Yuvraj gives India the hurry-up
Posted in England in India 2008
The start of play today was delayed by two hours, and the initial signs were that both England and India were hell-bent on making up for lost time as quickly as possible.
India, inspired by Harbhajan Singh, hustled through England’s lower order in a remarkable hurry, claiming the last four wickets inside 11 whirlwind overs.
England responded in kind, removing Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar during a captivating passage of play after lunch which lasted little more than an hour.
Tendulkar’s departure left India wobbling on 44 for three, but the scoreboard itself could not explain their switch to an overly cautious approach.
After all, they boasted a more than healthy lead of 195, and could reasonably have been expected to extend their advantage in a bid to press for a victory which would give them a 2-0 series win.
Having chased so confidently in the fourth innings in Chennai, and on the back of making 453 in the first innings here, India’s confidence could hardly have been higher.
Yet, after Dravid spend 19 balls making precisely nothing, and Tendulkar scratched around for five off 20 deliveries, Gautam Gambhir and VVS Laxman embarked on a soporific stand of 36 in more than 18 overs.
Whether it was a conscious decision to retreat into their shells, or a tactic forced upon them by England’s naggingly accurate bowling, or simply evidence of some muddled thinking - there were, after all, two daft run-outs in the afternoon - the fourth-wicket pair sucked the life out of a hitherto entertaining day’s cricket and the game as a whole.
With every ball that Gambhir let pass by his off stump, with every delivery that Laxman patted back down the pitch, with every passing maiden that James Anderson sent down, the chances of England engineering an already unlikely victory receded further.
That will have been of no concern for India, and perhaps they should be spared criticism for wishing to remove any semblance of doubt over the outcome, content merely to draw the match and guarantee a series win by a margin of one Test.
Indeed, that India were only four wickets down at the close of play serves as some sort of justification of their methods.
But it was a curiously negative approach from a side heralded in some quarters as the best in the world, and led by one of the most adventurous international captains in Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
Furthermore, Test history is littered with examples of teams who have come unstuck almost from the moment they remove the option to attack from their repertoire.
At the risk of this column turning into an online edition of Psychologist’s Weekly, the danger is that the advantage is immediately surrendered to the opposition, not only putting the batsmen on the back foot - literally in some cases - but allowing the bowlers to go about their business safe in the knowledge that their bad deliveries are far less likely to be punished.
There are arguments both ways, of course, and Gambhir’s painstaking unbeaten 44, which occupied 50 overs, is proof that you do not need to ‘do a Pietersen’ to avert the threat of a crisis.
Yuvraj Singh, meanwhile, showed the benefits of a positive outlook, as Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff did yesterday.
Just as India visibly wilted under the assault from Pietersen and his partner on the third afternoon, it did not take an expert in body language to figure out that Yuvraj’s mistreatment of Monty Panesar, which included hitting two of his first three balls for four, contributed to the spinner losing control of his line and length.
Yuvraj swept deftly and drove powerfully on his way to an unbeaten 39 off just 40 balls, the highlight of which was a glorious six over long-on at Panesar’s expense.
His innings virtually ended England’s hopes of winning this game, but even the most partisan of travelling fans, who had seen the remainder of India’s batsmen play with all the freedom of a battery chicken, could be excused for taking some pleasure from it.