The tied game at Bangalore’s Chinnaswamy Staudim on Sunday between India and England left both teams with more questions than answers. Like in their opening encounter, both India and England struggled with the ball as well as in the field. And if not for their superlative batting efforts, neither team would have had much to take away from this game. And so, it was probably fair that two teams struggling to ball and field well were involved in a tied encounter. It was really difficult to figure out who was worse. What this game has done is make both teams realise that it won’t be enough to put up a mammoth score on the board and relax. MS Dhoni, at the post match conference, said that he was confident they would defend the big score their batsmen had put up. However, following this shoddy performance it is clear that will far from be the case.
If not for Zaheer Khan, India might well have been left licking their wounds. And had that happened it would have been extremely difficult for India to recover from the setback as the game would have drained them mentally more than physically. They could have recovered in the latter aspect considering the long gap between matches. However, the scars of that defeat would have remained in the minds. This is why the Indian left-arm seamer’s inspirational spell was so very crucial. This is not the first time Zaheer has pulled India out of trouble and won’t be the last. But to do so when all seemed lost and that too on the biggest scale only reiterates his standing as one of the great Indian bowlers. Following Zaheer’s spell India were back as favourites to clinch the game. However, all credit to England’s lower order batsmen, whose big hits ensured the match ended even-stevens. In the end, it was a fair result.
As with a match so closely contested, there were a number of memorable performances. But, on a pitch where bowlers were being butchered left right and centre, it was England medium pacer Tim Bresnan’s five-wicket spell that stood out. Not only did Bresnan bowl straight, but he also mixed up deliveries cleverly, making it extremely difficult to get him away. True, his wickets were aided by the fact that the batsmen were going on an all out attack. Yet, he deserves all the credit for the manner in which he bowled, and that too at a time when there was no pressure at all on the Indian midde-order, following the excellent start they were off too. At the end of the day, it was Bresnan’s effort that ensured England had the momentum going into the second innings of the match. And even though India had managed to put up a mammoth score, Bresnan’s bowling gave them confidence that they could compete with India. Until then, they were clearly on the back foot. But post Bresnan’s magic, the Englishmen’s belief had changed, and it was evident in the way they came out to chase.
Andrew Strauss was absolutely immaculate in the way he planned the chase. Not only did he find the gaps with ease, but ensured that there was at least a boundary every over while he was at the crease. This meant that India never managed to build any pressure on the batsmen at all. Dhoni looked totally clueless as Strauss went about his merry ways. The most striking aspect of his ‘best’ knock, which he himself acknowledged, was that the England captain kept his side up with the required rate without taking any risks. And this something which should worry Dhoni no end. As the Indian skipper himself admitted at the end of the game, if they can’t defend Sunday’s score they soon they will find themselves in a highly precarious situation. And while Strauss was flawless, he got excellent support from a couple of others. Kevin Pietersen once again came good opening the innings which augurs very well for England as the tournament progresses. Pietersen looked in no trouble at all as he and Strauss got England off to a flyer. They were finding the gaps with such ease that Dhoni’s field placings went for a toss very early in the innings.
If the opening stand gave England a solid foot start, it was Strauss’ partnership with Ian Bell that gave England the confidence and, more importantly, the platform that they could achieve what seemed the undoable. While Strauss kept a cool head throughout the chase, Bell took off any pressure there would have been on the England skipper following the early exit of Johanthan Trott. Among the best players of spin in the England team, Bell made sure that the side did not miss the services of Eoin Morgan. Bell handled Piyush Chawla and Harbhajan Singh exceedingly well. Some of the strokes he played against the leg spinner were, in particular, a treat to watch. Bell’s innings nullified whatever advantage India were supposed to have, playing the additional spinner against England, who traditionally have struggled against leg-spinners. If India managed to save some face in spite of this it was only due to Zaheer’s extraordinary comeback.
A tie would have been the last things on India’s mind (only an Australian – Shane Warne could have predicted that) when they were off to another flier courtesy Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar. While the former was edgy, the latter took his time to get set. Yet, India recovered well thanks to steady partnerships between Sachin and Gautam Gambhir and later Sachin and Yuvraj Singh. Even as Sachin’s ton was the highlight of the innings — his hitting against Graeme Swann reminded one of his assault on Warne in 1998 – it was Yuvraj’s return to form with a hard-fought half-century that would have gladdened the Indian camp. However, they still have plenty to work upon. Gambhir falling to similar strokes in both matches is something that needs to be looked at closely. Further, the running between the wickets can improve, if only marginally, considering the number of slow movers in the playing eleven. Also, the lower-order batting wasn’t smart at all despite the fact that they had the license to thrill.
Both teams would be relieved in a sense not to have ended up on the losing side. However, the real challenge for them would be to figure out how to join the missing dots.