Ishant Sharma’s (left) inspired display tore the English middle order apart on Day 4 © Getty Images
By Arunabha Sengupta
Lord’s: Jul 20, 2014
As the glorious day drew to a close, the sun disappeared, floodlights were switched on, the backdrop was rendered exciting with flashes of lightning. And the match winded its way into a nerve racking classic as finally, at the end of the fourth scintillating day, the balance at last tilted to one side. As the players walked out, the Indians were well and truly on top.
Ravindra Jadeja’s first few balls of the final session turned, one struck the bat and pad and flew in front of the wicket. MS Dhoni added another man in front of the wicket on the leg side to go with the forward and backward short legs. Only a slip and mid-off prowled and patrolled the offside.
As Bhuvneshwar Kumar operated from the Pavilion end, Gary Ballance broke the shackles by cutting a short one to the point boundary. An over later Alastair Cook drove through mid-off for four. Bhuvneshwar also ran into the danger area in his follow-through, and was given an official warning by Bruce Oxenford.
Murali Vijay was introduced and Jadeja was switched to the Pavilion end. The two England batsmen negotiated the spin without too many problems. The fifty was brought up with an outside edge off Jadeja through the slips.
The bowling was shuffled around, ends and bowlers switched around. In another curious tactic, MS Dhoni stood back to the left-arm spinner. Vacant confused stares did rounds in the Media Centre, no one able to deduce the thinking behind it.
Jadeja created some anxious flutters, one lobbed just short of Virat Kohli at backward short-leg with the fielder reacting slightly late. The fifty of the partnership was brought up — a fighting collaboration. Cook, not yet certain was tentative but Ballance more confident in his forward stride. England had not shown too much confidence in the first hour, but the progress had been steady. Ishant Sharma, working up a good spell from the Pavilion end, bowled a steady line.
It was slow going. The spectators indulged themselves in a round of Mexican waves. A disgruntled local journalist to my left was not too impressed, mumbling rather uncharitably that such behaviour was more suited to the Regent Park Zoo.
And the tedium was broken by four overs that whisked the secure platform away from under the feet of the Englishmen, and their innings tottered. After an intriguing spell by Jadeja, Mohammed Shami was introduced from the Nursery end. The very first ball was outside the off-stump, Ballance stuck his bat out, feeling for it, and Dhoni threw the ball up with unbridled delight. The second wicket had fallen just when things were looking dodgy for India. It was 70 for two.
Bell came in and lasted only four balls. Ishant’s delivery kept low, held its line and the bat was thrust inside the line. The ball crashed into the stumps. After four probing deliveries to the new batsman Joe Root, Ishant’s figures at that juncture read 8-4-5-1.
He was still not done. The second ball of the following over provided another crippling blow. The ball was in the perfect zone outside off-stump, sliding away, ideal for a batsman struggling for his form. Cook, having battled with plenty of resolve, tentatively held his bat out. Dhoni’s face broke into a wide grin as he snapped it up and launched it skywards. The 93-ball vigil had failed to inject a glimmer of brightness into Cook’s murky tale of woes. He left with a mournful look on his face. In a short period of four overs, the game had shifted totally towards India. From 70 for one England had slipped and stumbled to 72 for four.
Moeen Ali and Root batted the last few overs with quite a few moments of panic and strokes of fortune. Jadeja struck Moeen on the pads, right in front of the stumps, and Kumar Dharmasena remained unmoved in spite of vociferous, extended pleading by the Indians. The replays showed that the ball would have crashed into the middle of the middle stump. In the next over from Jadeja, Moeen attempted a sweep. The ball lobbed from his glove. Dhoni, had he stuck to standing back, would have had a dolly coming his way. As it transpired, he had come up to the wicket again, making the catch somewhat more difficult. The Indian captain juggled and down went the ball.
The last over of the day was sent down by Shikhar Dhawan, bowling his variety of off breaks. Even his occasional offering produced two ear-splitting appeals – for a leg before and a catch at bat-pad, both against Moeen.
England finished the day at 105 for four, needing 214 on the final day. Root and Moeen need to bat as long as possible on the final morning. For now, the advantage is securely with India. However, this dream Test match has continued to entrance and astonish and it may well be heading for the grandest of finales.
(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)