Wednesday 17 January 2018

Kids' skill and luck sink India

Root and Buttler the stars on a day to forget for Pankaj Singh, 
writes Mike Selvey

THE kids are alright: appropriate really in this, the 50th year of The Who. Never mind the old hands leading the next generation, this summer has seen them puffing and blowing, trying to keep up, and at Old Trafford it has happened once more.

This time it was Joe Root and Jos Buttler, both 23, who took the game away from India. Half-centuries apiece: Root's more cultured, Buttler's one of obvious potential, and veined with good fortune. Three times, Buttler was given reprieves, once before he had even scored, and as many lives went his way in his second innings now.

The first of them came when he had 34, and edged Bhuvneshwar Kumar low to the left of Virat Kohli, whose one-handed attempt failed. He had 10 more when he should have been run out, for it was a very sharp two runs he 
attempted to Pankaj Singh at long leg, the fielder thundering his throw in low and on the bounce. MS Dhoni, who when his side are in the field is having a series that might be called indifferent, made a mess of it.

It was bad enough anyway, but Duncan Fletcher's jowls would have been wobbling, for it was his attention to detail that had him realising the small saving to be gained by the keeper or fielder collecting the ball in front of the stumps and taking it backwards, rather than the old-school method of standing behind the stumps.

Finally, when past his half-century, the first England keeper to do so in his first two innings, Buttler might reasonably have been given out by Marais Erasmus as he padded up to Kumar, only for the ball to jag back at him. Erasmus gave him the benefit, but Hawk-Eye showed that it might just as readily have given to the bowler instead.

Both Root and Buttler fell in their 70s, and if there was disappointment in the crowd that neither had been able to go on to make a hundred, it was surely offset by the goodwill that flooded down from the stands towards the fellow who gained their wickets.

Pankaj Singh had been bowling his way towards immortality, but only in the same way as Eddie the Eagle ski-jumped to his. Eddie was brave, foolhardy even, but also hapless. This was different, however. Pankaj is far from hapless. He is so strapping that his cricket uniform might be painted on, a big body to carry around a big heart, it would seem, and with the bandiest legs since Vanburn Holder, as if he spends his off-season on a Wyoming cattle drive. In cricket terms he has been around the block, 29 years old, which is getting towards sedentary for a pace-bowling debutant, having worked his way through the system as a national junior representative and as a student at Dennis Lillee's fast bowling academy in Chennai. He is a Ranji Trophy veteran with more than 300 first-class wickets at 26, twice helping Rajasthan to the title. This is an industrious, not inconsiderable, bowler who made his Test debut at Ageas Bowl.

Perhaps he is superstitious. If so he might look back at mirrors cracked, ladders walked under and black cats crossing his path, for until the third day of the second Test, he had toiled, over after over, spell upon spell, with not the slightest bit of good fortune. When down in Hampshire, Alastair Cook had made only 15 runs, he edged Pankaj to Ravindra Jadeja in the slips who grassed the chance. Such things can be career-defining, on both sides. Shortly afterwards, to all eyes except those of Rod Tucker, the one person who actually mattered, Ian Bell was lbw, stone dead. Pankaj denied again.

These things were to come back to haunt him. It was the start of a wicketless drought that was to become almost like no other in Test history.

Anwar Hossain is a Bangladeshi medium-pacer - one of many - whose two-Test career produced no wickets but cost 307 runs, the 
most expensive wicketless career of all. More than half a century ago, the Indian all-rounder Kripal Singh, who made a century on debut, sent down 651 deliveries before taking a wicket, more 
than anyone to do so. Pankaj was closing in on both.

He was two deliveries into his 70th over, in the middle of his 26th spell, when he bowled to Root. Already he had conceded 274 runs. The ball was short, lifted and headed down the leg side. Root got the faintest touch with his glove and Dhoni took the catch. Pankaj spread his arms and just beamed. Then 15 balls later, he beamed again as a slower ball did for Buttler. Two wickets, just like that. Isn't that always the way?


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