Harbhajan Singh spins India to dramatic win

Published: Tuesday, March 28, 2006, 23:53 [IST]
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New Delhi:Man of the Match Harbhajan Singh top scored with 37 and then bared his fangs for a career best haul of five for 31 to turn the game on its head as India, despite yet another slipshod show by its top-order, beat England by 39 runs to go one up in the seven-match series at the Ferozeshah Kotla Stadium here today.

The 40,000-odd crowd expected fireworks from the batsmen but Team India top order fired blank again and the day belonged to the offie from Jalandhar, who first saved India from blushes with the bat and then emerged as the wrecker-in-chief, claiming five wickets.

Chasing a comfortable target of 204, England faltered on double trouble in an eventful over. Irfan Pathan's third ball of the over kissed Andrew Strauss' blade en route to MS Dhoni's gloves. Next man in Owais Shah made a bold statement with a cover drive off the first ball he faced but Pathan had his revenge in the very next delivery, which rapped Shah on his pad and umpire AV Jayprakash gave him the finger. England were reduced to four for two after the first over.

Kevin Pietersen (46) and Matt Prior (22) then added 53 runs for the third wicket before Harbhajan Singh, in his first over, invited Prior to sweep him and Gautam Gambhir sprinted a few yards to take the catch at square leg boundary.

Skipper Flintoff then joined Pietersen and the duo displayed wide range of shots to add to Dravid's woes but Yuvraj Singh removed Pietersen with his first delivery when the maverick batsman swept him to Gautam Gambhir, barely a meter before the square leg ropes.

Flintoff was going great guns as he spanked S Sreenath for two sixes and a four in an over but Harbhajan then wrested initiatives when the England captain missed him and was trapped in front and Geraint Jones (0) was bowled through the yawning bat-pad gap.

Flintoff's aggressive 37-ball knock of 41 was studded with four boundaries and two sixes.

Going smoothly at 116 for three, England were suddenly 120 for six.

Things worsened for the visitors as Ian Blackwell (10) swept Harbhajan and perished the same away as Pietersen and the ball swirled before finding a desperate Gambhir diving to take a well-judged catch. Collingwood followed soon when he tried to flick the offie and an alert Kaif grabbed the ball as England stuttered to 141 for eight.

Yuvraj Singh trapped Kabir Ali (0) with a skidding delivery and it was left to Irfan Pathan to take the wicket of Liam Plunkett (14) to complete formality in 38.1 overs as England were all out for 164.

Earlier, put into bat, Indian top order had butterflies in their stomach against a depleted English attack comprising James Anderson, Kabir Ali and Liam Plunkett. Harbhajan topscored with 37, part-time model Kabir Ali picked four wickets for England and a spinner of Ian Blackwell's calibre conceded only 24 runs in his 10 overs as the Indian batting line-up stood thoroughly exposed after their spectacular collapse for 203 in 46.4 overs.

Doubtful starter till he took the field, Virender Sehwag (7) began with a four off James Anderson as the morning crowd squirmed in anticipation of a big knock from their son of the soil. But Anderson banged it short in his next over and Sehwag's mistimed pull spooned up to find Liam Plunkett's safe pair of hands at midwicket.

Gautam Gambhir (25) sliced the first delivery of the day just short of the airborne point fielder and had a James Anderson delivery stuck in his helmet before he got into the groove.

Otherwise as solid as his nickname suggests, Rahul The Wall Dravid (34) also added to the drama when he edged Kabir Ali but Owais Shah grassed the catch with the batsman on zero and the home captain was soon in his composed self.

Just when Gambhir looked wriggling out of his bad patch, Kabir Ali marred his comeback party in his eventful fifth over. Gambhir's spectacular pulled off Kabir Ali took the aerial route over the square leg boundary while the next ball scorched through the grass in the same region. Kabir Ali, however, proved third time lucky as he induced the left-hander to edge and Geraint Jones pouched it diving to his left.

India were 56 for two at that stage. Gambhir's 27-ball knock included three boundaries and a six.

Another jolt awaited the hosts just two runs away as Yuvraj Singh (1) drove onto the sumps a Kabir Ali delivery and India looked in dire straits at 58 for three.

Mohammad Kaif (4) is no alien to such crunch situations but Geraint Jones nipped any such bail-out prospect in the bud when collected a Kabir Ali throw to run out a diving Kaif.

Andrew Flintoff tightened the noose and introduced Liam Plunkett, who got the ball kick and rear off the pitch. The pacer did the trick in the second over when he pushed a ball through Dravid's gate and India thus lost their top half with the score reading 80 in 19.5 overs. With the five frontline batsmen cooling their heels in the pavilion, the left-handed duo of Irfan Pathan (28 off 43 balls, 4x4) and Suresh Raina (24) got along to rebuild the innings without fuss.

Raina drove Plunkett to mid off boundary to bring Indias 100 in 23.1 overs and followed it with a classic, squatting cover drive off the pacer.

The pugnacious Uttar Pradesh lad, after adding 58 runs for the sixth wicket with Pathan, threw away his wicket just when he seemed good for a half century and it was a soft dismissal as his casually drove Blackwell to Paul Collingwood at midwicket. Raina's 24 came off 52 balls and included three boundaries and his departure left India at 138 for six.

Pathan too joined Raina in the pavilion soon after his straight drive off Blackwell was pouched by Plunkett at mid off and India lost seven wickets when they reached 150 in 36.4 overs.

Runs dried up as Mahendra Singh Dhoni (20) and Harbhajan (37) played the patient game for some times before the latter picked Plunkett for special treatment, first hocking him over mid on for a six and then clearing the fine leg rope.

Dhoni also joined the party, hitting the pacer for two boundaries but Plunkett had the last laugh when Dhonis slash found Collingwood at gully and India slumped to 201 for eight.

Harbhajan's heroics with the bat came to and end when he drove Kabir Ali stright to Flintoff at cover. Top scorer of the innings, the Turbanator scored 37 from 46 balls with three fours and a six. S Sreesanth spooned a simple catch for Kevin Pietersen to give Kabir Ali his fourth wicket of the match and curtain was dropped on the Indian innings.


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