught the Indians a thing or two about how to field in that position.

Liam Plunkett: F. One of the disappointments of the tour for my money, and instinct tells me that he was rushed in a little too quickly. He doesn't quite seem to have the maturity in his bowling that you need at this level, and he doesn't have the raw pace or magical control that could compensate for that. His batting was also a let-down after his heroics in the ODI series in Pakistan, proving for the umpteenth time that the two forms of the game are completely different.

Ian Blackwell: F. The only reason Ian Blackwell wasn't a disappointment was that I never expected much from him in the first place. A true utility cricketer in the Ronnie Irani mould, he may continue to have a place on the one day squad, but he didn't show anything to suggest that he should be picked once Ashley Giles returns to fitness.

Indian Report Card

Scale Used: A = excellent, B = good, C = average, D = below average, E = bad, F = failure

Anil Kumble: A. He has been a star with both ball and bat for India in this series. If anyone rivalled Flintoff for all-round contribution, it was probably Kumble. What is abundantly clear is just how much India needs this man at his best - an India without Kumble is a frightening prospect for Indian fans.

Munaf Patel: A-. Talk about seizing your opportunity with both hands. There has been talk about Munaf and his sheer pace for a couple of years now. We found out that he doesn't really have the pace that was implied, but what he does have is heart, control, and a potentially devastating inswinging yorker. Shades of Waqar, dare I say it, and as long as he keeps working hard at his game, he can be an ever-present in this Indian attack for years to come. What's more, he's pure entertainment with a bat in hand.

Shantakumaran Sreesanth: A-. Much like Munaf, Sreesanth grabbed his chance and bowled with discipline. He's a little more prone to losing his line and length, but he has a nice little outswinger on him, and obviously has the mental fortitude to fight when the going is tough, as his 29* illustrated. I suspect he'll inherit a lot of the Balaji fans looking for their next happy hero.

Mohammad Kaif: B+. Performed with the bat when under pressure, but was not up to his usual standards in the field, and his technique in the close cordon and under the nose was exposed as somewhat comical. He will no doubt feel hard done by, after doing nothing wrong, but his chance will come, probably at the expense of VVS Laxman, and possibly even at the expense of Yuvraj Singh.

Rahul Dravid: B. As ever, Dravid was a rock with the bat, but he never went on to make the big series defining score, and faltered when his team needed him most in the final effort. Furthermore, he has to take the heat for two decisions which, even though I understand the rationale behind them, I believe were poor. Risking the series by playing a batsman short was one, and then compounding that error by bowling first was the second. The theory behind putting England in at Mohali might have been sound, but when your senior paceman is a 21 year old who bowls at 75mph, and his cohorts are in their debut series, that's asking an awful lot. Of course, it's easy to say this with hindsight.

Wasim Jaffer: B-. England regrouped after his superb return to the side, and came to Mohali and Mumbai with a plan, and his sequence of 81, 100, 31, 17, 11, 10 reflect that pretty clearly. However, an average of 40-odd is not a bad return for a man making a comeback and trying to stake a claim. As I've said before, he will hold onto his spot through the South Africa tour in December, but I'm not putting money on anything beyond that. His strokeplay is classy, and his technique far more solid than it was a few years back, but Pollock and Ntini are sure to put Jaffer to the test.

Irfan Pathan: C-. Yes, he may have done a valuable job with the bat, but he's in the side to bowl, and the lack of quality from Pathan in this series was telling. The only medium pacer on either side who performed worse was Liam Plunkett, and he was worse than Geoffrey Boycott's grandmother. I raised the point before that, apart from the hat-trick in Pakistan, Pathan has only performed with the ball in 4 Test matches, two against Zimbabwe, and two against Bangladesh. Hopefully this series will alert him and his coaches to the fact that there is a lot of work to be done. The talent is there, both technically and mentally, but it needs to be shaped. He's only 21, and I'm optimistic, but a bad series is a bad series, and that's what this one was.

Harbhajan Singh: D. The one positive Harbhajan can take out of this series is his final spell in Mumbai, and that wonderful caught and bowled. There was just a hint there that he might yet rediscover the rhythm of his best days. Other than that, he looked about as penatrative as we all thought Shaun Udal would be. Wrong on both counts, I suppose.

Piyush Chawla: D. His performance was mediocre, but young Chawla also showed glimpses of talent, most notably in his temperament, which is absolutely crucial to long term success as a spin bowler. He's had a taste, and that will hopefully have whetted his appetite - he probably has a couple of years in which to establish himself as the successor to Anil Kumble. God knows India need him to come good.

Yuvraj Singh: E. He reverted to type, after flattering to deceive in Pakistan. He certainly played some exquisite shots, including a stellar straight drive off Jimmy Anderson on the final day of the series, but I'm still not certain if he's got Test match quality stamped on him. He will rightfully start in the Carribbean, but another poor series could see the likes of Kaif and Raina leapfrog him in the pecking order. What he needs to do is figure out how to bring some consistency to his Test match game.

Virender Sehwag: E. England had him completely sorted out as far as his batting was concerned, and he was even slower than usual in the field. Sehwag needs to go back to the drawing board before the Indians go to South Africa at the end of the year - in fact, even on the slow West Indian pitches of late, it looks like Edwards and co. will be challenge enough. Another poor series, and his automatic place will be under serious threat. He escapes the F only because of his 76* at Mohali.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni: E. He was lucky to get the one half-century that he did, and he illustrated at Mumbai why many question his ability to serve India well in the longer form of the game. His keeping standards also fluctuated through the series, and he missed a couple of sitters. Parthiv Patel will probably tour the West Indies as Dhoni's understudy, and I wouldn't be surprised if the roles are reversed by the time the team goes to South Africa in the winter.

Sachin Tendulkar: F. It's intriguing to see Sachin struggle now that he is no longer the sole focus of the team, and is not under immense pressure every time he walks out to the middle. Paradoxical as it sounds, he almost appears to be under even more pressure now that he's not. My speculation is really neither here nor there, but perhaps what we're learning these last couple of years is that the man is in fact human. It's pretty much mandatory for genius to be flawed - just look at Brian Lara. Whether Indian cricket can live with that is another question. I expect that he'll be back, and we'll find out whether it's one last hurrah that culminates in a great tour of South Africa and a big World Cup, or whether it goes on as this Indian side rebuilds for the future.

VVS Laxman: F. A little harsh perhaps, given that he faced but one delivery in the series, but then again, it's only his own fault that he didn't face more. One wonders where his career will go from here - he's not a player who has responded well to being in and out of the side, although his skills in the slips alone may ensure that he's on the plane to the Caribbean. If he doesn't perform there however, it is almost certainly the end of the road.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

India vs England: T3D5

There's not a lot I can add to what is I'm sure already being said about the final 3 hours of this Test series. Still, a few things that caught my eye:

  • BCCI - the commercial operation goes from strength to strength. I noticed today that the covers of all the team laptops have massive Microsoft and Intel Centrino logos affixed to them, so that when the TV cameras focus in on the pavilion, the advertising is what takes centre stage. It certainly is quite ridiculous, but you simply have to hand it to Lalit Modi and his team for not missing a trick. First the $10 million non-leading arm shirt deal with Nike, and now this.
  • Shaun Udal - what a way to come good, in what is probably the last Test match of his career. His experience shone through, and it was clear that once he realised there was turn and bounce for him, he concentrated on simply dropping the ball on a spot, and letting the pitch do the rest.
  • Dhoni - I don't want to waste much time here, other than to say that he illustrated clearly why India needs a Parthiv Patel, someone who is an equal or better keeper now, and a vastly more mature batsman.
  • Sachin Tendulkar - he top-scored, and didn't look terrible for the most part, but sadly he also appeared to lend credence to my hypothesis. He put away a few rank deliveries, and then got out just when he might have been set. I'm not knocking him in the context of this particular Indian innings, but re-iterating the belief that for some reason, he doesn't seem able to turn a start into a score these days.

As far as looking forward is concerned - I'll leave that for the report cards that I'll post in the next day or so. Should make for some interesting reading!

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

India vs England: T3D4

Highlights from Day Four

  • Nasser Hussain - in a great throwback to his tour of India as captain, Nasser Hussain interviewed Paul Collingwood at the start of the day's play and quite shockingly, asked him "Are England looking to win this game?" Times have changed Nasser - fear of defeat does not consume Andrew Flintoff.
  • Sachin Tendulkar - hurrah! He hit the stumps! Unfortunately, there was really nothing happening at the time, and both batsmen were well in their ground when it happened. I suppose you have to start somewhere though. I did notice, as I had on Day One, that after releasing the ball, he visibly winced and gingerly massaged his right shoulder. No surprises then when it was announced this morning that he was out of the one day series, and likely the West Indies tour to follow. For once in my life, I can say I know exactly how the great cricketer feels - I'm carrying a very similar injury right now!
  • Indian Bowling - the fact that the day opened with Munaf and Sreesanth speaks volumes for the miserable time that Irfan Pathan is going through at the moment. The Indian bowling today was discplined and honest, which it hasn't always been in this series. No co-incidence then that England struggled for runs. The poor fielding continued though - missed catches in the bat-pad areas, and yet another clumsy missed stumping from Dhoni. Kumble and Harbhajan each took a great caught and bowled chance, but one fears it was far too little, and far too late.

This has been a superb Test match for the first 4 days, and with any luck, day 5 will be an absolute corker. Kudos to the curator for an outstanding strip. All four results are not just possible, but plausible, although the Indian victory is probably about as likely as a tie. If England can get 2 or 3 wickets in the morning session, then it's game over, but if India hold on, they will start to believe that they can maintain their grasp on the series trophy. They don't deserve it though - in my book, Andrew Flintoff is well worth a share of the spoils.

Monday, March 20, 2006

India vs England: T3D3

Highlights from Day Three

  • Mahendra Singh Dhoni -- you know, I'm still not sure about his batting skills, as opposed to his assault skills. However, I have to hand it to him for showing remarkable character and restraint after getting smacked on the back of the skull. His technique is questionable at best, and his attempted duck into the Flintoff bouncer was a joke, but he came out after lunch no doubt fortified by some sage advice in the Chappell Way, and battled it out for his country. Full marks for that.
  • Sreesanth -- speaking of spunk, this guy has it in large quantities. He bowled a beautiful probing spell in the evening, despite seeing Yuvraj drop an absolute sitter, and he was desperately unlucky not to have Shaun Udal caught behind. His batting was a revelation - probably to himself as much as to anyone else.
  • Hoggard, Flintoff and Anderson -- all were thoroughly impressive, particularly Anderson on his return to the side, given that he pretty much had one shot at staking a claim. They used the pitch intelligently, allowing it to help them, bowling in the right areas and mixing it up, never afraid to have a real go at the batsmen. Of course, in contrast to the Indian attack, they can all get up there in pace, and that makes a big difference. Duncan Fletcher must be thrilled to bits to realise that he has 5 seamers of top quality to work with.
  • Srinath and Gower -- their attempted conversations at each break in play are an utter joke. You can't help but wonder if they actually dislike one another. Srinath insists on rambling on and on without letting Gower get a word in edgewise, and Gower is constantly trying to shut Srinath up. Six of one, maybe, but my vote is with Gower, and not just because he was a classy batsman and fielder. That said, Srinath criticising Monty Panesar's fielding was a right hoot!

So what does day 4 hold in store? It's all gone to plan for England thus far. 150 in front, Owais Shah at the crease, and Flintoff and Pietersen yet to come. They'll be looking to bat 60-70 overs, and set India a target of around 375-400, which will be unattainable. India's only hope is to bowl England out by lunch or shortly thereafter. A 4th innings chase of 200-250 could give them a hint of a chance. The draw has got to be the outside bet, given that Sehwag is no Atherton (think South Africa a few years back).

Sunday, March 19, 2006

India vs England: T3D2

Highlights from Day Two:

  • Indian Fielding - utterly atrocious. The dropped catches by Sehwag and Kumble stood out, and the overall ground fielding was abysmal. However, the incident that was truly pathetic was Irfan Pathan's catch for six off Flintoff. For an international cricketer to so casually take a catch while stepping over a boundary rope is inexcusable. For one who is used to being on boundary patrol at long leg, it's even worse. I've watched the replay countless times, and there is no reason he couldn't have taken the catch inside the field of play. Greg Chappell must have been livid.
  • Munaf Patel - my respect for this young lad continues to increase. He bowled with purpose and intent, and didn't let the lack of support with the ball or in the field get to him at all. Nor was he thrown off by two warnings for running down the pitch. I only wish he had the genuine pace I had heard about for the last two years. If he can push into the high 80s, then he can be something close to a Waqar Younis in his pomp, as early as it is to make such a judgement. He's already got the Queen's English down pat - we saw that pretty clearly!
  • Indian Batting - as I've said, with the 5 batsmen selected, you're effectively playing with one batsman, Rahul Dravid. That could not have been more evident last night, especially with the continued feeble efforts of Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar.It feels as if Sehwag has been dismissed the same way every time I've seen him bat recently, and similarly, this was far from the first time that Tendulkar has poked hesitantly and edged through to the keeper. A great batsman has to respond to being worked out - we'll soon see what Sehwag in particular is made of.
India's grip on this series is loosening fast. England are in as good a position as they could hope for, knowning that another wicket tomorrow exposes the tail in effect. Rahul Dravid will be hoping to bat through the day, because if the Indian first innings does not last until day 4, and the pitch gets harder for batting, then there's going to be nowhere to hide.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Ruud or Saha?

4 games, 4 wins, and 3 goals for Louis Saha. On the face of it, it seems obvious that playing Louis Saha over Ruud van Nistelrooy is a rational selection by Sir Alex. And in all honesty, I don't see that we can disagree.

Then again, I've spent a lifetime being a contrarian, so why change it now? I have no doubt that Saha brings some pace and mobility to the forward line, but I also firmly believe that the lethal finishing that Ruud brings to the table is ultimately of greater value. What we miss in Ruud's absence couldn't have been more obvious than 5 minutes into the second half today, when Ronaldo brilliantly beat his man and played one right across the face of an open goal, only for absolutely nobody to tuck it away.

My contention is that the quality in United's play these last few games has been not because of Saha's presence, but because for the first time in a long time, both Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo are simultaneously at the top of their respective games. With those two on fire, and Ryan Giggs and Park doing much of the running in the middle, I submit that with Ruud in front, we'd have had a lot more than 2 goals in each of the last three games. Sure, Saha has scored 3 in 4, but Rooney and Ronaldo have 6 between them in the same time.

I think Saha is quality, but he's a poor man's Rooney or Ronaldo. He has the pace, and some of the guile, but not the same first touch, nor quite the same finishing ability. Ruud doesn't have that sprinting ability, but he can turn a man and hit the net from anywhere. He is a striker par excellence, and while you can't complain given that we're winning without him, you have to suspect that we could do even better. Not to mention the fact that Henry IX is now back alongside Ruud on the scoring charts as a result.

Perhaps this is why I'm not a football manager?

India vs England: T3D1

Highlights from Day One:

  • Rahul Dravid - his 100th Test match, though only his 99th for India. He was appointed Indian Captain until the 2007 World Cup. Not a bad day, and for some reason he chose to celebrate it by bowling first upon winning the toss. Of course, it's very easy to second guess. If a captain bats first, and his team collapses, we say the batsmen failed. If a captain bowls first, and fails to take wickets, we say he made the wrong decision. Wonderful being an armchair media critic, isn't it?
  • Owais Shah - I have to write about him, because as a former hero-worshipper of Mark Ramprakash, I have followed that mercurial talent's heir apparent for a decade. I think Shah's natural ability can be summed up in the first three deliveries he faced from Harbhajan Singh. The first, he came down the track and drove sweetly to mid-off. Bhajji was having none of this, and next ball, tried to fire one in wide off off stump, hoping that Shah would dance down the track again. He didn't - instead rocking back and cutting beautifully past point. Next ball, Harbhajan overstepped in frustration.
  • Sachin Tendulkar - As reported by Mike Atherton in the Daily Telegraph, even Vinod Kambli thinks that Sachin is a little bit slower these days. His performance in the field yesterday was certainly poor - but then so was everyone elses. In a conversation with Nasser Hussain, he said that he believes that he is batting well, but just making one mistake every innings. Unfortunately, that's all it takes.
  • Dhoni - Yes, he pulled off that smart stumping the other day, but his keeping, as I've said before, really needs to step up a gear. Parthiv Patel was jettisoned for not much more, and is now a much improved keeper, and a far more likely Test match batsman. Dying your hair black (how funny is that for an Indian cricketer?) isn't enough to retain your place in the side.
Hard to see India winning this game from here. In fact, it's already hard to see India saving it, unless they can rip through the English batting in the first session tomorrow morning.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Back to the real stuff

In the wake of the much-discussed batathon, it's refreshing to see some real Test match cricket going on around the world. A real contest between bat and ball is what it's all about, even if it is a little disappointing that most batsmen, reared on flat one-day tracks, are simply not up to the task. Of course, as I write this, Stephen Fleming is wading into Ian Bradshaw just so as to make me look foolish.

The Mumbai Test starting today promises to be no different, only in this case, the two teams are now firmly in Test match mode, and therefore might have that little bit extra to offer. Until now, for all the absentees, I felt it was Simon Jones whom England sorely missed, but the addition of Harmison to the crocked list puts them in a very difficult position.

India are debating whether to include the bowler who took 4 wickets on his debut a fortnight ago, Sreesanth, or the batsman who played the knock of 281 in the match, VVS Laxman. Either would likely play at the expense of Piyush Chawla.

Andy Flintoff, on the other hand, has to first decide whether to retain Liam Plunkett (who scored 0 and 1, and took 1-59 in 11 overs last week), or to replace him with James Anderson. Having done that, he then has to choose between Andseron, Ian Blackwell (who supposedly played the Test in Nagpur), Shaun Udal (who turns 37 tomorrow, and took 3 wickets in 3 Tests in Pakistan) and possibly Owais Shah (an unfulfilled talent in the Mark Ramprakash mould).

I know whose shoes I'd rather be in. For the record, I'd personally go with Kaif in place of Chawla for India, and Anderson and Owais Shah in place of Harmison and Plunkett for England. I know Duncan Fletcher wants 5 bowlers - but I think he'd be just as well served by using Ian Bell, Paul Collingwood and even Kevin Pietersen's pseudo-offies.

More likely we'll see Laxman in for India, and Udal and Plunkett for England to maintain their desired batting depth. I wonder if Duncan Fletcher realises that he's slowly going back to the utility player days of Dermot Reeve, Derek Pringle, Ronnie Irani, Adam Hollioake and co. It's an easy trap to fall into in the search for all rounders, and 'bowlers who can bat a bit.'

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

India vs. England: T2D5

Short of time, so even briefer than usual comments on this one:

  • Virender Sehwag - has he turned an important corner here? A match-winning second innings knock, and it was obvious that he was fighting against natural instinct on several occasions. It's early yet, but this could be the first step in his change from attacking dynamo to great batsman.
  • Munaf Patel - 87mph inswinging yorkers. Reminds me of a bloke called Waqar Younis. Amusingly, Srinath felt India couldn't have asked more of him; but Deano was annoyed at the way he trundled in and took an over to warm up on Day 5. Once more, the difference in approaches highlighted.
  • The Pitch - hats off to the PCA. That was a brilliant cricket wicket. A touch of pace, bounce, and turn. Harmison (bounce/pace), Patel and Hoggard (swing and variation), Kumble (grip and turn) all had something to get excited about if they put in the effort, and at the same time, a quality batsmen could get himself set and play his shots. You couldn't ask for much more.
Mumbai of late has been a raging turner - so that could be a lot of fun. England have serious #8 problems - if I were them I'd be bringing in Owais Shah in place of Plunkett, given that he is arguably the best player of spin bowling in the England camp. India may bring back Kaif or Laxman in place of Chawla with a view to securing the series.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Fleming vs. Richardson

Looks like there's a bit of disharmony in the Kiwi camp. Recent retiree, Mark Richardson, is now part of the media contingent, and was conducting an interview with skipper Stephen Fleming the other day. I'm sure the interview went well enough, but this outburst from Fleming once the cameras were supposed to be turned off was quite something.

India vs. England: T2D4

Of course, the whole world is talking about the South Africa vs. Australia batathon, which was remarkable indeed, but there was still some good stuff at Mohali:

  • Rahul Dravid - yet another 90, and yes the ball kept low, but how many times has he chopped onto his stumps in his career?
  • Steve Harmison - superb. Pace and bounce, with a hint of movement off the seam. High class fast bowling, and he deserved more than he had to show for it, including the wicket of Pathan.
  • Munaf Patel - cricket just got that much more entertaining. How he has ever scored a 50 in domestic cricket I don't know, but he certainly stunned all and sundry when after running away from his stumps half a dozen times in succession, he suddenly smote one straight back down the ground for six.
  • Anil Kumble - what a bowler he continues to be. He still suffers from people's insistence on trying to classify him. He simply defies it and deserves to be viewed as a bowler - one who thrives when there is a bit of juice in the wicket, and one who has done so for 16 years. It doesn't matter how much he turns it, or what pace he bowls at - why do we insist on forcing conventional wisdom on an exceptional bowler?
  • Kevin Pietersen - alright, so it didn't look out to me either. But with the good fortune he's enjoyed in this series, including a ludicrous third umpire reprieve, he ought to have kept his thoughts to himself and marched off without a hint of complaint. Or perhaps Darrell Hair gave him out lbw?
Okay, so I do have to say something about the game at Johannesburg. As someone who doesn't overly care for one-day cricket as it is played these days, in a twisted way, I think that game did a lot of good. If it's going to be all about the batsmen, then we need more pitches like that, and more 400+ scores. At least then at some level you can say you were entertained.

I don't mean to detract in any way from the sheer awesomeness (is that a word?) of what happened there, but for my money the wonderful contest between bat and ball that we have seen at Mohali, and down in New Zealand as well - now that's what cricket should be all about, and that's what I will pay money to watch. Granted, sometimes a contest arises out of a lack of competence, but even then, at least it's a battle. Jo'burg was a pair of solo performances.

Back to Mohali, and quite out of the blue, this has become India's Test to lose. And in a match in which England fielded the 361st youngest team ever seen in the Test match arena (and the youngest ever English team), and India played it's second youngest debutant in history, it is two veterans, Rahul Dravid, and Anil Kumble, who have defined the course of the game. Perhaps the Aussies are onto something with bringing back Damien Martyn and Kasper.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

India vs. England: T2D3

Highlights from Day 3:

  • Nasser Hussain - his comment that Harbhajan and Chawla had been underbowled was shocking coming from a former captain. It goes without saying that when a game stops and starts, any captain worth his salt is going to use his leading bowlers to attack the opposition. Dravid did just that, and there's no reason to fault him for it.
  • Munaf Patel - continued to impress, and this time around looked the part with the new ball as well. I wonder how many people have started their careers with a pair of caught and bowleds?
  • Sachin Tendulkar - well, I commented before the Test that India was playing with just one batsman in Dravid, and sadly I appear to have been proven right thus far. The remainder of the top 5 have failed to contribute, and much as I hate to get on the bandwagon, we have to start looking at Sachin's contributions. An average of 37 in his last 27 innings (15 Tests) is nothing to write home about. And if you take out the one substantial score, 248* against the might of Bangladesh, you see that he has averaged 27 in that period. Worse yet, his record is littered with 10s and 20s - the signs of a batsman not out of form, but just not quite up to it. Don't get me wrong, I'm not fit to even comment on his batting really - but at some point, you have to ask questions. For the record, Saurav Ganguly averaged 33 in his last 15 Tests, 27 if you exclude his top score (that ugly 101 in Zimbabwe). I'd give Sachin plenty more time yet, and I expect him to stamp his class on the game as Lara did when he was once written off. My concern, as an armchair analyst, is that he hasn't looked hopelessly out of form. I would be happier with that. He just hasn't looked able to get a score.

Onto Day 4, and England will be thinking that with some early wickets, they could get right on top in this game. A few more Ian Bell style catches, and it'll be all over in a flash. India's chances of forcing a victory look to be long gone at this point - I suspect only an improbable Dhoni special could change that.

Friday, March 10, 2006

India vs. England: T2D2

There's not a lot to say about Day 2, except that it went pretty much as I predicted!

  • Bad Lighting - Dish Network's continued insistence that play has been "suspended due to bad lighting" never fails to amuse me. I haven't been to Mohali, but it's supposed to have the best facilities, inclusive of lighting, in India. Just not good enough for EchoStar, I suppose.
  • Bails - Anil Kumble's dismissal of Paul Collingwood got me thinking. It was undoubtedly a top-class delivery, illustrating that you don't need to turn the ball square to be a great slow bowler or spinner. Pitched middle and leg, after dipping late, and turned and bounced to clip the top off the off bail. That's the part which was interesting to me. The 3000 frames per second replay clearly showed the ball hitting the very top of the bail, which of course juts several fractions of an inch above the top of the stumps themselves. What that means is, had the bails been removed in windy conditions, that ball would have gone over the top of the stumps, and all we'd have seen or heard is a few "oohs" and "aahs." Perhaps not an issue in Test cricket, but in club cricket in the US and elsewhere, where cheap stumps and bails are used, you often see the bails removed. Makes me wonder how many dismissals I've been unfairly denied!
  • Hawkeye - Ian Bell's dismissal, clean bowled by Kumble's googly, yesterday was priceless, and not just for the stunned look on his face when he realized he had done it again (he famously did the same facing Shane Warne last year). The Hawkeye replay showed the ball comfortably missing the stumps. So had Bell got a pad in the way, and been given out by Simon Taufel, the commentators and rest of us at home would have confidently pronounced it a poor decision. Tells you everything you need to know about the extent to which technology should and should not be used in the game.
  • Chandigarh Life - In a News of The World style sting, two reporters from The Chandigarh Life posed as cab drivers and taped conversations between England players. Their scoop - Paul Collingwood likes tight-fitting clothes. No fake sheikh scandals here then.
More rain forecast for tomorrow, so I guess a solid night's sleep is on the cards. Hats off to Australia in the meantime, for a tremendous one-wicket triumph to keep the ODI series against South Africa alive. Never write off a champion team is all I can say.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

India vs. England: T2D1

Highlights from Day One:

  • The Pitch - all that fanfare, multiple pitches prepared, and we end up with what looked like a two-in-one with a bit of grass at one end, and cracks at the other end. Only it played as a good batting track, no more and no less. Quite amusing, although not surprising, that England would swap out a spinner for a seamer, resulting in a 4+1 attack, whilst India bring in the extra spinner for a 2+3 balance.
  • Stump Microphones - I am loving the fact that they have these turned up so loud, even if Dhoni had a few issues with the installation work. Great to hear everything that goes on in the middle, including the umpires' private conversations ont heir walkie-talkies.
  • Kevin Pietersen - can a batsman really have such luck? How often is it in cricket that a batsman is dead-set lbw, and the bowler barely appeals? Irfan Pathan will be kicking himself when he sees the replay. You do have to hand it to KP though - the skunk hairstyle may be gone, but the arrogance in his battig remains, and he uses it to tremendous effect.
  • Irfan Pathan - After slamming him for the fact that he has only performed with the ball in 4 Tests in his career, I have to give credit where it is due. He bowled well on a pitch giving him nothing, and whilst the Strauss dismissal was down to a poorly executed cut, he got AListair Cook with one that went late the other way, just as he had in Nagpur. Good stuff, even at 77mph.
  • Munaf Patel - After his first spell, I was starting to wonder if this wasn't another case of all hype and no substance. He hasn't proven me wrong yet, but he did show in his later bursts that he can bowl between 85 and 90mph, which is no mean feat for an Indian paceman at the top level. Furthermore, like all good bowlers these days, he can't swing the ball an inch, but he can make it reverse at will. There's something I'm going to have to write about one day.
  • Piyush Chawla - hard to say much after a handful of overs. The two googlies I saw were both well disguised - a skill that he is reputed for. He gets plus points for the fact that he didn't back down when KP had a go at him, something all young spinners would do well to take stock of. Rahul Dravid also handled him superbly - bringing him on for a key over just before lunch, and not being scared to give him a spell even when KP slog-swept him to the boundary a couple of times.
  • Ian Bell - what an interesting Test career this lad is having. Debuted with a 50 against the West Indies, and then an unbeaten 50 and 100 against Bangladesh. Set himself in the side and then failed miserably in the Ashes barring two knocks at Manchester. Injury got him into the side in Pakistan at the last minute, and he responded with two 50s and a century to re-establish himself, and now is looking about as comfortable with the spinners as I would be facing Brett Lee with my eyes closed (and believe me, if I were facing him, my eyes would likely be shut - Norman Cowans was the fastest I ever came up against). What's astonishing is that a batsman who for 6 or 7 years has been known for his mental fortitude, appears to be losing the plot every time he realises exactly where he is.

Of course, it's all completely academic. The forecast shows 100% chance of rain on Day 2 and 3, which means it's going to be off to Mumbai next week with everything to play for.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

India vs. England: T2 Preview

Looks like I was wrong. The Indian think thank apparently has the confidence to go in with 5 batsmen. Of those 5, Wasim Jaffer is just making his comeback now, Sachin Tendulkar is short of Test match runs, Virender Sehwag is statistically unlikely to contribute very much, and Yuvraj Singh hasn't played cricket for a few weeks. That leaves one man to run the batting. I'm not certain whether this is a positive move or a foolish one.

On the other hand, I'm thoroughly excited at the prospect of being entertained and intrigued for the next 5 days. Munaf Patel is a near certainty to make his debut, and if the pitch is as dry and cracked as it appears it might be, we could see Piyush Chawla as well - especially as his presence would lend depth to the batting. More likely that RP Singh will be the 11th man, so that there are three seamers in the side, and only one bowling debutant, but that's not what I'm hoping for.

Here's to a great Test match - and with any luck it will be as entertaining as the United-Wigan game I got to watch last night (after a 36 hour self-imposted news blackout while travelling). I'll take the equivalent of a 92nd minute Chimbonda own goal, that's for sure!

Monday, March 06, 2006

My Hero - Graeme Pollock

There was a nice little article on CricInfo today, about Graeme Pollock. For my money, the most captivating and able batsman I have ever seen wield the willow. Of course, there's always Bradman, but he doesn't count in these assessments, otherwise life would be rather boring.

I first got to see Graeme Pollock play in a friendly game, when as a less-than-fit and more-than-middle-aged gentleman, he took on the Worcestershire county attack, with England bowlers in it's midst (including one Ian Botham). I was instantly enthralled. As Simon Kuper points out in the article, he had so much time to play his strokes. One effortless pull which sailed over the pavilion is firmly implanted in my memory. The combination of sheer power and understated elegance was incredible - only Tendulkar at his very best has come close in my estimation. I was an instant fan, and everything I saw later on in videos only served to enhance my impression of him.

If you've never seen him bat, I'd urge you to get hold of some videos. All you Tendulkar fans out there, I can't imagine that you'll be anything but awe-struck.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

India vs. England: T1D5

Highlights from Day 5:

  • Javagal Srinath -- perhaps the highlight of the entire match for me was Srinath's confident pronouncement of a Monty Panesar no-ball. He requested the replay, and triumphantly pointed out that what we were watching was a massively illegal delivery, Panesar's toe being over the line, and the remainder of his foot behind it, but in the air. Now this is exactly the sort of thing we want our commentators to educate us about. Except for the fact that he was completely and utterly wrong. It turns out that a man who has played 67 Test Matches and 229 ODIS, has absolutely no idea what constitutes a no-ball. For the record, Javvy (with apologies to Nass), some part of your front foot, whether grounded OR RAISED, needs to be behind the crease. Better luck next time.
  • Wasim Jaffer -- here to stay, as simple as that. At least until the South Africa tour in December.
  • Virender Sehwag -- okay, so his second innings failure was no surprise to anybody, but England seem to have a good idea of how to bowl to him, and this may turn out to be the toughest series of his career to date.
  • The Pitch -- quite simply, it did not crumble. Perhaps this will go some way towards dispelling the myth that all Indian pitches crumble by tea on Day 2.
  • The Onslaught -- much ado about nothing, in my book - to the extent that there really wasn't ever any possibility of India pulling off the win. However, I think it was a tactically brilliant move to go on the attack. What it achieved was to make England really worry for the first time in the game, and that was evident in some of the body language on the field. Unsettling a first-time captain is a great strategy, and I wouldn't be surprised if next time England have a chance to declare, they end up delaying it a little too much with this effort back of mind.

So where do the teams go from here? The first innings of the match will be crucial at Mohali. Historically a high-scoring draw ground, there is always something in it for the pacemen early on.

England may well bring in Liam Plunkett to replace Ian Blackwell, who was spectacularly ineffective at Nagpur. Matthew Hoggard is clearly at the top of his game, and Steven Harmison can only get better. India will not have it easy against 4 seamers, with Monty Panesar having shown that he can be a deadly option.

India probably have no idea what they will do. Unsurprisingly, VRV Singh is out of the squad, and Munaf Patel back in - we'll refrain from commenting on the selection process there. Yuvraj Singh is back, and unfair as it is, he really has to come in to replace Mohammad Kaif. VVS Laxman has done well enough in recent series to warrant his place in the side. I doubt we'll see 5 bowlers picked, simply because it would be harsh on the two batsmen to miss out, and because India will need 6 batsmen if the pitch has anything to offer.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

India vs. England: T1D4

Highlights of Day 4:

  • Indian Fielding - An inexplicable drop by Sreesanth in the covers, an even simpler caught and bowled put down by Harbhajan, a tough but routine slip catch fluffed by Rahul Dravid, and Kaif's poor technique at short leg resulting in a chance going straight through his legs. That was the story of the day, and you certainly can't win Test matches playing that sort of cricket.
  • Sachin Tendulkar - And that's 280 now. I have to call it out, simply because I cracked up when he did it again. Throw, miss, react as if completely stunned by it all.
  • The Third Umpire - Pathetic - take it from me, The Fourth Umpire!! I can't possibly imagine what convinced him to give Kevin Pietersen not out. There's already a story doing the rounds that he's a Ganguly fan, and didn't want to give Dravid a sniff of a victory, but that's about as likely as Hansie Cronje being a match-fixer. Hmm.
  • Alistair Cook - Sublime. This kid has some future ahead of him. His composure against all-comers, even when he was troubled by the spin early on, and when he played a poor shot or two and was dropped, was remarkable. England must find a way to keep him in the side from here on. He'll be thankful for one thing though - the West Indian pitches of the 90's and 00's. Twenty-five years ago, the transition from a Caribbean pacy greentop to a barren and dry Nagpur surface would have been quite a challenge. Last week, the pitch he was playing on in the West Indies was turning more than the one here.
  • Trescothick, Vaughan and Giles - Let's look at this carefully. Vaughan's replacement, Paul Collingwood, scored 170 runs, was dismissed once, and set up the game for England. Trescothick's replacement, Alistair Cook, scored 164 runs, was dismissed once, and set up the final charge for England. Giles's replacement, Monty Panesar, bowled with even more control than Giles himself, and took two wickets that Giles probably never would have, particularly the wicket of Mohammad Kaif. So were England really weakened in their absence? In current form, there's little doubt that Collingwood and Panesar contributed more than Vaughan and Giles would have. Trescothick certainly looked good for some runs - but at the very least, Cook made sure he wasn't missed. Fascinating dilemna for England now!
I think the one mistake England might have made was delaying their declaration and not having a few overs at India in the evening. Having said that, India are well known for collapsing on the final day, so they won't be worrying too much. An Indian win looks very tough from here - it would take poor bowling and the sort of innings none of these Indian batsmen, including Tendulkar, has ever played. An English win is probably evens with the draw - the key I think being Monty Panesar, the debutant. Either way, Day 5 is going to be fascinating for at least 5 hours.

Friday, March 03, 2006

India vs. England: T1D3 - The Full Monty

Highlights of Day 3:

  • Matthew Hoggard - he was absolutely outstanding. An object lesson in how to bowl on wickets like this one. The Rahul Dravid lbw was iffy at best, but there was nothing wrong with the rest of his dismissals, and he came ever so close to getting Kaif with a carbon copy of his Sehwag dismissal.
  • VVS Laxman - he must be worried now. A golden duck, 91 fighting runs for Mohammad Kaif, a 50 for Wasim Jaffer, and Yuvraj Singh set to come back for Mohali. It may well be a little harsh, but at this point only a match-winning second innings knock is likely to save his place in the side. Slowly but surely, the new generation is coming into the reckoning.
  • Mahendra Singh Dhoni - was watching with a friend who hadn't seen much of Dhoni, and I pointed out that my big concern continues to be the complete absence of any inclination to play a defensive stroke. The Sehwag approach is to look for 6, then 4, then runs, and if all else fails, let it be a dot ball. The Dhoni approach is to look for 6 or 4, that's it. Works a treat on a belter, and will be a problem elsewhere. Sure enough, he played a shot a ball, and it didn't take long to bring that to an end. Still, the raw ability is there - let's not write him off just yet.
  • Mohammad Kaif - his stance gets increasingly awkward, and his grip is worse than Allan Border's, but he's a fighter, and a great fielder to boot. He had a one-shot deal here - had he failed here, it could have been all over for his Test career. Talk about grabbing your opportunity. It was far from his most fluent innings, but he stood up and dared, where nobody else did. Anil Kumble was a stellar partner for him, and together they gave everything to keep India in this contest.
  • Monty Panesar - hats off to Monty. Above all else, he is a throwback to the good old days. The sort of cricketer who probably took up spin bowling because it required the least amount of effort - and forget all that fielding stuff. But for a bowler making his debut, on foreign soil, against allegedly great batsmen, he was absolutely superb. To snare Tendulkar for your first Test wicket is the stuff of dreams - and with all due respect, Tendulkar's reaction was unworthy, given that he was dead set plumb in front. Just when I thought he couldn't top that though, Monty produced the delivery that left-arm spinners die or. Nice loop, drifted in from outside off stump, dipped late to pitch on middle, and turned nicely to clip the top of off stump. Mohammad Kaif was stunned, and I'm not surprised. It was pretty much the perfect delivery, and the only thing that could have ended Kaif's six hour vigil. I am really happy and excited for this lad - he has shown every sign of having real long term potential.

It's all in England's hands now. The tricky question will be one of when to declare. Can they bowl India out in a day, or will they need to aggressively pile on a lead with 60-70 overs of batting on Day 4? If I were Andy Flintoff, I think I'd be looking to get a lead of about 350, and insert India for a few nerve-jangling overs before the close tomorrow. That will be tough to achieve though, and barring a major crumbling of the pitch, Kaif and Kumble may have done just about enough to make the draw an odds-on favourite.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

India vs. England: T1D2

Highlights of Day 2:

  • Sachin Tendulkar - I make this the 279th time he has shied at the stumps, missed by a foot, and then thrown his arms up in the air and sunk to the ground in abject dismay. You would think it's the first time he has failed to run someone out, whereas he's pretty much waiting for the first time has has not failed.
  • Javagal Srinath - his commentary is, sadly, atrocious. However, he has to get some credit for putting up with being called "Jav" and "Javvy" by his fellow clowns in the box.
  • Nasser Hussain - clearly Mr. Popular on the commentary team, he was first taken to task by Athers for his own poor running between the wickets, and then by Srinath for his infamous tactics on England's last tour of India
  • Dean Jones - once again gave us a glimpse of the difference between Indian and Australian cricket. When Monty Panesar made a hash of a sliding stop and conceded a bondary, Deano laid into him, and deservedly so. Srinath was alongside him, and was insistent on applauding the effort and technical correctness thereof. Absolutely ridiculous.
  • Sreesanth - breakdancer he may be, but as a bowler he suddenly appears to have a yard more pace and skill than Irfan Pathan. In fact, looking at Pathan's career stats, the questions start to be asked. 39 wickets in 4 games against Zimbabwe and Bangladesh; and 42 wickets in 17 other matches.
  • Monty Panesar - I tell you what, this lad could turn into a top class left arm spinner! I was pleasantly surprised, and he hit the spot right from the word go - no doubt buoyed by his batting effort earlier in the morning. He was in fact desperately unlucky not to have an lbw go his way early on - had it done so, India would have been in a spot of bother, and he would have been on a real high. On such decisions are careers made and broken - one hopes that England see the talent they have unearthed, and really make every effort to nurture it.
  • Wasim Jaffer - despite Paul Coupar's hopes to the contrary (see the last sentence of his report on CricInfo), he name is not synonymous with Jaffa, and so the orange joke just falls flat. The sentiment Coupar expresses though, is spot on. Jaffer looks as stylish as ever - witness the delectable Azhar-esque square cut he executed when Panesar dropped a fraction short - but his game seems that much sturdier than when he first came into the side. If the Mohali wicket stays true to nature, we may get a better idea of the level his game has reached next week.
Day 3, rain permitting, is going to be critical in what is shaping up to be a classic 5-day Test match, with plenty of ebbing and flowing going on. If India bat through the day, then they will have all but shut England out of the game, but should they fail to top 400, then Andy Flintoff will be quietly confident of getting off to a winning start as skipper. Much will depend on Panesar and Hoggard, who appear to be closest to figuring out how to be effective on this pitch.

Of course, if the pitch crumbles overnight, all bets are off.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

India vs England: T1D1

This has to be the weakest commentary team ever assembled. I thought the combination of Rameez, Siva, Deano, Waqar and Arun Lal in Pakistan was quite poor, but now that Rameez, Waqar and Arun Lal have been replaced by Botham, Nasser Hussain, Atherton and Srinath, I'm having a rethink. The only saving grace is David Gower, but you can almost feel him pining for Boycott, Blofeld, Richie and Harsha. Now that would be worth listening to. Perhaps I ought to tune into TMS instead.

On the cricket field there was a lot of contrast - a little bit of everything and nothing.

Two excellent catches, paired with a poor drop by Laxman, and an incredible self-inflicted nutmeg by Suresh Raina - not the first act he would have hoped for in the Test match arena.

Some incisive reverse-swing, in both directions, with the old ball, and some extremely pedestrian rubbish with the new ball.

Turn and bounce, on occasion, for Harbhajan, and no turn and no bounce, for Kumble.

Some top-drawer strokeplay from Ian Bell, and a fighting innings, as ever, from Paul Collingwood; and rash batsmanship from Strauss and Pietersen, and very little fight from Ian Bell.

A superb piece of umpiring by Aleem Dar, to give Jones lbw, and a rather poor decision from Ian Howell to send Flintoff packing.

Amidst all those contrasts, the two captains can be proud of their days work. Rahul Dravid marshalled his troops intelligently, and took a blinder at first slip, and Andrew Flintoff won the toss, and himself did everything right with the bat, dismissed only by a weak decision from the umpire.

Beyond that, it was two debutants who left a lasting impression. Once he overcame his early nerves, Sreesanth was able to hit the 85mph mark consistently, and showed an ability to reverse the ball in either direction. What's more, the former national breakdance champion (yes, that's for real) spared us the booty-shake that he will forever be remembered for.

For England, Alistair Cook quite simply looked as if he belonged. Much has been written about him over the last 5 or 6 years - another FEC (future england captain) if you will. It's too early to pass judgement, but as Nasser Hussain said, the lad appears to have it sorted out between the ears. Should Michael Vaughan's injury curtail his career, Cook looks well capable of filling those shoes.

On to Day 2, and India will be hoping to bowl England out for about 275. I'm looking forward to seeing Monty Panesar bat - by all accounts he's the rabbit's rabbit, as such. More than that though, I'm hoping that Harmison will be able to extract at least a hint of bounce at 90mph, and that Flintoff and Hoggard will swing and reverse the ball at a similar pace. If they can do that, things might yet get interesting. Frankly, anything that stops Nasser Hussain, of all people, passing judgement on batting technique, would keep me happy.