Shiv Sundar Das sparkles in drawn encounter

Published : Aug 31, 2002 00:00 IST


IN the tropical conditions that prevailed in mid-August, the batsmen of both sides and the spinners had a major say in the four-day match between India and a not so strong Essex at Chelmsford. A total of 1308 runs were scored with India's opener Shiv Sundar Das blunting the Essex attack with an individual score of 250. Virender Sehwag's blazing 142 and off-spinner Harbhajan Singh's seven for 83 were the other heartening performances from the Indian point of view. The Graham Gooch coached second division team Essex did not field its top bowlers and the Indians took full advantage of it.

After the tension-filled last day of the second Test at Nottingham, the Indians were somewhat disappointed that they had to be on the field within 48 hours. But the spin of the coin, which rolled in Sourav Ganguly's favour, came to his team's rescue as it gave an opportunity for Das to show his indomitable spirit to bat for nine hours.

The tour selectors decided to give a break to Sachin Tendulkar, who had shown signs of returning to form in the second innings of the Nottingham Test (he made 92), Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra and Rahul Dravid. Anil Kumble was not picked because they did not want him to run the risk of aggravating his calf muscle strain. It was once again the argument to keep him match-fit (for the third Test) that prevented the selectors from picking Ashish Nehra in the eleven.

The pitch looked a flat deck. Venkatsai Laxman made 46 and Sourav Ganguly threw his bat around on the second morning to make 74. But it was the innings of Das that held the Indian first innings right through its course. The breadth of his strokes was evident in this particular effort. "I have been waiting for this opportunity for a long time. I had not played after the match against the West Indies 'A' Team", said Das.

Essex did not field its full team. It rested its main fast bowlers Ashley Cowan and John Stephenson, but included former England left-arm seamer Mark Ilott, because this is his benefit year. Tall and strapping Jon Dakin and Joseph Grant. They also played left-arm spinner Timothy Philips and off-spinner James Middlebrook. It is a trend among the Counties to give openings to players of Asian origin. Ravinder Singh Bopara nicknamed 'puppy' because he is only 17, was picked ahead of a few experienced players.

The heat and humidity told on the players, but Das, helping himself with plenty of liquids overcame the unpleasant conditions. After a slow start he played strokes in front of the wicket and used his feet to dance down the pitch and hammer the spinners through the on side. Perhaps Ganguly also told him that he was not going to declare and hence made full use of the chance he was given. After reaching 250 (540m, 380b, 32 x 4s, 4 x 6s) Das stepped out to clear the long off fence, but the shot did not carry the ball beyond where Ilott was positioned a few metres inside the line.

A batsman in the Essex line up was Zimbabwean Andy Flower, whose success against the Indians has not been matched by any other batsman in the world with the exception of West Indian Shivnaraine Chanderpaul. There were expectations of a duel between Flower and the Indian bowlers, especially off spinner Harbhajan Singh. Flower was lucky to get a life in the first ball he faced; the catch just eluded the hands of Wasim Jaffer at short leg. But Harbhajan who bowled beautifully dismissed him in the first session of the third day after the left-hander crossed his half-century.

India did not enforce the follow on which gave its batsmen, especially, Sanjay Bangar to impress the tour selectors. He made a useful 74, but the conditions were not good enough for him to show his mettle in the bowling department. The highlight of India's second innings was a swashbuckling century by Sehwag, who entertained the spectators with lovely shots.

Ganguly declared at lunch time on the fourth day leaving Essex to make 565 in 62 overs. The home team made 186 for three when the match was called off before the completion of the full quota of mandatory overs. The four-day match helped Das to run into form and force the selectors to take notice and Harbhajan, who has been signed up by Lancashire for next year's County championship, picked up wickets.

Brief scores :

India 516 (S. S. Das 250, V. Sehwag 37, V. V. S. Laxman 46, P. Patel 32, S. Ganguly 74, Middlebrook four for 164, Philips three for 70) and 327 for six decl. (S. Bangar 74,V. Sehwag 142, V. V. S. Laxman 42, Harbhajan Singh 29 not out, Illot four for 67) v Essex 279 (D. Robinson 59, A. Flower 59, R. Bopara 29, J. Grant 30, Harbhajan Singh seven for 83) and 186 for three (R. Clinton 53, R. Bopara 47 not out).

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