Indian batting displayed its true strengths and potential on the second day at the oval as they piled 348 more runs in addition to their overnight score of 316 runs. Indian first innings ended at a mammoth 664 all out but not before the cricket fans were treated to a feast of batting.
In Test cricket, half the match is won if the team batting first piles up a big enough total in the first innings and aims for an overwhelming result of an innings victory over the opposition. The Australians have perfected this art and hence they are the number one side in the world now. It is very special to see the Indians getting into this act and executing it in conditions away from home. Cricket is a funny game and we have seen sides squander, given the best of batting conditions.
Nothing of that sort happened today and the Indians made the best use of the pitch and started from where they left on day 1.
England bowling was found much in wanting and their quality was exposed a great deal by a superlative Indian batting. A tally of over 50 in the extras, wickets for part-timers like Collingwood and Pietersen, and the absence of Sidebottom for a significant part of the day, made the English bowling look pedestrian and ineffective; full marks to the Indian team for taking full advantage of the wayward English bowling and putting up a total that reflected a complete team effort.
Cricket is a team game and it takes all members of a side to contribute one way or the other for writing a success story. Today, the Indian batting was no less than a spotless team effort, with almost all batsmen contributing significantly with the willow, which made the mammoth 600 plus score a reality.
Tendulkar and Laxman started the day's proceedings and the latter's innings had class stamped all over it -studded with 10 glorious hits to the fence. When the best of batsmen in world cricket today is willing to wait and spend a good time in the crease, it is ominous for the opposition. Laxman and Tendulkar built 78 for the fifth wicket before Laxman was dismissed. Tendulkar's hard-working innings was once again left unrewarded as he was dismissed caught in the slips for a well-made 82.
417/6 could have easily become 450 – 460 all out, with the tail-enders meekly surrendering their wickets, but that was not to be. The determination of the lower order to contribute runs to the team’s kitty is what separates a normal team from a great team.
The Indian lower order showed grit and confidence in scoring runs. The final four wickets fell to a substantial addition of 247 runs, but there was more to it than mere statistics. Mahendra Singh Dhoni was in his usual belligerent mood, smashing a quick-fire 92 of just 81 deliveries and his innings was studded with 9 fours and four sixes.
The baton of run scoring changed from the belligerent Dhoni to a determined Kumble. A batsman, after getting a body blow, can easily develop mental block and fade away. It takes a strong character to show determination to fight it out in the middle, and Anil Kumble is not new to this as he had shown us in the West Indies in 2002, when he was hit in the chin while batting and still came back to bowl and claim Brian Lara's wicket. This time it was his batting that made all the difference, for a change!! He has the earned the distinction of being the first Indian to score a century in this series. This knock is perfectly befitting a man who has won many a matches for India in his glorious career, and perhaps, in his final Test in England. Kumble's unbeaten 110 was studded with as many as 16 hits to the fence and one over the ropes as well. Sreesanth, Zaheer Khan and RP Singh also chipped in with decent contributions to help Kumble reach his century and take India to a commanding position in this Test match.
England have only themselves to blame for some bad bowling, ordinary fielding and mediocre behind-the-stumps effort, with byes accounting 33 of the total 54 extras, much to the dismay of Matt Prior. Wicket-keepers in cricket are best judged by the number of byes they concede and England seems to be lacking in that area as well.
Lots to cheer for India on their on-field exploits today and lots to think for the England team management at the end of the second day's play at the Oval. With Kumble scoring a 100, one would fancy his bowling to come good for India. If it does happen, this test might well be remembered for Kumble’s exploits and greatness as a tough cricketer.
Coming to the English batting, if the Indian bowlers can get Michael Vaughan and Kevin Pieterson out early, it will be half the match won. I am looking forward to more positive cricket from the Indians, as do the millions of you fans of Indian cricket out there.