Under pressure!

2006 Mar 26 by DreamCricket

India's batsmen have a way of making mediocre off spinners look like world-beaters.

It is hard to recall the last time an Indian team surrendered as tamely as it did in the post-lunch session on the final day of the third Test at Mumbai on Wednesday.

For sure there have been many such dramatic collapses on foreign soil. But considering the bowling was hardly world-class, two of India's greatest batsmen were at the crease and there were just two sessions to play out, the pathetic way the batting caved in is hard to explain.

India's batsmen have a way of making mediocre off spinners look like world-beaters. It happened in the semi-finals of the Reliance World Cup also against England when a portly Eddie Hemmings had his day in the sun in Mumbai. A year earlier it was Pakistan's unthreatening Tauseef Ahmed who had done us in at Bangalore and in 1988 New Zealand's unheralded John Bracewell had bowled his side to a shock win at Mumbai.

This time it was veteran Shaun Udal who grabbed Sachin Tendulkar's wicket in the second innings and pushed open the floodgates. Udal is unlikely to make waves in the future. But here he was allowed to pick up four wickets.

More than the batting, dismal as it was, there were two major factors behind the defeat to what is essentially a second-string England team.

The first setback came even before a ball was bowled with captain Rahul Dravid winning the toss and asking England to bat first. Once they finished the opening day at 272 for three, it would be an uphill struggle for India to try to force their way back into the Test.

The second factor was the astonishing number of catches (and one stumping) that the Indian fielders failed to latch onto. It is a safe bet to state that had they held even half of these, and had Dhoni not muffed stumping Andrew Flintoff in the second innings, then the target set for India in the fourth innings would have been more in the region of 150 rather than the rather imposing 313.

It is quite likely that Dravid and his boys under-estimated this English team as did many others, including this writer. Flintoff was their third choice captain and led only after Michael Vaughan and Marcus Trescothick were forced to leave India even before the series began. After that their ranks were decimated by illness and injury.

Previous English teams would have folded up and meekly surrendered. But the ace England all-rounder and architect of last year's Ashes triumph led brilliantly by example both with bat and ball and lifted their spirits in the field. It was one of the most amazing acts of leadership seen on Indian soil and though the series was drawn 1-1, England were surely the superior side having also taken the first innings lead in the first Test at Nagpur.

The focus will now be on the one-day series. India thrashed Pakistan 4-1 after losing the Test series just last month and all seemed forgiven. It is unlikely though that this time around the public will be so charitable even if India do win the ODI series. That shocking one hour at the Wankhede Stadium will ensure that this is one defeat that will rankle for a long time to come.