THOSE 74 MINUTES

S. SUBRAMANIUM

Led by the remarkable example of their talisman, Andrew `Freddie' Flintoff, one-time petulant fat lad, now the best all-rounder in the world, the tourists made little of their injury troubles to script a famous victory, writes S. Ram Mahesh.

As capitulations go, this was a peach. Seven wickets (Tendulkar in his record 132nd Test and Dravid in his 100th among them) in 15.2 overs to crash from 75 for three to an embarrassing 100 all out. Entering the final day needing 295 from 90 overs with nine wickets standing, India was expected — fair expectation from a Test-quality batting line-up with claims to being the best in the business not too far back — to, at very least, bat time.

Then, if suitably placed at tea, India might conceivably attempt a "bit of a dip", as Dravid termed the Nagpur dash towards an improbable target. Instead, what transpired was 74 minutes of post-prandial madness that gave England its first Test victory in India since January 1985, and its best in terms of runs (212) in a land it hasn't travelled well to for some time now.

The process of apportioning blame is endless and one may as well get a few words in edgewise on the Englishmen. Led by the remarkable example of their talisman, Andrew `Freddie' Flintoff, one-time petulant fat lad, now the best all-rounder in the world, the tourists made little of their injury troubles to script a famous victory.

They had arrived without Ashley Giles, their best spinner and confidant of then skipper Michael Vaughan, who himself left with a troublesome knee. They lost opener, senior batsman, and vice-captain Marcus Trescothick to personal trouble, and Simon Jones, the reverse-swinger, to a twisted knee. Then, gangling Durham quick and the current captain's confidant, Steve Harmison, found his right shin worse for wear and sat out the third Test.

To level the series in Mumbai evoked glorious memories of the Ashes triumph. Flintoff had called on his batsmen before the Test — opener Andrew Strauss answered with 128 to take England to 400. Debutant Owais Shah in a cramps-interrupted innings struck 88, while the skipper weighed in with an even 50. James Anderson, in search of redemption, took four to curtail India's first stint at 279. Another 50 by Freddie set the target of 313 and a balding off-spinner nicknamed `Shaggy', Shaun Udal, took four in his finest hour.

India's capitulation, abject as it was, was symptomatic of the recent troubles of the top order. In the last Test against Pakistan in Karachi, and in the three Tests against England, the fifth wicket has fallen at scores of 137, 177, 176, 252, 153, 142 and 76. On occasion the lower order capers of Dhoni, Pathan, Kumble and Harbhajan with one top-order batsman have saved the day.

Playing five bowlers with a batting lineup that — beset with injury concerns and form slumps — has increasingly begun to depend on Dravid was fraught with risk. It was, however, an indication of Indian cricket's brave new world — of the courage to experiment and take decisions that may be perceived as "overly aggressive".

JAMES ANDERSON... lively pace, lethal swing.-S. SUBRAMANIUM

One defeat does not negate the work Chappell and Dravid have put in; it may even be that this defeat does more good than bad in the long term, the complement of the pyrrhic victory. It may be that chastened by the surrender the batsmen will find methods of occupying the crease and the hearts for the battle of the final day.

For, with the exclusion of the redoubtable Dravid and with Tendulkar in a bad patch, no other Indian batsman has the defensive technique to bat time. Jaffer, in Nagpur, showed possibilities — it's still too early to rate his comeback.

But, with the one-day series to follow, and the next Test scheduled more than a month-and-a half later, this post mortem may as well be slammed into cold storage for reprisal later.

It began at the toss — Dravid after a felicitation ceremony chose to bowl. Flintoff later said he wouldn't have considered the option unless the "grass was knee-deep".

There were insinuations the decision was mandated on a disinclination to face England's bowlers on a track with bounce and cut. Dravid said it was to pile on early pressure on a batting order that minus Alastair Cook — out with a stomach bug — looked frail.

His choice of three seamers probably forced his hand. The toss though is but the spin of a coin. Had Dravid come worse off, he would still have bowled.

India's young guns Sreesanth and Munaf, so impressive otherwise, had a poor first hour. The early inroads didn't happen — it didn't help either that India's close catchers were shelling chances by the dozen through the match.

When the bowlers fought back to restrict England in the first stint, the batsmen failed to get close enough to England's total.

That in essence was why India failed — poor batting and even worse catching (Dhoni missed stumping Flintoff on 14 in the second innings). But what reeked worse than the defeat's stench was how the crowd booed Tendulkar, and later performed an encore during the presentation ceremony, targeting Dravid. There is no room in sport for such churlishness, but it's a sign of the times — primitives masquerade as fans these days.

Anil Kumble 9/10: Carried India's bowling with typically relentless, probing spells and shored up the lower order to finish behind Dravid and Jaffer in the batting chart. A champion like none other.

Mohammad Kaif 8.5/10: Was called on once, and responded with 91 chestnuts-out-of-the-fire runs to ensure parity in Nagpur. India's batting in Mumbai could have done with his tenacity.

Munaf Patel 8/10: Lived up to hype with screaming pace, snaking reverse and control — his spell on the final morning in Mohali was special.

Sreesanth 8/10: Along with Munaf, the find of the series. Makes the new ball hint away at sharp pace. Not shy of giving the batsman lip either.

Rahul Dravid 7.5/10: India's best batsman by a country mile; caught screamers but fluffed easier ones. And inserted England in Mumbai, which overshadowed some astute captaincy.

Wasim Jaffer 7/10: India's lone centurion suggested in Nagpur that he had overcome the glitch against the moving ball. But didn't cash in, in Mohali and Flintoff worked him over in Mumbai.

Irfan Pathan 5.5/10: Below par with the ball — out-performed by Munaf and Sreesanth. Made crucial runs in Mohali; can he hold his spot as a bowler?

M. S. Dhoni 5/10: Made an atypical 64 in Mumbai, but only 42 in four other innings. Except for a ragged effort in Mumbai, was adequate with the big gloves.

Harbhajan Singh 5/10: Vital runs in Mohali, and seemed to turn his bowling around there. Might bowl worse for more wickets, though not the menace of five years back.

Virender Sehwag 4/10: Knocked off the target in Mohali, but was found out against the short ball. His fitness is another concern.

Sachin Tendulkar 3.5/10: His worst performance in a three-Test series. Most awful moment occurred when a crass home crowd booed him.

Yuvraj Singh 3.5/10: Could hardly hang on to a catch. Didn't rediscover the sublime touch he showed off in Pakistan.

V. V. S. Laxman 3/10: One ball and one dodgy leg-before decision. One brilliant snaffle at second slip and one drop.

Piyush Chawla 3/10: Didn't extract bounce, but showed heart. His time will come.