An interesting part of being a cricket fan is how, always, your team should have done the exact opposite of what in fact it did.
This morning, just before play began, I had a few mails all from die-hard fans all asking essentially one question -- can India save this Test?
Yes, with some ease, was my response -- to which, one of them mailed back immediately with 'You see India always through rose-tinted glasses, I'm sure once the ball gets a bit older, the quicks with their reverse swing and Panesar with that huge turn will do what Pakistan did to us in Karachi. India just doesn't have the knack of batting last!'
And at the tea break the sequel -- a mail, from the same friend, asking 'why the hell didn't India go for the bowling? It would have made a statement.'
Ummm, sure -- lose a few wickets, scramble to save the match, and the statement, from the gallery, would have been 'They got lucky, but the team sucks.'
Turns out, the team made a statement -- in its own way, in its own time. Dravid's dismissal, for 71 (168/2, with 25 overs to go at that point), was the first hint. When Panesar came back on to bowl Dravid, that most correct of Test batsmen, reverse-swept the first ball. The next ball, again bowled from over the wicket, saw Dravid wait an awful long time, seemingly contemplating another uncharacteristic act -- and that indecision cost him as the ball hit leg and middle, slipped past a defensive bat that wasn't in position, and hit off.
In came Irfan Pathan. That, in tandem with Dravid's sudden urgency earlier, indicated that the team by then figured they could not lose, and figured to take on a tiring attack and see what would happen.
Good thinking, really -- if nothing else, it suddenly forced England, who by then would have been looking at giving the main bowlers a rest, to scramble onto the defensive.
It also marked a departure from the norm, for this team. In earlier years, a common facet was that once it got in defensive gear to try and save a Test, it never changed the gameplan, and continued defense even off the last ball of the last over. Here, the team waited till it was sure defeat was not a possibility -- and out of the blue, changed gears.
It was startling -- England read the signal even before Pathan, who literally ran out onto the field, took strike, and fielders made for the boundaries.
A scrambled single took Jaffar to his first Test century (197 deliveries); a patient, almost flawless innings that shut one end of the wicket down on England.
Pathan then cut loose. He had warmed up with a waft over long on off Panesar for a one bounce four; in the next over, off Flintoff, he first carved him through the covers and then hit the England captain back over his head for six. Cue a midwicket conference between Flintoff and other seniors. There was some breathing space, as Jaffar drove a Flintoff indipper in the same over to cover (198/3); a shot from a tired player that cued in the second gambit -- Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
Pathan's lovely little cameo ended when he clipped Flintoff to midwicket (35/25; 215/4; 17.5 overs remaining, 153 runs to make).
Sachin Tendulkar walked out to join Dhoni -- and it was like the scene out of Gladiator: At my signal, unleash hell!
The boundaries began to flow everywhere, and Flintoff -- who was blasted for two fours by Tendulkar in an over yielding 13 runs, played his final card. Blackwell was brought on to bowl into the rough from over the wicket with a packed leg field with 15 overs to go, and 132 runs to get.
Ball one, a Tendulkar reverse sweep, four. Ball two, an unapologetic mow to midwicket, four. A few runs taken hard, then a Tendulkar waltz down the wicket and a loft, one bounce, to wide extra cover, four to end the over; 16 off it.
Dhoni, at the other end, was at under a run a ball; two dot balls from Harmison added to his pressure; he responded with a forehand smash straight to the boundary-rider at long off (16/21) and India, still in ODI mode, sent out Harbhajan Singh -- who wafted Harmison to wide midwicket, then lost his middle stump to an inswinging yorker (260/6; 108 more needed in 11.4).
VVS Laxman walking out, rather than the ODI specialist Mohammad Kaif, pretty much signaled that India would eschew risk from there on -- but that theory of mine was not tested. Clouds scudded over the ground; the light went in dramatic fashion; the umpires offered it, and the players walked off, after an electric session that, despite starting slow, still produced 129 runs for the loss of 5 wickets in 22.2 overs, with Tendulkar ending on 28 off 19.
It was a magic session; it put the adrenalin back in the Indian team, on the receiving end for most of the game; it put the wind up England just when the tourists were winding down.
The move to keep the fielding side on tenterhooks was straight out of the Australian playbook; this scorecard references the game where Australia played a similar trick on England under Atherton. Somewhere in my collection of cricket literature is a detailed account of what happened -- sometime over the next couple of days, I'll dig it out and throw it up here for you.