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By Arunabha Sengupta
Lord’s: Jul 17, 2014
For a moment it looked that the English batsmen would be out in the middle soon, to bat for most of the final session. Wickets, that had fallen with a regularity to put nine pins to shame in the previous session, looked like continuing to tumble when India resumed their innings after tea. And then came a partnership that stood like a dam against the splashing throes of English delight.
Once again Bhuvneshwar Kumar proved that he could bat and could do so with aplomb. And Ajinkya Rahane, as is always the case when he gets going, batted like a dream. It took just two and a half overs for England to strike in the third session. James Anderson brought one back and it struck Stuart Binny on the thigh pad. It was perhaps going over the stumps, but Bruce Oxenford thought it would hit the stumps.
Kumar, with two fifties and a five wicket haul under his belt in the series, started with a delightful flick to the midwicket boundary. The Indian No 9 looked distinctly more accomplished than some of the batsmen who had come in in ahead of him in the innings. He got into position with poise, covered the swing with confidence, left with ease and got behind the line with conviction.
After Anderson had bowled three overs after tea, the red headed Stokes replaced him. There was plenty of zip and swing. It was the 66th over, and the ball was still moving – and in the conventional way. A short leg was positioned for Kumar and the balls probed at a short of good length and some nipped away. And Kumar, head down, poise written all over him, negotiated him really well.
At the other end, Moeen continued, in the midst of a rather useful spell, finally doing his job of holding up one end. Rahane, correct and composed, drove him through cover for four. His was turning out to be a delight. Stuart Broad replaced Stokes. Cook was using his bowlers in short bursts under the rather tyrannical sun. Broad started with two half-volleys and was driven twice by Rahane, both the strokes going straight to mid-off. The bowler insisted on having a cover. And with the off-side reinforced, Rahane drove through the gap for four. Often it takes slightly increased challenge to bring that extra amount of panache into classy batting.
In the next over, Liam Plunkett, struggling with his dodgy hamstring ran in and pitched short. He was carved away through the covers. Rahane had battled alone for much of the innings, and was looking increasingly solid. Kumar, looking more impressive with every over, drove Broad through the covers, down the slope for four just below where Father Time watched. The partnership was assuming imposing proportions.
Plunkett pitched short and Rahane slammed him cross batted through the offside to the extra cover boundary. It brought up the half century for the diminutive batsman, a superlative effort in extenuating circumstances. It had taken him 101 balls and was etched with seven crisp boundaries. He repeated the stroke to the last ball of the over and got four more. At the other end Kumar was steady, having faced more than 50 balls. For the third consecutive innings he was showing accomplishment and capability with the willow which advocated a much higher position than No 9. When Stokes bowled on his pads, he nonchalantly flicked him for four.
Plunkett reverted to round the wicket, once again an inexplicable ploy in these conditions. A leg slip came in, as did a short leg. There was only one slip in place. One ball angled across Rahane and beat him outside off. Others went by like idle wind that threatened him not. When Plunkett bounced at the body, Rahane pulled him twice, once for two and once for four. It brought up the first fifty partnership of the innings. With three men on the fence between deep square leg and fine leg, Plunkett bounced again. Rahane hooked again, this one all along the ground for one.
Drinks were brought into the ground in the midst of this high pitched battle. After five hours, the score read 196 for seven. Rahane on 61, Kumar 18. After the break, Stokes ran in with the same red head but with slightly diminished flame. Rahane showed him the full face of the bat and it went down the ground for three. Kumar steered him down to the third man fence for four. The total was past 200.
England seemed to be running out of ideas. The partnership was 58 and Plunkett bowled two balls from round the wicket that soared over the head of Rahane. The third was short and into the body, pulled away between deep square leg and long leg for four. It was bad bowling mixed with masterly batting. With Kumar on strike, Cook was back to the field of silly point, short leg, leg slip and slip, trying to bounce him out. The batsman had few problems. As the Englishmen started biding their time for the second new ball, the bowling became slightly wild. Stokes sprayed it down the leg side and it went through for four byes. As Anderson charged in with the new ball from the Pavilion end, the score was 223 for seven, Rahane 74, Kumar 28.
Anderson sprayed out-swingers in the first over with the new ball, pitching short and way outside off-stump. Rahane had nothing to do with them. When one was pitched up and in line, he drove down the ground for four. The innings was going from strength to strength.
All eyes were on Broad as he came in to Kumar. The first ball was punched past mid-on for four. He moved into his 30s. The fourth ball was short and Kumar cut it through the off-side for four. The last ball caught the batsman in indecision, he went back instead of forward, and the ball went through to crash into the stumps. Kumar looked morose as he walked back. However, the 36 he scored off 84 balls stood out against the backdrop of middle order disasters like a lotus in a pile of slush.
With Mohammed Shami joining him, Rahane cut loose. He clipped Anderson to fine leg for four. The next ball came in and he played it with a straight bat, over the bowler’s head, and it landed in front of the Member’s box for an amazing six. When Shami was exposed to Broad, the ball disappeared to square leg for four. The young Indian bowlers batted with pluck. The score raced past 250.
Anderson bounced again in the next over. Rahane pulled him twice, forward of square on each occasion, and the ball thudded into the advertisement hoardings. He was now 98, a couple of runs away from becoming the Indian to score a hundred at Lord’s.
Shami was up to the task. The first ball from Broad’s over was tucked to the leg for a single. Three tight balls followed. And the fifth was glanced to fine leg for one. Shami needed to survive the next ball. He creamed it to the offside boundary. Anderson came in and with the field closing in, Rahane stood tall and punched it through the covers for four. The young man took off his helmet and looked heavenwards and Lord’s rose in appreciation. It was a chanceless gem of an innings, the century coming in 151 balls, with 15 fours and a six, the last 50 off 50 deliveries. He did not last too long after that, driving Anderson straight back to the bowler.
It was an innings that stood between tame surrender and a respectable score, and sparkled like the lone jewel amidst debris that were scattered all around. The last few overs defied logic. With Anderson bowling to Shami, there were three slips and six men on the fence around the perimeter. The tail-ender tried a number of upper cuts and none came off, much to the dismay of the man at deep third man. The field was brought in for Ishant Sharma. Once the No 11 hoicked towards the leg to get a top edge over slips for four, an old fashioned fly slip was positioned. When Broad bowled into the body, Ishant fended and the man deep behind the slips ran across but could not stop the boundary.
The day ended with India on 290 for nine, much of the slide of the second session resisted with some the exceptional Rahane aided by plucky tail-enders. In the context of the pitch, it is more than a respectable score, especially keeping in mind the circumstances at tea interval.
Anderson has been the peak of the English bowlers so far, but his figures were somewhat spoiled by Rahane’s tactics late in the day.However, even the England spearhead erred in length once too often. The pitch is expected to ease out as the game goes on, but will probably play in similar fashion for most of tomorrow. It will make for most interesting to see how England fare against these conditions tailor made for the Indian seamers.
(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)
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