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MUMBAI: It was in the sixth over of the chase that Denis Compton’s grandson Nick flat-batted Pragyan Ojha – India’s most successful bowler in the series – for a morale-crushing six over mid wicket. England needed 19 runs then to restore parity in the four-Test series and Compton’s shot came as a surprise, for everything he had done prior to the bullying biff reeked of the staid and sedate.
For the most of two Tests, England had batted for time, survival, to stay competitive. Compton’s strike mirrored their growing confidence. Expected to be rolled over at Mumbai after losing the opener at Ahmedabad, Alastair Cook’s men turned another lost toss and doctored wicket to their advantage –gaining a magnificent ten-wicket victory to level the series.
The result went one better on India’s nine-wicket triumph in the first Test and was set up by the very protagonists who had been tipped to play a pivotal role in the sub-continent. Kevin Pietersen harnessed his oversized ego to score one of the most attacking centuries by a visiting batsman in India. Captain Alastair Cook’s hundred was a study in contrast – the perfect foil to his temperamental partner’s rampage – and in Monty Panesar’s recall England discovered what they had missed most at Motera, a genuine spinner to support Graeme Swann.
Panesar claimed 11 scalps in the match, bowling extended and teasing spells and destroying India alongside off-spinner Swann – who reached a personal landmark of 200 Test wickets during the match. It was a pitch made to order – orders of the Indian skipper, if you please! - for England’s downfall. But if anybody capitalized on the conditions, it was the visitors. Panesar and Swann dismissed 19 Indian batsmen; while India’s trio of tweakers – Ojha, R. Ashwin and Harbhajan Singh – could manage just nine wickets among them. And that’s where the match was won or lost.
Panesar’s 11/210 were the third-best figures at the Wankhede after all-rounder Ian Botham (13/106) and leg-spinner L. Sivaramakrishnan (12/181). This was also the first time that England had won a Test match that featured both Panesar and Swann. After this happy precedent, the two are likely to get more matches together, if nowhere else then at Kolkata and Nagpur where this intriguing series will seek thrilling closure.
Apart for the spin reversal, India were undone by casual batting: aside from Cheteshwar Pujara in the first innings, and Gautam Gambhir in the second, the batsmen failed to apply themselves. Perhaps the most worrying aspect was how Sachin Tendulkar and Yuvraj Singh were made to look like rank novices on a turning wicket. It would be interesting to see if the selectors bring in any changes for the third Test at Eden Gardens, which begins on December 5.
India resumed effectively on 31/7 in the morning, trying their utmost bring the lead close to 100, but were able to add just 25 more to set England a target of 57. Harbhajan was the first to go, trying to cut a fast Swann off-break and edging to the left of Trott at slip. A few fell blows from Zaheer Khan were the need of the hour. But the fast-bowler’s attempted slog against Panesar – who was once again getting telling turn and bounce - resulted in a top-edge to Matt Prior behind the wicket.
Gambhir had provided the solitary resistance all this while. He needed runs and he got them, but failed to carry his bat when he was the last wicket to fall. It was another poor decision – this time by Tony Hill – as Gambhir appeared to have inside-edged on to his pads. England would have breathed a sigh of relief, for the target was way less that the humiliating 72 they’d been dismissed for at Abu Dhabi chasing 142 against Pakistan earlier in the year.
Cook and Compton raced away in their pursuit, gaining a win inside 10 overs. Although Cook was tested somewhat in Ashwin’s opening over, Compton was quite unlike his earlier watchful avatar. He stroked carefree boundaries, including the symbolic six off Ojha – as India’s three spinners failed to make a dent on the England openers.
Victory came in keeping with all that had happened in the match. Ashwin bowled a howler down the leg-side that went hurrying for byes to the fence for the winning runs. The batsmen let out a howl of joy, pulling out stumps as souvenirs. Whatever these two do from here, you can rest assured the stumps will remain for posterity one of their most prized possessions. A Test win in India after losing the toss on a turning wicket: England, you beauty!