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The oppressive heat takes its toll

If England goes on to win it'll be an important moment


The new responsibilities and the heat left even Andrew Flintoff's considerable strength sapped, writes Ted Corbett



ANXIOUS MOMENTS: Indian players wait for the third umpire's decision on Kevin Pietersen on day four of the first Test in Nagpur on Saturday. — Photo: S. Subramanium

If the Englishmen win the first Test it will be seen as the day Squad England came of age, an important moment as they build up for their defence of the Ashes next autumn. But when the fourth day's play began their only concern was that their bowlers should be able to rest in preparation for an all-out effort on the final day.

On Fridat night they were — with one notable exception — shattered. Steve Harmison returned to the dressing room after his 27 overs so dehydrated that he vomited. You could see from the sidelines that the new responsibilities of captaincy and a leading role in the attack had left even Andrew "Freddie" Flintoff's considerable strength sapped. Monty Panesar, whose wonder ball to dismiss Mohammad Kaif was the talk of the stadium, had never bowled 40 overs in heat reaching for 40 degrees and, sadly, Ian Blackwell and Ian Bell had looked on the mediocre side of ordinary in their roles as back-up bowlers.

Hoggard the exception

The exception was Matthew Hoggard whose fitness comes from the ordinary things of life: long walks on the Yorkshire moors with his dogs, learning his trade in Bloemfontein — where the temperature is often 40 degrees — alongside Allan Donald and, in the old-fashioned ways of Trueman and Statham and Willis and so on, bowling himself fit. No doubt he was geed up by his five wickets — increased to six this morning when he was much too powerful for Sreesanth — but at his press briefing he was amusing, fresh and ready to praise Panesar who, he said should be sitting in his place.

So it was important that these bowlers should put their feet up and when England was 155 for two at tea that task had been accomplished. Andrew Strauss led the way with those crisp shots through the offside; Alastair Cook simply went about his business in the way that has impressed Geoff Boycott so greatly. Perhaps he reminds Boycott of a young man who began his career nearly 50 years ago in the middle of the Yorkshire batting order until one day the captain Brian Close said: "We'd like you to open, young Geoffrey." It was the making of the lad now, at 65, a kindly observer of the scene, unstinting in his praise for a new player who deserves it, quietly dismissive of those who fail to come up to the mark; a sympathetic critic. He sees a long future for Cook; I add only that Cook needs to make an adjustment or two.

Biggest trial

His biggest trial came when Strauss and Bell were caught behind in successive overs from Irfan Pathan. It would have been easy for him to surrender too. Instead he put his head down and ignored the adventurous route chosen by Kevin Pietersen and concentrated on his own game. He times the ball beautifully and no coach can add that to a batsman's repertoire.

What are we to make of Pietersen? At his stroke-playing best he is as attractive a batsman as you will see in world cricket, sometimes attacking with lavish, not to say, extravagant strokes, just as often composed and correct. His innings are roller-coaster rides, exotic adventures, trips into the unknown. At his best he has a host of fans praying he continues forever but with all that get-up-and-go there comes a natural consequence. Sometimes he fails. We must be patient with him as the selectors must persevere with Ian Bell. After all, the Australians gave Steve Waugh five years to make his name and eventually the benefit was gigantic.

Today he might have been out just before tea caught and bowled but when the third umpire needed an eternity to decide we guessed the appeal must fail. I like and see good reasons for technology and I guess one day it will be perfect. But justice should be swift and at the moment it is cumbersome.

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