Tuesday, December 4, 2001, Chandigarh, India






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Harbhajan casts spell
England crash after good start
Abhijit Chatterjee
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, December 3
It was Harbhajan Singh’s day at the PCA Stadium in SAS Nagar today. Singlehandedly, he put the brakes on the England first innings after the visitors, sitting pretty at 172 for two at one stage, were threatening to pile up a big score. And the way he mesmerised the England batsmen was enough indication that the Jalandhar based bowler would be as successful in the current three-Test series against the Englishmen as he was against the visiting Australians earlier this year.

Today’s efforts by Harbhajan on a pitch which had a fair amount of grass (and this prompted the Indians to field three medium-pacers in the playing eleven) and has always helped the fast bowlers in the first couple of days gave enough indication to the England that spin would continue to be India’s dominant weapon in the series.

Till the tea-break of the first day’s play there were simply no indications that England, 207 for four at that stage after Indian captain Saurav Ganguly had invited them to bat, would collapse like the proverbial house of cards. And till that stage none of the Indian bowlers barring Kerala’s Tinu Yohannan, playing in his first Test for India along with two other medium pace bolwers Sanjay Bangar and Iqbal Siddiqui, were able to make any impression on the visiting batsmen.

But then the Punjab spinner had other ideas. Bowling from the far end and getting admirable support from the close-in fielders, Harbhajan cast a spell on the England batsmen as he snared them one after another to end with figures of 19.3-4-51-5, the fifth time that he has taken five or more wickets in a Test innings. In fact these five wickets came in his last spell of 7.3 overs in which he gave away just six runs.

But if Harbhajan Singh was a roaring success the same cannot

be said of the other spinner in the team, Anil Kumble. The leg spinner looked a pale shadow of his former self as he went through the motions, specially in the first session of play. True, he did claim a wicket each in the next two sessions of play, that of Nasser Hussain caught by Laxman at silly point after the England skipper looked set on scoring a century in his very first Test on the soil of his forefathers, and that of Craig White, who was caught by Rahul Dravid, but he never seemed threatening as he has been in the past.

His first spell in the first session saw him giving away as many as 35 runs in six overs. In the post-lunch session he did bowl with far more authority and gave away just two runs in the two overs he sent down before claiming the wicket of Hussain. The wicket of White came in the last session of play but by then Harbhajan had mesmerised the England batsmen to their doom. While agreeing that it is quite likely that Kumble was having an off day today, maybe, it is time for the national selectors to look around for new talent in the spin department as they are doing in the fast bowling department.

Of the three new ball bowlers blooded by India in this test it was Kerala’s Tinu Yohannan (son of Asian Games gold medallist T.C. Yohannan) who impressed the most. Generating very good bounce and pace from the strip he moved the odd ball in to cause problems for the batsmen. His fourth Test delivery got him a wicket, that of Mark Butcher who was caught at first slip by V.V.S. Laxman, and the early success only helped him to calm down his nerves.

From the other end Mumbai’s Iqbal Siddiqui was equally impressive as was Railways Sanjay Bangar who came in as the first change bolwer. It was lucky for all these new new ball bolwers that they were making their debut at the PCA Stadium which arguably has the fastest strip in India. It is doubtful whether in the next two Tests in the current series against the visitors, at Ahmedabad and Bangalore, the bowlers will get such a helpful wicket Siddiqui did not go rewardless — he claimed the wicket of Graham Thorpe — and he has the quality to hurry the batsmen. It was unfortunate that Sanjay was unlucky to pull his hamstring muscle while fielding which probably prevented him from opening the India batting.

England should be thankful to their opener Marcus Trescothick and their skipper Nasser Hussain for reaching the score of 238 which they finally did. The two were associated in a stand of 125 runs for the second wicket which was finally broken by Tinu Yohannan who sent the off stump of Trescothick cartwheeling with a delivery which moved just a shade. Trescothick scored 66 (152 minutes 107 balls 13 fours) and had very little problems during his stay at the crease before Tinu upset his applecart. Nasser Hussain, then on 54, got some support from Graham Thorpe, who scored 23, and the two took the score to 172 before Thorpe (44 mins, 34 balls, four fours) fell to give Siddiqui his first Test wicket. And even when Nasser Hussain fell with the total reading 200 to Anil Kumble after scoring a brilliant 85 (222 minutes, 147 balls, 13 fours one six) there were still no indications that England were heading for disaster. 

SCOREBOARD

England (1st innings):

Butcher c Laxman b Yohannan 4

Trescothick b Yohannan 66

Hussain c Laxman b Kumble 85

Thorpe c Laxman b Siddiqui 23

Ramprakash c Das b Harbhajan 17

Flintoff c Kumble b Harbhajan 18

White c Dravid b Kumble 5

Foster lbw b Harbhajan 0

Ormond not out 3

Dawson c Laxman b Harbhajan 5

Hoggard c sub (Williams) 0

b Harbhajan

Extras: (lb-7, nb-5) 12

Total: (all out, 76.3 overs) 238

FOW: 1-4, 2-129, 3-172, 4-200, 5-224, 6-227, 7-229, 8-229, 9-238.

Bowling: Yohannan 18-3-75-2, Siddiqui 11-2-32-1, Bangar 5-2-17-0, Kumble 19-6-52-2, Tendulkar 4-3-4-0, Harbhajan 19.3-4-51-5.

India (1st innings):

Das b Butcher 2

Dasgupta batting 19

Kumble batting 1

Extras: (lb-2) 2

Total: (for 1 wkt, 11 overs) 24

Fall of wicket: 1-23.

Bowling: Hoggard 6-3-10-0, Ormond 3-0-9-0, Butcher 2-0-3-1.Back

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