All's well that ends well for Udal
Prospects were bleak for Shaun Udal and England ahead of the last Test of three versus hosts India in March 2006.
The injury-hit tourists trailed 1-0 after a nine-wicket defeat at Mohali, a game the off-spinner had been out of contention for due to an “horrific” severe bowel infection.
Searching for their first Test win in India for 21 years, England opted to play Udal in tandem with fellow spinner Monty Panesar who had made his debut in the drawn first match at Nagpur.
“It was all a bit surreal,” Udal, whose three previous Tests had come earlier that winter in Pakistan, exclusively told ecb.co.uk. “I got told the day before that I was going to be playing and that helped settle my nerves enormously.”
The decider at Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium began on Udal’s 37th birthday but there was initially little for Andrew Flintoff’s side to celebrate when Alastair Cook was ruled out with a stomach bug.
Flintoff, standing in as captain for Michael Vaughan, had boosted England by not returning home for the birth of his second child shortly before the second Test, a decision Udal described as “quite inspirational”.
Flintoff’s opposite number, Rahul Dravid, aided the tourists further by surprisingly opting to bowl first at Mumbai and announcing a side with five specialist bowlers despite not needing victory.
“We were a bit baffled. It was a very strange decision. We couldn’t see why you would bowl first.” admitted Udal, who now runs a sports branding and embroidery business in Basingstoke while acting as an ambassador for the Professional Cricketers’ Association and playing for Berkshire, Leatherhead and the PCA Masters.
Andrew Strauss and Owais Shah, making his Test bow in place of Cook, took advantage with 128 and 88 respectively of 400 all out. The recalled James Anderson then returned 4-40 to earn a first-innings lead of 121.
England attracted some criticism for taking more than 90 overs to post 191 all out in their second innings, setting their hosts 313 to win in little over a day. Flintoff, whose second fifty of the Test occupied 146 balls, did not escape.
India suggested they were interested only in a draw by sending out Irfan Pathan alongside Wasim Jaffer and, when the former went late on day four, another nightwatchman in Anil Kumble.
Kumble and Jaffer fell on the last morning, but the hosts reached lunch on 75 for three with the majority of their experienced batting line-up intact. During the interval, however, Flintoff and England found a source of inspiration.
“Freddie got an iPod and put on Johnny Cash’s ‘Ring of Fire’ and the whole team, the whole squad, was singing the song at the top of their voice when the umpires came in and called us out,” Udal recalled. “They looked at us with a sense of disbelief, thinking ‘what the hell’s going on here?’”
It worked a treat as Flintoff snared Dravid caught behind and Udal had Sachin Tendulkar held at short-leg for 34 in the next two overs. Anderson then trapped Virender Sehwag lbw for nought, bringing Mahendra Singh Dhoni to the crease.
Dhoni went on the attack and was fortunate to survive when he skied Udal to long-off where Panesar, hampered by looking towards the sun, failed to get a hand on the ball. Later in the over the right-hander repeated the shot but this time Panesar held on.
Either side of Flintoff removing Yuvraj Singh, Udal had Harbhajan Singh and Munaf Patel caught in the deep to seal victory by 212 runs as India crumbled to 100 all out in little more than 15 overs after lunch.
Udal, who claimed 4-14 inside 10 overs, reflected: “Dhoni was a good scalp to get and the last two were having a dip really, trying to hit themselves out of trouble, top-edged sweeps and both got caught by (Matthew) Hoggard.
“When the last wicket went it was very special. I think there were about 45-50,000 in there that day, including a lot of English support.”
Flintoff was even more economical with 3-14 from 11 overs and had some sage advice for Udal, who was also congratulated by Tendulkar.
“The dressing room was amazing, the atmosphere, the buzz,” said Udal, who retired from professional cricket in October 2010. “I’ll never forget Duncan Fletcher. I’ve never seen him with such a big smile on his face. He was incredibly happy.
“Matthew Maynard was in there and the whole squad. And it was centred around me and I was quite overawed by it all for a bit.
“It had never happened to me before and I had to sit down with a beer in the corner with Freddie and reflect on everything. He said ‘just enjoy it mate - it might never happen again’. And he was right because that was my last Test match.
“Sachin came in and said well bowled and signed the ball for me. The press stuff and the interviews and all that sort of stuff happened.
“We had a massive party that night. We hired a boat out on the port in Mumbai. My brother was out there with me as well. He came out to support. It was amazing.
“To win a Test match for the first time in 20-odd years was a very special feeling that will stay with me forever.”