That heady feeling in HEADINGLEY

Published : Sep 07, 2002 00:00 IST

HEADINGLEY is not exactly Queens Park Oval, but it is showing signs of becoming a happy hunting ground for India. After two wins in as many visits in 16 years at one of England's oldest venues and which has proved to be very lucky for England in the last decade, the Indian teams of the future would fancy their chances of winning more Test matches at Headingley. India's victory by an innings and 46 runs - its best in 18 wins abroad and in 359 Tests - was witnessed by some of the Yorkshire legends such as Brian Close, Fred Trueman, Raymond Illingworth and Geoffrey Boycott.

The Indian cricketers feel perfectly at home whenever they visit the famous West Indies venue - Queens Park Oval - at Port of Spain. It was here that India beat the West Indies for the first time in a Test match and thereafter went on to win the series there three decades ago, an event that was celebrated by millions of Indians.

The Queens Park Oval has been kind and generous to India even after Ajit Wadekar's team's epoch-making triumph, although an Indian team tasted a rare defeat there in between three wins from 1971 to 2002.

Headingley is quite different. Its strong Yorkshire roots and cricketing ethos represent the health of English cricket. The fortunes of the England team largely depend on the number of quality cricketers Yorkshire sends out of its stable.

The likes of Michael Vaughan, Matthew Hoggard and Craig White made a fine impression and a great impact in the first two Tests of the npower series at Lord's and Trent Bridge.

There has been plenty of excitement with both the teams showing skills and commitment. Nasser Hussain and Sourav Ganguly have been ever ready to take the contest to new heights and this attracted big crowds on a almost all the days of the first two Tests. England was confident that it would wrap up the series at Headingley and lined up four fast and seam bowlers in Hoggard, Andrew Caddick, Alex Tudor and Andrew Flintoff.

The Indians picked Sanjay Bangar as opener to thwart the English seam attack. It was a bold move by coach John Wright and captain Ganguly. Bangar did not let his concentration waver for five hours and made a solid half-century. It was a crucial contribution in the partnership of 170 he forged with Rahul Dravid.

The contest started with Bangar leaving balls outside the off-stump with certainty. His attitude and approach sent positive signals to the dressing room. Bangar and Dravid were not easily beaten. They did not look upon their task as a chore, but as a challenge. They had some luck, but as Dravid pointed out, both needed it on the first day.

The Indian fightback in the series, which was so industriously begun in the Nottingham Test was carried over into the first innings at Headingley with Ganguly winning the toss and electing to bat. The big guns - Dravid, Tendulkar and Ganguly - fired making over 450 runs between themselves and India posted a formidable first innings target of 628.

It has been a long summer for England. It had played three Tests against Sri Lanka, but regarded India as the tougher rival because it had world-class players in its ranks. As Hussain had anticipated, it had to happen at some stage of the series. The Indians turned the heat on England at Headingley, ironically at a venue at which the visitors were expected to be pushovers in conditions that were tailor-made for the home team.

Aggression, both in batting and bowling, has been Ganguly's trademark. He took calculated risks, one of which was batting in fading light on the second day. He and Tendulkar made the proceedings compelling to watch. England was frustrated and gave away a lot of runs. Hussain, too, perhaps lost control.

Thirty years ago, Wadekar's team was experienced enough to deal with the West Indies batsmen. The newcomers in the side in that Test were Sunil Gavaskar who made 65 and 67 not out and Eknath Solkar who batted bravely and took six catches. But victory would not have been achieved had it not been for the masterstroke in introducing Salim Durrani.

Bowlers win matches and though the two off-spinners, Erapalli Prasanna and Srinivas Venkatraghavan, and left-arm spinner Bishan Singh Bedi played their part, it was Durrani who made the important breakthroughs taking the wickets of Clive Lloyd for 15 and Gary Sobers for no score. Durrani put up a commendable performance, showing his art for 17 overs and conceding just 21 runs.

At Headingley, Anil Kumble was the man who turned things around for India. When he gets into his rhythm, one finds him a different bowler altogether. He had worked hard in the gym to strengthen his calf muscle after the Lord's Test. He had also not been inclined to give up after taking a blow on his jaw in the West Indies and returned home for quick medical treatment.

After a break, Kumble was raring to go. The pitch became his ally and this, coupled with his accurate bowling, made him a difficult customer to deal with as Hussain and Alec Stewart found out in the first session on the last day. He had a bagful of tricks to choose from and fire at the England batsmen. His tally in the match was seven wickets, three in the first and four in the second innings.

The spinners shared the spoils in 1971 with Bedi, Venkat, Prasanna and Durrani taking 16 wickets. But as was the case in 1986 when the likes of Madan Lal, Roger Binny and Kapil Dev played crucial roles, Zaheer Khan, Ajit Agarkar and Bangar chipped in with splendid efforts. The new generation of cricketers fashioned a victory in their own ways with Ganguly leading from the front.

India was a settled team before it took on England at Headingley. Only a change at the top of the order that turned out to be very significant, was needed. It had the core set of players who compete as hard as possible on the big stage of Test cricket. They were all quality performers. The senior players like Dravid, Tendulkar, Ganguly and Kumble played to their full potential and this was finally reflected in the thumping victory.

On the face of it the Indian team had flair and calibre. It was just that the team needed a little more luck to get everything in order in a Test match. Ganguly admitted that it was a fault not going in with two spinners in the Lord's Test. England's plight was all too apparent while facing the spinners and especially when Kumble was in form. It was yet another occasion when he showed his class and turned out to be a match-winner.

Bangar was a revelation. He had made a superb century against Zimbabwe last year, but when he was asked to take on this formidable challenge he did not shirk. He was brilliant and so were the rest of the team members. Bangar is one players in the present squad who has seen success many a time; in five out of the six matches he has played in.

It was a fine team effort from the new generation cricketers. After making it 1-1 at Headingley, India would be keen and eager to make it 2-1 at the Oval. Only time will tell if it turns out to be a great match for Tendulkar for whom it would be his 100th Test and for the team which is seeking that series win outside the Indian subcontinent for 16 years. A team that delivered its biggest margin of win in a Test match abroad has its hands full, but Ganguly's squad might just surprise one and all.

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