Thursday, 20 December 2012

Mumbai Test Match 23rd - 26th November 2012

Not bad for my first test match in India

Somewhat apprehensive approaching this match. England had been soundly beaten in the first test at Ahmedabad. This followed on from losing all three tests against Pakistan in Dubai earlier in the year. The omens were not good. Dhoni the Indian captain had asked for a test pitch which was a ‘rank turner’ with a view to making it more suitable for his team. 

Tickets had been obtained two days earlier from what seemed to be a reinforced garden shed by the side of the Mumbai Hockey Association stand. This was adjacent to the Wankhede stadium. Communicated by mime and gesture to get tickets which were hopefully high up and in the shade. Obtained two for the Sachin Tendulkar stand. Not really sure whether the tickets were correct. 

Arrived at the ground 45 minutes before the start. A queue of about 50 metres fed into a complex riprap-shaped concoction for security checks. It was almost the 4th anniversary of the attack on Mumbai by Al Qaida terrorists trained in Pakistan. Just to ratchet up the tension even further, the surviving captive had been hung earlier in the week. There were a lot of armed police and armoured cars about. Even so, the entry process was ponderous in the extreme. Among items that were verboten were newspapers and magazines, cigarettes and lighters/matches, cameras, radios, food, drink and anything that could remotely be used as a weapon. English fans were mainly allowed to take small bags in whilst Indian fans were far more rigorously challenged. A small heap of bags and banned materials grew by the entrance. 

As the queue ground snail-like into the stadium there were roars from those inside which only served to add to the sense of frustration at the delay. Eventually after being frisked at least five times the hike to the top of the stadium began. Officious officials met spectators at the head of the top of the stairs. The ground was barely one-sixth full although there were still large queues outside. India were 15-1. Jimmy Anderson had struck with his second ball. This was only revealed much later when the days highlights were played on the tv back at the hotel. Information within the stadium was paltry. No scorecard, no programme and very little information on the scoreboard or on the advertising hoarding which masqueraded as a ‘big screen’. There was no information about the England team - only the batting side were listed. It took some time to identify unfamiliar players in the distance and determine who had been included and who left out. The seats we had been allocated were in the sun, so alternatives higher and shadier were chosen. No-one objected. 

One man quickly made his presence very evident. Monty Panesar had been left out of the first test team. A selection howler. Here he made it clear just how much of a howler by bowling Sehwag early in his spell and then shortly afterwards sending back God (aka Sachin Tendulkar) with a cracking delivery which pitched on leg and middle and flattened his off stump. Cue much distress amongst the Indian faithful. Monty continued to bowl really well and with support from Graham Swann the Indian batsmen struggled to post sizeable partnerships losing wickets steadily. Pujara was an exception to his batting colleagues. Calm, methodical and assured, he gave a batting masterclass in how to cope with a difficult wicket. Watching him through good binoculars was a delight. His technique could have been filmed for a coaching lesson in playing the turning ball. 

Dhoni had his wish for a rank turner. Because Pujara, and latterly Ashwin, batted so well, it was not easy to assess what a good score was going to be. The odd ball turned and bounced and stock deliveries turned. How would England cope? The large dark brown Pariah Kites wheeling around above the ground ominously resembled vultures....

Pujara had strong support from Ashwin so India closed on 266-6. 

Thanks to further security idiocy and appalling crowd management, the gate used yesterday had a queue of almost 7000 people waiting to get in. At least they had the sight of an elephant walking sedately down the main road past the queue. Fortunately there was another gate available round behind the stadium. A five minute walk lead to a queue of barely 50 people. No attempt was made by ‘the authorities’ to address this imbalance. 
The morning belonged to England as they bowled India out for 327. Panesar 5-129 and Swann 4- 70. Pujara out for 135 for the first time in the series, stumped Pryor, bowled Swann. England made a cautious and slow response with Cook and Compton both using their full reach to smother  potentially spinning balls on the half-volley. Runs were gathered at barely 2 per over and this stately progression continued into the sixties. It was very tense with odd balls spitting, turning and bouncing. Compton was unlucky to get an edge to one of these ‘devil’ balls. He was followed swiftly by Trott who failed to read a non-spinning ball and was plumb LBW. More tension, especially as ‘KP’ was on his way to the crease. In the last test - the first since his re-integration - he had played poorly, and admitted that his head had been scrambled with all the commotion. The Indian fans were willing him to show his particular talents - but they also wanted him out. 

From the moment he took guard this was a different Pietersen. Solid, assured and commanding, he struck his first ball for 4 through the covers and then proceeded to score at almost a run a ball. He played shots all around the wicket and it quickly became clear that he was in the mood. With Cook lifting his pace a touch in response - they both benefitted from the left hand/right hand combination - the score rattled along. At the close of day two, England were 178-2.

Ignoring the first very busy entrance and nipping round the back meant there was little trouble queuing. Cook and Pietersen continued to build a terrific partnership of 204. Calm steady accumulation was accompanied by brilliance and audacity in a thrilling and riveting watch. When Cook was finally out for a splendid 122, Pietersen chased after him and caught him up as he was halfway off the ground to give him a very big hug. It spoke volumes.

The game then took an odd turn as KP continued to score steadily at one end and his partners struggled at the other. Bairstow fell to a close catch (off the fielder’s helmet so technically not out, but who needs DRS anyway?) and Patel followed soon after to another lifting turning ball. Once KP was out for a wonderful 186, only Pryor managed to reach double figures as the tail disappointingly (and predictably) collapsed for 413 giving a lead of 86. With England having to bat last on what was expected to be a deteriorating surface, had they thrown away a golden chance? 


The afternoon/evening session continued to provide the English in the crowd with more thrills and excitement. Yet again England’s spinners showed that not only were they better than their Indian counterparts, the Indian batsman were struggling to cope with them. Pujara was given out caught at short leg off his forearm - another dead cert for a DRS review. God failed again and the crowd became more and more subdued as wickets fell at regular intervals. India were 117 for 7 at the close - in effect 31 for 7!

A word about the crowd. It is quite astonishing that so many turn up to watch test cricket although the ground was only ever half full at its maximum. The BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India) have their eyes and their bank balances resting on the IPL. They do little to enhance the watching experience. The police in the stadium are particularly hostile towards Indian fans, very officious and unpleasant. Whenever Tendulkar approaches a stand; which is quite regular as he is not a fast mover these days, so he is put out to graze in the outfield. There is an immediate and almost hysterical response from the fans. They roar their appreciation, chant his name and swarm down the terraces to the metal netting surrounding the ground. The police then usher them back - sometimes using their Lhati’s (sticks). Despite all this, the young fans in particular chant and sing with occasional bursts of rhythmic drumming. (How do they get drums in when so much is not allowed...?)

It all makes for a terrific atmosphere - particularly when English wickets are falling. It must be very daunting walking out to the middle with that roar building to a crescendo as the bowler runs in. There is one highly annoying feature of the tv coverage which jarred. A cameraman is designated to wander through the stands taking reaction shots of the crowd. Cue one bunch of (mainly) young men going bananas irrespective of how their team are doing. On a par with the Mexican Wave numpties.

The following morning saw England roll the tail over and bowl India out for 142. Monty 6-81, Swann 4-43. The target of 56 was reached in 9 overs as both Cook and Compton went after the bowling from the start and scored at 6 an over. 

Result: a 10 wicket win for England and one of their finest in their roller-coaster history.

Anguished deconstruction on Indian tv channels was delectably relishable as the failings of the Indian team were pored over. Dhoni’s request for ‘rank turner’s’ was seen as an own goal of monumental proportions and simply ‘not cricket’. 

Oh yes it was. It was a stunning about face from the first test. It was also cricket played brilliantly by England, especially man-of-the-match Pietersen and Cook, Panesar and Swann. 

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