IT TURNED out yesterday that the horrific story of three England cricketers being hit by pellets while fielding on the boundary was a load of small balls. The Indian papers, if not the authorities, poured scorn on the peculiar English sense of humour and the squeamishness of their players as the teams prepared for the sixth - if not definitely decisive - one-day international in Bombay tomorrow.
The tourists won the fifth match by two runs here, despite the pellets and their own fielding errors after demonstrating a collective determination which was almost frightening and was certainly novel in its intensity.
India's formidable batting, as embodied by Sachin Tendulkar, makes them favourites to win the series 4-2 at the Wankhede Stadium tomorrow, but a 3-3 draw is now not as ridiculous as it once seemed.
To England it would represent real progress. To India it would mean the inevitable sacking of their captain, Sourav Ganguly.
What was initially feared by England to be serious crowd misconduct which threatened their players here on Thursday - a scenario promoted by England officials who talked of a pellet gun being fired - was downgraded to a bit of fun involving a couple of bhopoos, the little paper trumpets blown by small children. The official line was that it might have been dangerous, but it wasn't.
The Hindustani Times said of the incident, that although English teams had developed a reputation for being squeamish, they largely "proved reasonably well-behaved this time round. Until the pellets rained down on them. Or at least they thought they did." Andrew Flintoff, the last of the trio to be struck by what "felt like a sting" said: "I was worried because I wasn't wearing sunglasses and obviously thought about my eyes. Otherwise I probably would have let it go.
"There's always things being thrown on the boundary here but it doesn't cause too many problems with a plastic bottle or a banana. …