A memorable day it was at The Oval with the crowds getting full value for their money during the sixth NatWest Series Match. Action was there right from the start till right at the end. If the first over had the wicket of Cook going down then the final over had Robin Uthappa sealing a sensational victory to save the series for India. An action filled day at The Oval thanks to a perfect batting strip, a blazing outfield and the exuberance of youth guided along by the Senior Pros. India pulled off a remarkable win thanks to Robin Uthappa’s innovative batting display which came at a stage when India almost got themselves into a tough position in a high-scoring entertainer. Ultimately the result went in India’s favour with a 2-wicket win with just two balls to spare.
The team winning the toss had the advantage of batting first and putting up a huge total that would apply the pressure in the second innings. Paul Collingwood scored a point over Rahul Dravid in this first contest and England batted first only to be put on the backfoot losing two early wickets. Zaheer once again sent Cook back to the Kitchen, this time getting him to an edge to an away going delivery in the second ball of the game. Minutes later, Ajit Agarkar got a lucky leg before decision in his favour that got rid of Prior and most importantly exposed Kevin Pietersen to the new ball that was swinging and seaming around. In the company of Ian Bell, who stroked his way with authority, Pietersen found his innings going. There were plenty of risks taken though with lot of shuffling across the stumps from KP. But it was good enough to put England back on the track. Ian Bell spoilt the progress though as he got cleaned up trying to slog a Piyush Chawla googly. Bell threw away his wicket after getting 49 from 59 with as many as 10 fours. England were 79 for 3 in the 17th and in the next over were 83 for 4 with Collingwood getting run out. The homeside were making a complete mess of ideal batting conditions with some loose cricket. The Indians tightened the grip over the match with Sourav Ganguly bowling on a tight leash to keep the scoreboard under a check.
Kevin Pietersen hasn’t got many runs in this series and today was just staying at the wicket without playing his attacking shots. He got to his fifty but that was all he was going to get as he got himself run out needlessly. He set himself out of the blocks for a second run without the consent of his partner Owais Shah to have his side back in trouble at 137 for 5 in the 31st over. Pietersen’s 53 took him 82 balls. India had to go for the kill and bowl England out cheaply. But they were stung by a surprise package in the form of Luke Wright, the debutant. Wright who has the reputation of striking the ball cleanly sent the positive waves by slogging Yuvraj Singh out of the park for a six early in his innings. Wright played his natural innings that of going hard at the ball and Owais Shah grafted his way to a fifty. Shah never looked back once he got past a fifty, he was infact a different player showing all the range of shots. Young Wright had also reached a fifty with his coming in just 38 balls! Fortunately for India, the danger man’s innings came to an end through a run out in the 45th over. Wright’s maiden innings at this level got him 50 in 39 with 7 fours and a six which took England from 137 for 5 to a decent 243 for 6.
Owais Shah was lucky in his innings when he was not given caught down the legside in an attempted sweep with an inside edge onto his pads on its way to the keeper off Ramesh Powar. Shah was on just 40 in the 40th over, but he went onto smash his way to a maiden century in the next ten overs. Dimitri Mascarenhas in the final over which was shockingly given to Yuvraj Singh picked up an unbelievable five consecutive sixes after playing a dot ball. Mascarenhas had a bit of luck when he was well caught by a diving Piyush Chawla but the fielder’s body momentum forced him to touch the skirting along the boundary and a six it was without the ball not having to sail out of the park! The last over went for 30 giving a feeling that Mascarenhas had batted India out of the match and also out of the series. England smashed 114 in the last 10 with Owais Shah doing most damage with an unbeaten 107 from 95 balls with 11 fours and two sixes. Zaheer Khan was the only bowler who held his head high in the slog overs finishing at 1 for 43 from his 10.
The Indian opening batsmen Sachin and Sourav both have been in good form and they just carried on from their century stand at Leeds. Broad and Anderson helped their cause by bowling plenty of deliveries on their pads. Although Broad did comeback well, Anderson had a completely off day with the new ball. India went at an appropriate pace with both the batsmen dealing in boundaries with Tendulkar being the more aggressive of the two. The openers knocked off lots of runs out of the huge target which made it difficult for England to comeback. The third powerplay was held back till the 19th over and finally the break for England came in the 23rd over when Ganguly failed to clear Pietersen at covers in a big shot. Broad who was engaged in a verbal exchange with Ganguly took the wicket although it wasn’t after being smacked over his head for a six. Ganguly made 53 from 60 with 7 fours and a six as India got 150 on the board in the 23rd. At this stage Tendulkar was cramping up badly and had asked for Ganguly to run for him. When Ganguly was just about to enter the park, Tendulkar’s physical struggle came to an end when he was caught at covers trying to drive Monty on the rise. Tendulkar yet again fell in the 90s! This time he fell short by six runs, but most importantly for India he took just 81 balls to get there striking 16 fours and a six.
England’s problem in this match was that they had only two fast bowlers, Monty Panesar and the slow medium pacers. That was to the advantage of the Indian batsmen. Gambhir, who had come at no.3 and Yuvraj stuck in there to put on their second good partnership of this series. It wasn’t really Yuvraj’s day as he was caught and bowled by Mascarenhas for a score of 18 after he had played little too early. India received another setback in quick time when Dravid too played early to be dismissed cheaply leaving the responsibility on Dhoni to finish the game with just over a hundred to get in 89 balls! Gambhir was the set batsman and was the one supposed to go for the big ones which he tried but perished in the 41st over after getting 47 from 57 balls which had 3 fours and a six. In came Robin Uthappa with India requiring 93 in 58 balls. He had the company of Dhoni who couldn’t blaze through right away. This was when Uthappa took the pressure off by playing some cheaky shots behind the stumps. Dhoni kept the partnership going and soon India were requiring 23 to win from 13. That was when Broad had got the big wicket of Dhoni bowling him between his legs with a yorker defeating an attempted paddle sweep. Uthappa collected two vital boundaries in the penultimate over that got the equation down to 10 from 6. It was simply superb batting from Uthappa as Anderson was very difficult to get away with his fast reverse swinging yorkers at 145kmph. Uthappa countered that by walking down the pitch and taking the ball on the full to exploit the third man and the fine leg regions. England paid a heavy price for having the fine leg in the 30 yards circle for Robin!
The last over had Uthappa on strike, the first ball was taken for two but the next ball saw a wicket down with no runs taken. Broad fielded off his own bowling to stop a straight drive and get the non striker Zaheer out. The third ball took the pressure off the Indians totally as Uthappa walked down the track to convert a yorker into a full toss to paddle that away for a four towards fine leg. With 4 to win from 3, Uthappa stood his crease and played an off drive that beat mid off to get India to a dramatic victory! Robin became the new hero in Indian Cricket with a gem of an innings, 47 from 33 with 8 boundaries. He could have so easily been the Man of the Match but the adjudicators gave it to Tendulkar, the man who provided the impetus at the top. The Indian Team Management would get full credit for the selection of Uthappa instead of Dinesh Karthik which has made the difference. The series is now set for the decider at Lord’s which is on the 8th!