August 01, 2007

Ugly Winners or Pretty Losers?

The high point of the second test at Trent Bridge was not when India consummated victory on the fifth morning. It was when they wooed her after tea on the fourth. The second new ball had just been taken. Zaheer Khan struck twice within two balls; first centurion Vaughan and then Bell for a blob. The match was won. At least it felt like that.

But this was not the first flash of victory. That was when R.P. Singh mesmerized Kevin Pietersen with a ripping in-swinger – a la Sandhu’s ball that flummoxed Greenidge in the 1983 Prudential World Cup.

It was even sweeter as it came after Michael Vaughan first lost it. Sreesanth had just bowled a beamer that nearly cleaned Pietresen up. However, this enraged Vaughan more than the flattened K.P. In spite of Sreesanth’s prompt apology, the English captain rambled on unabated. Something had to give – and it took two balls to get England’s premier batsman out twice. The second time KP nearly walked. A few hours later, India was on the brink of their first victory at Trent Bridge.

However, from England’s approach on the fifth morning, it was obvious that they were out to score some points, if not a win. The intent was to not allow India a huge margin of victory – like an outright ten wicket win. That anyway, is only reserved for the Aussies.

Also, something of England’s attitude reeked of the Aussie way of playing no-nonsense cricket. In the process, England scalped India’s openers and highest scorer of the first innings. And though India’s seven-wicket win is laudable, the last half hour took some of the sheen of it. It wasn’t as if India’s batsmen had walked all over England – on the contrary, the 15 extras made the win less tedious. That India got the winning runs via four byes summed up proceedings.

So, proceeding to the last test at the Oval, who has the upper hand? And had you asked this same question after the drawn Lord’s test what would have been the answer? In this often too-tight-to-call series, talk of upper hands amounts to nothing. Who would have expected India to draw the first test? And after that close shave, who would have predicted an Indian win at Trent Bridge?

So, to say that India has the upper hand for the last test is pointless. It’s worth taking stock - India won this test in spite of Kumble and Sreesanth. Kumble may have cleaned the tail twice, but he was mostly wayward. As for Sreesanth, it appeared, he was there for comic relief.

India won the match due to Zaheer Khan’s relentless spells and the opening partnership between two unsung heroes, Wasim Jaffer and Dinesh Karthik. After which India’s much touted middle order came to the party.

Still, at no point did India’s batting completely dominate – they laboured on, scoring at barely 3 runs per over in both innings, while England scored at 3.41 in the second innings – that without Kevin Pietersen coming for second helpings.

Guess that’s the deal with “winning ugly” – it’s not about how you get there, as long as you get there in the end. It’s not about how many flowing cover drives or cracking pulls you play – it could be a prod here, a prod there. Finally, that all adds up to 481. And a winning lead of 283.

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