Monday, March 06, 2006

First Test: Match drawn



England's tour of India could have had a better start, let's face it. All those who were hoping for a powerful bounce-back from the Pakistan fiasco must have been weeping into their Stellas when first Ashley Giles was ruled out following surgery, then Marcus Trescothick flew home in distress to be with his wife (still no one knows why, although rumours are inevitably numerous), then Michael Vaughan's dodgy knee gave way again and finally, our Ashes hero, Simon Jones, was laid up and sent home with yet another freak accident.

So, with a strong-looking Indian team (they've found some seamers at last) facing virtually an England 2nd XI with an untried captain, Flintoff, in command for the first time, and three players who'd never played for England before, the tears must have flowed freely. And at the end of the first day, when England had been reduced to 246-7, the eyes must have been wept dry.

It's a tribute, then, to the depth of strength in this England team that we went on to dominate the next three days' play. Monty Panesar, the delightfully-named first Sikh to play for England, showed that (at least on these wickets) the hype about him wasn't just hype, as he dismissed Tendulkar for his first Test wicket (a prize he shares with Michael Vaughan) and kept the Indian scoring rate to a trudge. Paul Collingwood, after a coming-of-age tour of Pakistan in which he finally dragged his highest Test score beyond 50, now finally arrived on the world-class stage by alternately grinding and thumping his way to an innings-saving 134no. Alistair Cook flew halfway around the world from the England 'A' Tour in the Caribbean, stopped off at Heathrow for whatever magic potion Getafix had been quietly brewing for him, arrived in India, shrugged off the jetlag and made a century on his Test debut. And Man of the Match Matthew Hoggard took five Indian wickets for about two runs in a display of masterful bowling (which I couldn't watch, not wishing to have SKY and not wishing to get up at four in the morning) which proved that he is more than just the quiet one in England's Fantastic Four pace bowlers.

That the Indians put on a battling attempt to make up an impossible target by slogging the ball around in the last session has been wrongly interpreted by the press as a courageous fightback. The target was never seriously achievable, and England's apparent panic and over-defensiveness may have been visibly uncertain but was tactically safe - those idiots who've been going on about 'shades of Edgbaston, August 2005' were way off the mark. Anyway, let's just remember who won at Edgbaston, shall we?

So, both sides emerge with some credit, but fans of English cricket must be delighted that our apparent weaknesses have so readily been compensated for. Like Australia, when our first-rank players are down and out, we just find some spare first-rank players to step into their places. English cricket is healthier in these last few years than it's been for twenty years. If the Ashes didn't prove it, this match - whatever else happens in the tour - has.


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