Leftie Zaheer gets it right

“Zaheer (Khan) showed what a leading bowler must do. Whenever we asked questions of him, he stood up and got it done,” says Rahul Dravid. S. Ram Mahesh reports.

The tabloids — the ones here in England, not the reliable Sportstar — will have you believe that the second Test at Trent Bridge was a re-enactment of Zak and the Jelly-Beanstalk. Zak, the hard-on-his-luck hero, finds magical beans, only they were sweet, pink, and entirely incapable of putting forth shoots; yet Zak discovers magic in them — the Wrath of Khan, as another tabloid screamed — and routs the giant.

Fortunately, both the Indian and the English captains are thoughtful men, and though they allowed a lot of chirping, passed off as gamesmanship, from their sides, they didn’t fuel the story. As it turned out, the incident merely added to the second Test — wild, close-fought, skilful, and great. The gloss of India’s victory was unaffected, though Sreesanth, with his antics in the second innings, did his best.

“We’ve not won very often in England,” said Rahul Dravid, the Indian captain, “so every win is special. It helps the younger boys of the team, those coming in. Getting international success away from home early in their careers will spur them on as they become seniors and inspire them to do much better whenever they come back.”

No longer does the reputation of poor travellers hold good for India. Since January 2000, the side has triumphed in every Test-playing nation save New Zealand, notching up a total of wins overseas only Australia has surpassed. Yet, the reputation lingers, and as Dravid said after the Test, “Every time we come abroad they don’t expect much; actually I think that’s changing, they expect us to do more than just be part of the summer.”

The best batting in the Test came from Michael Vaughan, the English captain. Having been dismissed for 198 after losing an important toss, and having let India score 481, England’s only chance lay in setting India the kind of hard fourth innings totals, it struggled to chase against Australia in 2005. To that end, Vaughan contributed magnificently.

Tall, slim, and graceful when settled, Vaughan mastered Anil Kumble, flicking him with the drift and dabbing him fine. Only Zaheer, who was heroic through the Test, gave Vaughan trouble. When he did bowl Vaughan off his thigh pad — a decisive moment on day four — Zaheer had earned it. The battle between Vaughan and Zaheer was every bit as engaging as the one on the fourth morning between Ryan Sidebottom and Sachin Tendulkar.

In both jousts, the bowler won most rounds; the batsman, merely by surviving, equalised.

Zaheer’s spell on the fourth morning to Vaughan was one for the ages. Having dismissed him in the first innings after softening him with a bouncer, Zaheer carried an edge to the battle. From around the wicket, he swung it this way and that, cutting it off the seam. Vaughan was using all his skills not to push at the ball. He survived and scored off the others. The feature of his 124 was his driving — elbow-led, beautifully balanced.

The Test boiled down to the second new ball on day four, despite India’s large gains over the first innings. “At the back of my mind was the chase against Australia here,” said Vaughan (England had squeaked home by three wickets chasing 129).

“It’s not easy batting fourth at Trent Bridge, and I knew we had to get a lead,” added the England captain, whose second innings 124 was a classic. “If Colly (Collingwood) and I had survived those eight to ten overs (with the second new ball), I felt we could have given India a hard chase of about 150-160.”

But, Zaheer struck. “The second new ball was critical,” said Dravid. “I knew it had to count. I just asked our bowlers not to get excited, to put it in the right areas, and they responded magnificently. Zaheer (Khan) showed what a leading bowler must do. Whenever we asked questions of him, he stood up and got it done. When the game was in the balance (on day four), he grabbed it by the scruff and did what match-winners do.”

R. P. Singh wasn’t as consistent as he was in the first Test at Lord’s, but he produced absolute purlers. The deliveries to get rid of Kevin Pietersen and Matt Prior in the second innings were straight from Wasim Akram’s handbook — snaking inswingers to the right-hander from well outside off-stump. “R.P. Singh might not get the credit he deserves,” said Dravid, “but he got critical wickets in this Test.”

India’s openers deserve much credit. They put on 147 in the first innings — India’s first century stand by openers in England in over 25 years — and 47 in the second, chasing 73. Dinesh Karthik’s low-slung balance, and his scoring areas square off the wicket on the off-side, complemented the stately Wasim Jaffer, partial to the flick and the bent-knee cover-drive.

In the first innings, they showed remarkable skill in battling conditions the bowlers would have fancied running through a side in. They had slices of fortune, but they earned it. Both left well — and capitalised on nearly every loose ball. It was this streak of positivism — also evident in their running — that allowed the middle order the space to settle and time on the third day, the best for batting.

“It was a fantastic all-round performance,” said Dravid. “For the openers to put on 147 in the first innings was a brilliant effort. It set up the middle order.”

Factfile compiled by Mohandas Menon; Graphics: R.Ravikannan.-

Tendulkar’s 91 was cut cruelly short by a poor bit of umpiring by Simon Taufel — the quality of umpiring wasn’t one of the features of the Test — but he had done his job in ensuring India didn’t fritter the advantage the openers and the bowlers had given it. Such is Tendulkar’s genius that neither injury nor age can stifle it.

He wasn’t totally convincing against bounce — both in the first innings when he was hit on the helmet and in the second when he was caught at leg-gully — but against swing and spin he had moments of sublime skill.

Sourav Ganguly’s fluency on day three was the key to India sustaining momentum. One hooked six off Tremlett brought balls he could drive elegantly though cover and point.

V. V. S. Laxman played prettily though he seemed entombed after reaching 50. Only Rahul Dravid, among India’s top six, missed out on a half-century, but this was a rare overseas win — the Wanderers another — in which India could afford to do without a big score from him.

THE SCORES

Second Test, Trent Bridge, July 27 to 31. India won by seven wickets.

England — 1st innings: A. J. Strauss c Tendulkar b Zaheer 4; A. N. Cook lbw b Ganguly 43; M. P. Vaughan c Tendulkar b Zaheer 9; K. P. Pietersen lbw b R. P. Singh 13; P. D. Collingwood b Sreesanth 28; I. R. Bell lbw b Zaheer 31; M . J. Prior c Dravid b Kumble 11; C. T. Tremlett b Kumble 20; R. J. Sidebottom (not out) 18; M. S. Panesar c Laxman b Zaheer 1; J. M. Anderson b Kumble 1; Extras (b-8, lb-7, w-1, nb-3) 19; Total 198.

Fall of wickets: 1-4, 2-24, 3-47, 4-101, 5-109, 6-147, 7-157, 8-186, 9-195.

India bowling: Zaheer 21-5-59-4; Sreesanth 12-7-16-1; R. P. Singh 10-1-56-1; Ganguly 8-4-11-1; Kumble 12.3-2-32-3; Tendulkar 2-0-9-0.

India — 1st innings: K. D. Karthik c Cook b Panesar 77; W. Jaffer c Prior b Tremlett 62; R. Dravid c Bell b Panesar 37; S. R. Tendulkar lbw b Collingwood 91; S. C. Ganguly c Prior b Anderson 79; V. V. S. Laxman c Prior b Tremlett 54; M. S. Dhoni c Prior b Sidebottom 5; A. Kumble c Prior b Tremlett 30; Z. Khan (not out) 10; R. P. Singh lbw b Panesar 0; S. Sreesanth lbw b Panesar 2; Extras (b-16, lb-16, w-1, nb-1) 34; Total 481.

Fall of wickets: 1-147, 2-149, 3-246, 4-342, 5-409, 6-414, 7-464, 8-473, 9-474.

England bowling: Sidebottom 36-11-75-1; Anderson 33-4-134-1; Tremlett 40-13-80-3; Collingwood 16-3-59-1; Panesar 33.5-8-101-4.

England — 2nd innings: A. J. Strauss c Dhoni b Zaheer 55; A. N. Cook lbw b Zaheer 23; M. P. Vaughan b Zaheer 124; K. P. Pietersen lbw b R. P. Singh 19; P. D. Collingwood c Karthik b Zaheer 63; I. R. Bell lbw b Zaheer 0; M. J. Pri or b R. P. Singh 7; C. T. Tremlett c R. P. Singh b Kumble 5; R. J. Sidebottom (not out) 25; M. S. Panesar c Karthik b Kumble 4; J. M. Anderson b Kumble 1; Extras (b-7, lb-6, w-9, nb-7) 29; Total 355.

Fall of wickets: 1-49, 2-130, 3-175, 4-287, 5-287, 6-304, 7-323, 8-329, 9-333.

India bowling: Zaheer 27-10-75-5; Sreesanth 21-2-60-0; R. P. Singh 18-5-52-2; Kumble 25-2-104-3; Ganguly 6-0-22-0; Tendulkar 7-0-29-0.

India — 2nd innings: K. D. Karthik c Prior b Tremlett 22; W. Jaffer c Pietersen b Tremlett 22; R. Dravid (not out) 11; S. R. Tendulkar c Cook b Tremlett 1; S. C. Ganguly (not out) 2; Extras (b-4, lb-6, w-2, nb-3) 15; Total (for t hree wickets) 73.

Fall of wickets: 1-47, 2-55, 3-62.

England bowling: Anderson 9-2-23-0; Sidebottom 8-0-28-0; Tremlett 7.1-2-12-3.

* * * Sreesanth rapped

Indian fast bowler Shanthakumaran Sreesanth was fined 50 per cent of his match fees for breaching the ICC Code of Conduct during the fourth day’s play of the second Test against England at Trent Bridge.

The 24-year-old Kerala player was charged for shouldering England captain Michael Vaughan during the first session of play.

ICC Match Referee Ranjan Madugalle found Sreesanth guilty of a Level 2 offence in a hearing convened after play concluded. Madugalle said Sreesanth had accepted that he breached clause 2.4 of the ICC Code of Conduct, which relates to “inappropriate and deliberate physical contact between players in the course of play.”

Explaining his decision, Madugalle said in a statement: “Cricket is a non-contact sport and any deviation from that fact is completely unacceptable, a point I made to Sreesanth in handing down my verdict.

“I have no problem with players being combative on the field but there is a line they cannot cross and Sreesanth crossed that line when he barged past Michael Vaughan, a collision he had every opportunity to avoid,” he added.

Level 2 breaches of the ICC Code of Conduct carry a minimum penalty of a fine of 50 per cent of a player’s match fee up to a fine of all that fee and/or a one Test match or two ODI ban.