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By Arunabha Sengupta
Lord’s: Jul 19, 2014
As the day grew older, the sun got brighter streaming into the media centre making the press men in the front row squint to view their laptop screens. The sky was a wide expanse of blue with the occasional dab of harmless, friendly white fluff. And as the field was baked by the heat, the match that was served up simmering and spicy was fit for the gourmets among cricketing gods.
Ben Stokes bowled a probing spell just after tea, bringing the ball back into the batsmen, drawing a false stroke or two, striking Cheteshwar Pujara painfully on the hand. But the Indian No 3 came back strongly, cutting him between gully and point for four. In the next over from the red headed pacer, Murali Vijay drove through the covers, languid and graceful in the midst of his ascetic restraint. The hundred was up. He followed it up with a steer played late to third man, the touch soothing and elegant. In the press box, Julian Guyer of AFP remarked, “It’s amazing. This bloke can’t make up his mind whether he is Sanjay Bangar or Mohammad Azharuddin.”
In the refreshment area of the Media Centre stood the man who could have been an invaluable asset to the England side. Graeme Swann seemed to be enjoying himself in his role as a commentator, looking cheerful as he sat at a table, while his teammates rued the lack of a quality spinner. The hours of application was bearing fruit. Runs were flowing freer, Pujara chopping Anderson down to thirdman for four. Fortune was also siding staunchly with the Indians. A faint touch of wood off Stuart Broad ran away to the fine leg boundary adding four to Pujara’s score.
And then Liam Plunkett struck twice at the blink of an eye, bringing England right back into the game. The ball moved slightly away, Pujara pushed away from his body and Matt Prior threw up the catch. All the four innings so far has seen the Saurashtra batsman bat for long periods, planting every seed of patience, without going on to reap the harvest in full. This time he walked back for 43 scored over two hours.
Virat Kohli walked in to a hero’s welcome from the Indians in the crowd. The next delivery slid in off the slope, Kohli shouldered arms, and the stumps were shattered. The confounded Indian vice-captain stood there for a while, unable to believe his eyes, ears or judgement. The score stood at 118 for three, the lead 94. The England bowlers ran in with a new and vigorous shot in the arm. Every time there was a hint of swing, the slips went up with agonised howls.
Ajinkya Rahane, fresh from his first innings hundred, walked in to save the hat-trick. He did so without much trouble and opened his innings with a steered boundary down to thirdman. And then Broad came charging in, pitching short and at the body. The ball shot up, took Rahane’s arm guard and went up in the air. Prior came running from behind the wicket towards backward square leg, flung himself forward and held it inches from the ground. The batsman could not believe it when Bruce Oxenford raised his finger. Three wickets had been lost for five runs in the space of 19 balls. It was 123 for four.
MS Dhoni opened his account with a cut over the slips for four. The following ball saw him walking down the wicket, Broad pitched short and the batsman evaded the ball in his walk, turning towards extra-cover. Later in the over he allowed a short of length ball hit him just above the elbow without offering a shot. The Indian captain did not rub his arm. There was plenty of guts on show, but standing on outrageous methods. He kept living in dangerous inaction. Twice he let Plunkett deliveries hit his pad, and vociferous appeals were turned down. But, with luck and tenacity he managed to survive the hostile combination of Broad and Plunkett. When Broad pitched up, he drove him down the ground for four.
At the other end Vijay was the same spartan self, stripping his game of the trappings and frills that bodedill. When Anderson replaced Broad from the Pavilion end, he drove him uppishly through the covers for four. He clipped the next one to fine leg for four to bring up his half century in over four hours, off 162 balls; an innings of incredible character. With fast bowlers operating, the bowling rate was slow. England were still 13 overs short when the clock ticked over to six. With the match situation being what it was, the comic relief provided by Moeen Ali were not about to be invoked.
Ben Stokes replaced Plunkett after his spectacular spell of two for 11 from seven overs.Dhoni negotiated him somewhat more comfortably, without invoking those unorthodox ploys. As minutes ticked by, India played for stumps, the shadows of the floodlight over the Warner Stand stretched over the pitch. With every ball bowled the Indian supporters held their breath, especially when the captain squared up to face. The last few overs by Anderson was bowled with the ball well hidden, striving to get that reverse swing. Vijay played him with the straightest of bats, only when it veered into the stumps.
With six minutes to go, Plunkett was brought back. And Dhoni again wandered in the direction of extra cover, and it missed the leg stump by a whisker. The bowler stood, his hands on his head. The crowd gasped. Dhoni pushed the next ball for a single and there was a sigh of relief in the Indian parts of the ground. Vijay played the remaining four balls with the same calm assurance that had been his signature throughout the innings. There was general relief among the Indian press contingent as Moeen was seen ambling in to bowl the final over.
At the end of the day India stood at 169 for four, Vijay on 59 from 190 balls, having batted for four hours and 44 minutes. It has been a knock to go down in the cricketing annals in characters of pure gold. Dhoni had also managed to survive, batting on 12 from 51, having spent 71 minutes at the crease with some luck and plenty of guts. The partnership has been worth 46 and has pulled India back again after three big middle-order wickets threatened to put England on top. The lead is 145.
There is still no real clear leader in the match. Again, much will depend on the way the exchanges pan out during the first hour tomorrow. The weather forecast, which had bizarrely predicted storm and hail today, shows lovely sunshine on the morrow and on Monday. This glorious game deserves nothing less.
(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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