India are ahead by 145 runs © Getty Images
It has been a fascinating second Test match between India and England so far at Lord’s, and the fourth day promises to take the drama to rarefied levels of suspense. Arunabha Sengupta writes that the first session will be the key to the way the rest of this riveting game unfolds.
Riveting Test match even with the run-rate barely touching the three runs per over mark. The crowd packed to the limits, almost spilling out into the ground, perched precariously on the edge of their seats. The opening batsman leaving ball after ball, intent on occupying the crease, runs accumulated as a by-product of tenacity. The weather office getting things ridiculously wrong every day. It is almost a throwback to the past.
The weather channels predicted stoppages on Saturday, including a hail storm. They just about stopped short of snow. And after the initial stint of threatening clouds and action under floodlights, we had another glorious day of cricket, with the sun winning the game of hide and seek with the clouds and the blue increasing patch by patch until it was an almost unbroken dome over the hallowed ground.
On Sunday, the day dawned bright and cloudless, and the only wrinkle comes from the forecast of showers in the afternoon, sometime during the post tea session. Even if it does rain, will this amazing Test match have a clear direction by then?
The game has been a steady battle of attrition with tiny blips for and against the sides. There was one point in the first afternoon when a flurry of Indian wickets had given England the upper hand, a phase during the post lunch session on the third day when a solid second wicket partnership promised a robust platform for India, and a brief but blistering period when India lost three quick and massive wickets in the final session of the day when England seemed to be running away with the game. But each time a side has tended to get ahead, the other has struck back. It has been that sort of a Test match, finely balanced on a knife’s edge.
As has been the repeated mantra after every preceding session, the next couple of hours will be of huge importance. A couple of early wickets and England will be into the Indian tail, which, in spite of the potential for twists and stings, happens to be rather long. A good session with the bat, and India will find themselves in the driver’s seat, with England slotted to bat last on this wicket which still has a lot for the bowlers, is generating increasingly uneven bounce and is expected to help the spinners in the last few sessions.
Murali Vijay has looked the perfect Test batsman, with the ideal temperament to bat for long, long periods. MS Dhoni has survived for over an hour in spite of some curious methods to counter the testing offerings of Liam Plunkett and Stuart Broad. It is important for them to bat together for a while on this fourth morning to add the finishing touches to the platform for the lower-order to build on. Vijay’s presence as the constant, reassuring and binding agent for the Indian innings is essential. England, on the other hand, will be looking for wickets — but will also be intent on keeping things tight, with 17 overs to go for the second new ball. Will the Indian team management shuffle the order and send in Stuart Binny, and even Bhuvneshwar Kumar, ahead of Ravindra Jadeja because of their more robust technique to deal with such conditions? It remains to be seen.
The stage is set for a dramatic fourth day of one of the most fascinating Test matches of recent times.
Complete coverage of India’s tour of England 2014
(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry.He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)