Nottingham: Zaheer Khan gave India some comfort from an otherwise disappointing morning against England at Trent Bridge on Sunday with a spell of two wickets for one run in three balls.
At lunch on the fourth day of the second Test, England was 468 for seven, a lead of 111, with Craig White 16 not out and Dominic Cork 17 not out. But India's position, after its 170-run defeat in the four-match series opener at Lord's, might have been worse but for left-arm quick Zaheer.
India captain Saurav Ganguly eventually handed him the new ball after medium-pacer Ajit Agarkar's four- over spell with it cost 40 runs. But in the ninth over of the new ball Zaheer's extra pace and accuracy yielded an instant result. His first delivery back had Flintoff bowled playing across the line at one that kept a touch low for 33. Flintoff had put on 97 in 100 balls with Stewart but two balls later the 39-year-old veteran keeper was out too as 432 for six became 433 for seven.
Stewart, 87, had his off-stump knocked back by a delivery that held its line. He faced 92 balls including 14 fours. England was still 76 ahead but now had two fresh batsmen at the crease in White and Cork. Earlier England resumed on 341 for five, a deficit of 16, with Stewart 30 not out and Flintoff two not out after they had accepted the umpires extraordinary offer of bad light in bright sunshine on Saturday.
After 90 overs India took the new ball with England now 12 ahead and gave it to Agarkar rather than Zaheer or fellow left-armer Ashish Nehra. And five balls later Agarkar thought he'd dismissed Stewart after Virender Sehwag at third slip claimed a catch. However, Stewart stood his ground, the decision handed over to the third umpire. Television replays suggested Sehwag had grassed the diving chance and Stewart (48) continued. But he was still lucky to get to fifty, an edge off Agarkar going straight between India debutant Parthiv Patel and first slip Rahul Dravid, neither fielder moving for the chance.
Former England captain Stewart was unaffected by his narrow escapes, having earlier in his innings gone past Michael Atherton's mark of 7,728 runs and into fourth place in the list of his country's Test run-scorers. India's bowlers then lost their way. Agarkar twice strayed on to middle-and-leg, Stewart easing the ball away for successive boundaries. And an intended Nehra bouncer sat up and was duly pulled for a convincing four by Flintoff. The adage that 'the new ball goes quicker off the bat' was proved again, 53 runs coming off the first seven overs after India disposed of the old one.