1st Test: England v India, Match Report
6-10 June 1996
Day 1: India pay for lack of application
A Dashing innings of 52 by Javagal Srinath and a ninth-wicket stand of 53 with Paras Mhambrey could not disguise the ineptitude of much of the Indian batting at Edgbaston yesterday. Bowled out for 214 by five o'clock on a pitch of uneven pace and bounce, they were undone less by the ball's variable movement than by steady bowling, brilliant catching and batting which proved beyond question the dangers of over-dosing on one-day cricket.
England lived up to expectations. They had sufficient variety in their fast bowling for Min Patel's spin to be kept largely in reserve and their command in the field was reflected in the accomplished manner in which Mike Atherton and Nick Knight batted through the last 19 overs of a hot day. Srinath and especially Venkatesh Prasad bowled well, but the captain quickly imposed himself on Anil Kumble and nine fours have already been scored despite a lush outfield. At 60 for no wicket on a pitch likely to be at its best today, England are on course to win.
India were unlucky in that Sanjay Manjrekar, having seen off the new ball's shine, twisted an ankle while turning for a second run and shortly afterwards retired hurt. The batting thereafter lacked application, an impression underlined by inglorious strokes across the line by Sachin Tendulkar and Nayan Mongia which reduced them to 103 for five by the middle of the afternoon.
Every batsman is responsible for the way he plays, but India's failure was as much the fault of those who have planned their recent international programme as it was of the individuals concerned. However much they may tell themselves to buckle down to the stern business of batting for long periods, shots across the line or with an angled bat can become second nature when the staple diet is 50 overs an innings.
England are not complaining. They had a good first day in South Africa but this, all-round, was their most impressive start to a Test series in a long time. Nick Knight took the sort of catch which genuinely wins matches to dismiss Mohammad Azharuddin, Dominic Cork bowled superbly, Alan Mullally worked hard in his pleasantly relaxed way to make a worthy start to his Test career and Chris Lewis, though his control was variable, bowled with pace and some guile.
Ronnie Irani, who, along with Mullally and Min Patel, duly won his first Test cap, was useful in two ways. He has yet to prove that he has more right to the No 6 position than Craig White or any of the other all-round contenders, but not only did he take a wicket, albeit a lucky one, with his fifth ball in Test cricket, he also, by his very presence, extended the bowling options open to the captain and enabled him to use Cork and Lewis in short, sharp spells.
There was one minor blemish on the English performance. Cork, having made Anil Kumble his third victim, waved his hand dismissively after his customary celebratory sprint down the pitch, an arrogant gesture. Kenneth Branagh performing Hamlet is like a docile Benedictine monk compared to Cork playing cricket, but his aggression and confidence are part of his value to an England team who have carried a hidden inferiority complex over recent years.
David Lloyd was satisfied with the approach yesterday: ``I thought they were committed and aggressive. You've got to stamp yourself on the opposition in these games and I thought we did that really well.''
Within the limits of propriety, it is no bad thing to have an opening bowler who lets everyone know who is boss, especially when you are, like Cork, the best English new-ball bowler since the youthful Ian Botham. His first ball yesterday, after India had won a potentially valuable toss, was a quick and nasty bouncer; his second, sliced off the back foot to cover by Vikram Rathore, should have been comfortably caught by Nasser Hussain.
It was a quite untypical lapse. Atherton set the real trend by catching a sliced drive by Ajay Jadeja to the gully in the fifth over and Knight raised the stakes 10 overs later by grabbing a low catch at third slip which would have bounced in front of a less predatory slip fielder.
Diving left, Knight caught the ball in both hands behind his eye-line, somersaulted and came up with it in his right hand.
This was a pivotal moment, for Manjrekar had taken the decision, in the same over from Cork, to retire hurt, having winced with pain even as he drove him for four. Thus the two batsmen on whom almost all depended, Azharuddin and Tendulkar, found themselves together without a run to their name. It produced a compelling half an hour, during which the captain made a distinctly uncertain start against Cork, whose outswinger was going late enough to be lethal.
Threatened at the other end by Mullally's bounce, Azharuddin countered with a piratical slash over the slips and a classical square cut, but five overs from lunch he flicked Irani's fifth ball, a leg-stump half-volley, low and hard a yard to the left of Knight, standing at a close-ish midwicket. Diving left, Knight caught the ball in both hands behind his eye-line, somersaulted and came up with it in his right hand. It was more than a vivid moment; rather the defining piece of cricket of the day, perhaps the match.
Eighty for three at lunch, India still had Tendulkar, who had so far batted beautifully. Four overs into the afternoon session, however, he drove across a straight ball from Cork and when Mongia produced a still more rustic shot to give Mullally his first wicket in a more rhythmic second spell, the job was half done. Manjrekar returned to add 13 more runs before cutting hard to the gully, where Atherton clung on to a fine catch, low and to his left.
Cork was too good for Kumble, who parried to third slip, but India's tail refused to fold as Sunil Joshi got his head down and Srinath proved that a season in county cricket has done his batting as much good as his bowling. His 52, compiled with relish either side of tea, came from only 65 balls and included nine fours. Mhambrey showed that he also has a cool head and a decent technique and theirs was a valuable partnership; but it only papered over the cracks.
Day 3: England find new edge
This morning England have only to score 48 more runs to win the first of their three Cornhill Tests against India. Their cricket, save for one spat each from Mike Atherton and Dominic Cork, has been as admirable and committed as their doings in the first part of this year were dull of mind and body.
It may be argued that this has been a bottom-of-the-table clash, and that India are not a good team, being a seamer short in their bowling and not a few techniques short in their top-order batting. But India looked a good side when they had England at 215 - one run ahead - for eight wickets down in their first innings. It was then, if not before, that a new tougher England got going and made India play worse.
If cracks are still discernible in England's line-up of batsmen, their youthfulness in the field makes good those deficiencies. If England's bowling was not selected correctly for this uneven pitch - in retrospect, at least, a fourth specialist seamer should have been preferred to a spinner - this lack was made up by the extra efforts of Chris Lewis, who has personified England's revival.
In these circumstances of invigorated English cricket, Sachin Tendulkar's ninth Test century - and he is only just 23 - was a special one. For anyone to score so freely on a dry and cracking surface was a prize-winning feat; for one to do so while wickets tumbled all around was the mark of a champion. Let us leave it that Tendulkar is the finest right-handed batsman of the moment, Brian Lara the supreme left-hander.
It was when Tendulkar had scored 76, and another hostile ball from Lewis had climbed past his outside edge to loud appeal, that Atherton earned a finger-wagging rebuke from the home umpire David Shepherd. Atherton moved in from cover to suggest that Tendulkar should not have pointed to his upper arm to sway the umpire.
England's captain was lucky that the match referee was not Peter Burge, who has already disciplined him, but Cammie Smith of West Indies, who simply had words at the tea interval with Atherton and David Lloyd. ``The game's been played in a good spirit and let's make sure it'll continue that way,'' was what he said according to Lloyd.
Lewis had been awarded the honour of first over in the first innings, when his two wickets owed much to his gully fielder.
Tendulkar's only support of note came from the only other Indian to show a suitable technique, Sanjay Manjrekar, and he had a strained right ankle. India's batsmen have led a sheltered life for the last three years, playing one Test abroad until this one. Lord's will have to offer them something as dry and flat as home if the tourists are to get back into this series: Paras Mhambrey will have to go through several reincarnations to become a proper third seamer.
Lloyd has contributed too. Previous England managers/coaches would have tired their charges before a long hot day in the field, but Lloyd's practice was brief and breezy, and they came out all ready for a flat-out assault with a hard and still-new ball.
For his 50th Test wicket, in as many weeks, Cork made one bounce at Vikram Rathore, and Graeme Hick picked up the edge low to his left at second slip. Cork's current strike-rate - fewer than 50 balls per wicket - would leave him second to Malcolm Marshall if sustained until he has 200 Test wickets.
Lewis had been awarded the honour of first over in the first innings, when his two wickets owed much to his gully fielder. In the second innings, demoted to second over, he was spurred on to produce his fastest in short bursts from the pavilion end. It was the consistent hostility of a strike bowler, which Lewis had promised to become on the 1991-2 tour of New Zealand, but had then not wanted to be.
If India have to reshape their top order, Nayan Mongia will not hurry to volunteer for No 3 again. India's wicketkeeper was rapped on his knuckles by Lewis, the ball after he had been almost torpedoed, and was dropped by Russell off Cork - is it a limitation of vision that makes Russell's weaker side his right?
Mongia's torment was ended when Hussain took a brilliant diving catch to his right at the finer of two gullies, his drop in the game's second over long forgotten.
So it was India's young champion versus England's seamers, as this series was destined to be, at any rate on less than true surfaces. An enthralling spectacle it made, combined with an element of the primitive, as nobody is better suited than Cork to leading a hungry pack of dogs scenting a kill.
While assessing conditions, waiting for the ball to soften and the bowling to flag in the sun, Tendulkar was content to feed off the rare bad balls.
Showing his team-mates how, Tendulkar eased fully forward when necessary and, his head thus over the ball, steered his first boundary to third man. Bradman, who himself suggested the comparison, would come in after Woodfull and Ponsford had taken their fill; Tendulkar arrived at 17 for two, which became 36 for four when Azharuddin exposed his leg-stump sufficiently for it to be hit by Mullally's fourth ball.
While assessing conditions, waiting for the ball to soften and the bowling to flag in the sun, Tendulkar was content to feed off the rare bad balls. When Irani came on, he sought to wrest some control. Now he was on-driving Irani's first ball, coverdriving his third and pul- ling his fifth, all to the boundary rope, and in between came complete defence.
Irani's initiative-seizing innings on Friday was compiled at a run a ball, yet even higher was his rate of being struck. Ather- ton had to pull the debutant out of the line of some pretty intense fire after Tendulkar had cover-driven and pulled him again. Will Irani be a fourth seamer for England, or a fifth?
Soon after Sunil Joshi (who broke a finger) had been caught behind off an inside edge, and shortly before lunch, Tendulkar went to his fifty, off as many balls, with his 10th four. Manjrekar settled in with him, and took India off the slide.
Patel bowled over the wicket to quieten him, to be whipped out of England's attack when Manjrekar failed to evade Lewis's bouncer. Cork re-joined Lewis, which was when the big appeal against Tendulkar was made, and England's captain lost his cool.
After tea, past his hundred, Tendulkar lost Kumble to more magnificent fielding from Nick Knight (nine catches and a run-out in his three Tests). Tendulkar was ninth out, mishooking to mid-wicket running back, and England finally had 121 to make from 21 overs, plus the extra half-an-hour.
Darrell Hair gave Knight out to a ball that might have been too high, and reprieved Atherton presumably as the ball would have gone under the stumps. Such a reprieve might have been significant, if England had been set 180 or more.
Day 4: England grasp initiative with strong hands
Fourth day of five: England (313 & 121-2) beat India (214 & 219) by eight wickets
By defeating India convincingly in the first Test - their eightwicket victory duly completed after 65 minutes of a fresh sunny Sunday morning at Edgbaston - England have made a wonderful start towards the long-term aim of beating Australia at their own efficient and ruthless game next year.
There was plenty to console the Indians in defeat, not least a great poor-wicket innings by Sachin Tendulkar on Saturday, but there was as large a gap between the sides in English conditions here as there had been when India won all three Tests at home three years ago.
Since then, as my old maths teacher would say when a simple problem was occasionally solved, the penny has dropped. Australia have been showing the rest of the world for some time how best to win Test matches in all sorts of conditions: sharply honed, dedicated and committed players; an aggressive approach; attacking bowling; superlative fielding; and flexible, orthodox batting.
The basic ingredient of skill has not changed since the first Test in 1877, or even when Hambledon ruled the roost a century before, but it is the Australian emphasis on the psychological and physical which has altered the intensity of the game.
In that sense, this was a thoroughly modern victory. Mike Atherton realised what was needed in Australia two winters ago when Ian Chappell told him over the dinner table what he had explained to Allan Border before. Shorn of Aussie adjectives, the message was that you have to be tough.
Ruthlessness may be not be unknown in the English character, but overt aggression goes against the grain. David Lloyd, England's chirpy new coach, possesses it within a cloak of humour; Atherton, for all his natural competitiveness, has had to develop it, and, sometimes, he oversteps the limit.
It has got him into trouble before and might have done on Saturday, when first David Shepherd, in the middle, then Cammie Smith, the match referee, in the dressing-room, warned him for telling Tendulkar to leave decision-making to the umpire. That, from Atherton, was pure hypocrisy.
The captain's heart, like his bat, is in the right place, however, and he has a team to work with now. All 11 can expect to gather again at Lord's for the second Test on Thursday week, with Peter Martin as bowling cover and John Crawley standing by for the batting injury which will occur sooner or later.
A selection meeting may not even be required before the side are confirmed on Sunday, and not just because the chairman, who is preparing to defend himself at a disciplinary hearing, planned for tomorrow but now postponed, has other things on his mind.
Brilliant catching close to the wicket and fleet-footed and voracious work everywhere else, turned the bowlers into hunters
If England field as they did here they have every chance of developing their good start. In the Indian second innings on Saturday, as in the first, brilliant catching close to the wicket and fleet-footed and voracious work everywhere else, turned the bowlers into hunters, like a well-drilled pack of hounds.
``Focus'' was the dressing-room buzz word and the element of ruthlessness extended to the claiming of a dubious catch at second slip by Graeme Hick from the edge of Vikram Rathore's bat in the fourth over of the morning.
There was no doubt that Hick thought he had made a fair catch and umpire Darrell Hair, who had yet another high-profile match in which the slow-motion replay did him no favours at all, did not demur. One camera angle, however, certainly suggested that the ball had bounced a fraction before Hick's fingers grasped it.
That piece of good luck for Dominic Cork was balanced by a dropped catch by Jack Russell, diving right in front of Graham Thorpe, after Chris Lewis had produced an ideal good-length outswinger for Ajay Jadeja.
Wicketkeeper Nayan Mongia, promoted to No 3 because of Sanjay Manjrekar's sore ankle and Sunil Joshi's broken finger, did not last much longer, brilliantly caught at fourth slip by Nasser Hussain, and when Mohammad Azharuddin went too far across to Alan Mullally and was bowled behind his legs, India were 36 for four.
Had it not been for Tendulkar, therefore, the TCCB would have had to do more than offer yesterday's spectators half-price tickets for the fourth day of next year's first Test. Coming in at 17 for two in the ninth over of India's second innings, he hit 19 fours and a six - a straight drive over Min Patel's head which took him to his ninth Test hundred at the age of 23 - when nearly four-and-a-half hours later he skied a hook to midwicket.
He made a fraction under 64 per cent of India's runs while he was in, countering the pitch's increasing uneven bounce with marvel- lous co-ordination in defence and punishing the imperfect balls with instinctive flair and classical strokes.
Mullally, bowling generally with good control, and from round as well as over the wicket, was on-driven for four; Cork, hitherto sharp as a knife in his opening spell of 8-3-19-2, was hit gloriously off the back foot past cover.
When Ronnie Irani came on at the City End to give Cork a rest, the stocky little virtuoso struck him to the boundary five times in two overs: straight drive, cover drive, pull, cover drive, pull. Exit Irani, stage left.
Atherton's solution was to make disappointingly negative use of Patel in a defensive role over the wicket. There was scant turn for him, even out of relatively neglible rough, but he did, up to a point, slow down Tendulkar and Atherton always had to be aware that England's first-innings lead of 99 was too slender to allow all-out attack.
Except in a short period after lunch, when fast bowlers overdid the short stuff against the staunch Manjrekar, he got the balance right. Manjrekar's 22 overs of support for Tendulkar was, in the end, ended by a nasty lifter from Lewis and the fastest bowler followed up with the last three wickets after Anil Kumble, having batted rather better than he bowled, was smartly run out by Nick Knight from mid- wicket after Tendulkar had sent him back.
England, left with a minimum of 21 overs on Saturday, needed only 48 more yesterday. It was never going to be easy. Knight, beginning to show a certain 'uneven bounce neurosis' in his technique - the down side, perhaps, of playing his cricket at Edgbaston - had been given out lbw the previous evening and Ath- erton should have been, to a shooter from Venkatesh Prasad, but Hussain, the man of the match, looked at ease until he hooked in the air to long leg. He needs to work on that shot with guru Graham Gooch.
For Atherton, there were no more serious alarms as he complet- ed only his third not out in 106 Test innings and his eighth victory in 30 Tests as England captain. Azharuddin must be starting to despair of winning an overseas Test - India have won only once in 29 Tests away from home now - and whether or not his battered team can pick themselves up at Lord's, it becomes daily more certain that he will hand over to Tendulkar at the end of the tour.
Source: The Electronic Telegraph
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