English eves meet their Waterloo in India

AMITABHA DAS SHARMA

Front runner... Indian skipper Mithali Raj showed the way with an important knock.-SANDEEP SAXENA

THE demeanour of the England women's cricket captain, Charlotte Edwards, said it all about the torment and tribulation her team suffered in India. She sat quietly among rows of empty seats framing the pavilion of the Satindra Mohan Dev Stadium at Silchar (Assam), seemingly contemplating the chain of events that led to the disastrous trip. This visual was captured after the fourth match of the five match One-day series that the hosts had clinched 3-1 after restricting the visitors to their lowest ever total of 50. India went on to add salt to the already festering wound by making it 4-1 in the last match at the historic Eden Gardens in Kolkata.

The English skipper had all the reasons to be tormented by the outcome of her team's latest venture. She was in charge of a resurgent side — recast with a bunch of talented and young players — that had performed creditably in the year. So, a 4-1 drubbing in the series against India put a big dent on the glittering image of her side.

The tour was significant for both sides. The English came riding a season of success with triumphs in South Africa, a berth in the World Cup semifinals and then the epochal `Ashes' victory. The English eves set the benchmark for their male counterparts to emulate by beating the almost invincible Aussies in the Test series. The second part was also realised bringing English cricket out from the ashes of prolonged underperformance. Setting sail for the last tour of the year, the English eves found success in Sri Lanka. They wiped the Lankans 2-0 before coming to India, where they met their waterloo.

The Indians, on the other hand, had a quiet year without having to play any series at home or away. But they had one remarkable achievement to their name — India, led by its dynamic skipper Mithali Raj, reached the maiden final of the World Cup earlier in the year. Though they failed to transcend the last hurdle against the Aussies, India had carved for itself a niche in the hierarchy of women's cricket. Taking on England in the only international series of the year was a big challenge for the home side as it was important to prove that the World Cup success was not a secluded happening.

Following two practice matches against the under-21 teams, the visitors warmed up to the conditions and the class of the opposition ahead of the rigorous five-match ODI series that straddled half the length and breadth of the country. The four-day Test outing was a welcome break from a sequence of one-dayers. The match was drawn as the two sides experienced sessions of shine and shade in almost equal measures in respective innings.

Captain Mithali Raj (78) and her vice-captain Anjum Chopra (65) justified their status in the team hierarchy and produced the two best batting displays after opting to bat first. There were two other moderate contributions from the two debutants — wicketkeeper and opening bat Karuna Jain (40) and all-rounder Rumeli Dhar (39) — as the hosts made 289 in its first innings. The ground — a not so noted one at the Jamia Millia Islamia University in New Delhi — offered help to all. The off-spinner Laura Harper picked up five wickets to make the biggest contribution in English bowling. The other English bowlers, including pacers Catherine Brunt, Jenny Gunn and Beth Morgan and spinner Rosalie Birch, also found some purchase from the wicket.

The English reply with the bat was mediocre. The visitors faced a top order collapse as the Indian medium pacer Jhulan Goswami ripped through the English batting order. Goswami, an Air India player aided ably by her Bengal state-mate Rumeli Dhar, did the maximum damage. The former picked up five wickets while the latter, coming first change, took two to put have the visitors in deep trouble. Another debutant Shravanti Naidu added two more to end the English resistance. England was all out for 154. Aaran Brindle (37) being the only one to make a decent enough contribution to the paltry English total.

The visitors were also rattled by an injury to its all rounder Brunt, who fractured a bone in her left hand while fielding in the first innings, which reduced the visitors to 10 players. The handicap notwithstanding, the English eves put up a dogged fight as the hosts set them a target of 311 runs after declaring their second innings at 175 for four.

The visitors batted through the last day with the seasoned Edwards and Brindle scoring 46 runs to kick off the chase. The Indian slow bowlers, off-spinner Nooshin Al-Khader and veteran left-armer Neetu David, found turn on the pitch and put the visitors in a spot. But Birch and Harper combined for a valiant rearguard action to remain undefeated and thwart the Indian bowlers. England eventually finished on 210 for six. Goswami, with six wickets and 58 runs, was declared the `Eve of the Match'.

The visitors struck back in the very first match of the One-day series. Edwards, the mainstay of English batting, struck form with a confident 68 — she was involved in a 90-run partnership for the third wicket with Jenny Gunn (56) which helped England reach a fighting 188 for seven in the stipulated 50 overs. The pitch at the Nahar Singh Stadium in Faridabad being both slow and low was not very conducive for batting and Neetu David produced the best spell among Indian bowlers with a four-wicket haul.

India started well in reply. Monica Sumra (59) led the charge as the Indians cruised along to cross the 100-run mark for the loss of just one wicket. But Sumra's departure started a collapse and the Indians were all out for 168 — the English off-spinner Harper causing the maximum damage picking up four wickets. Edwards was named the `Eve of the Match'.

The Indian turnaround started just after this match and the K.D. Singh 'Babu' Stadium in Lucknow provided the launch pad. The Indians, with Anjum Chopra (71) rediscovering her batting form, successfully overhauled the target of 163 with four wickets to spare. The visitors failed to counter a controlled seam bowling performance from the Indian pace attack of Goswami and Amita Sharma and were restricted to 162 for eight. The Indian batting, though stuttering at times, rode on Chopra's brilliance and overhauled the target. The series was thus levelled 1-1.

Shot work... India's Anjum Chopra in action in the one-off Test.-SANDEEP SAXENA

This win seemed to have perked up the home side. The third match was held at the Nehru stadium in Guwahati on a pitch that was a batting paradise. England won the toss and opted to bat. They made good use of the batting conditions and ratcheted up a score of 215. Skipper Edwards got her second big score with a patient 66 and she partnered Laura Newton (40) for a 102-run opening stand.

The Indian response was even better as Karuna Jain (64) and skipper Mithali Raj (65) produced two stroke-filled essays to help India complete the run chase with eight wickets in hand in just 40.4 overs. Jain, who also had good showing behind the stumps, collected her first `Eve of the Match' award. England lost a second player in the series after Newton had to return home with a fractured the little finger of her left hand. Thanks to losing its second key player, the English performance took a nosedive.

Silchar — making its debut as an international cricketing venue — witnessed the best performance from the home side, which was gaining in strength and confidence with every match. Jhulan Goswami and Amita Sharma proved their effectiveness with the new ball. The English team was made to look like a pack of school kids as it succumbed to the sharp Indian attack. England were bundled out for a meagre 50 runs in 30.4 overs.

The overnight dew influenced the Indian captain Mithali Raj's decision to put the visitors in to bat and the match was decided in the first hour of play, which accounted for the first seven English wickets. As the moisture dried out by noon, the conditions eased up and India were able to knock off the required runs without losing a single wicket. Goswami returned career best figures of 10-3-16-5 and was rightly adjudged the `Eve of the Match'.

The match at Eden Gardens turned out to be a mere formality but it was notable for Karuna Jain's brilliant batting. She scored 103 hitting 15 boundaries and became the fifth Indian player to score an ODI century. The other four centurions in this illustrious club are Mithali Raj, Anjum Chopra, Reshma Gandhi and Arundhati Kirkire. India made 243 as Jaya Sharma (59) and Jain put up a 139-run stand for the first wicket. In reply, England could score only 205 and crashed to a 38-run defeat, their fourth straight loss of the series. Aaran Brindle (52) was the top scorer for the visitor.

Karuna Jain picked up her second `Eve of the Match' award of the series. She tallied 180 runs in four innings and was adjudged the `Batswoman of the Series'. She also shared the `Player of the Tournament' award with compatriot Jhulan Goswami — who bowled beautifully all through the tournament to pick up 11 wickets.

Mithali Raj, praised her team for the "great performance" and said the series win will enhance the confidence of the team for the twin tours of Australia and New Zealand in early 2006. Edwards said that though her side was thoroughly beaten, the "series provided many lessons which will come to great use when we come here next winter to play the World Series international quadrangular tournament featuring India, England, Australia and New Zealand."

The scores

One-off Test match (Nov. 21-24, 2005; Venue — Jamia Millia Islamia University ground, New Delhi): India — 1st innings 289 (M. Raj 78, A. Chopra 65; L. Harper five for 66).

England — 1st innings 154 (A. Brindle 37; J. Goswami five for 25).

India — 2nd innings 175 for 4 decl. (K. Jain 35, J. Goswami 34).

England — 2nd innings 210 for six (C. Edwards 46, A. Brindle 46; N. Al-Khader three for 30). Match drawn

One-day Internationals.

Faridabad (Nahar Singh Stadium; Nov. 27): England 188 for seven in 50 overs (C. Edwards 68, J. Gunn 56; N. David four for 48) bt India 168 for nine in 50 overs (M. Sumra 59; L. Harper four for 33) by 20 runs.

Lucknow (K.D. Singh 'Babu' Stadium; Dec. 1): England 162 for eight in 50 overs (C. Atkins 34; A. Sharma three for 27) lost to India 163 for six in 49.2 overs (A. Chopra 71, M. Sumra 37) by four wickets.

Guwahati (Nehru Stadium; Dec. 4): England 215 for seven in 50 overs (C. Edwards 66, L. Newton 40; N. Al-Khader three for 46) lost to India 216 for two in 40.4 overs (K. Jain 64, M. Raj 65, A. Chopra 40 not out) by eight wickets.

Silchar (Satindra Mohan Dev Stadium, Dec. 7): England 50 in 30.4 overs (J. Goswami five for 16) lost to India 51 for no loss in 14.5 overs (J. Sharma 29 not out) by 10 wickets.

Kolkata (Eden Gardens, Dec. 9): India 243 for four in 50 overs (K. Jain 103, J. Sharma 59) beat England 205 in 46.5 overs (A. Brindle 52, L. Greenway 40) by 38 runs.