Ravindra Jadeja’s attacking innings put India back on top © Getty Images
By Arunabha Sengupta
Lord’s: Jul 20, 2014
The first session of the day was one of those couple of hours when Test cricket elevates itself into the greatest sport of the world. Yes, maybe I am biased, but the two hours of fascinating action has only made my partiality more pronounced. It started with simmering hard boiled delight and ended with spicy fizzy ecstasy.
The day, which had dawned with the sun smiling amidst gloriously blue skies, saw the game start under floodlights. Clouds had gathered, some of them dark and ominous. London weather is like the most devious of bowlers with guile and variations to confuse the most seasoned.
Stuart Broad opened from the Nursery End and the first over produced 12 runs, four of them leg byes, the rest from an outside edge and two delectable Murali Vijay caresses, an dicey boundary through third man and a couple of braces on the leg side. The partnership between Vijay and MS Dhoni was now over fifty, and India had got off to a splendid start.
Within three overs, Broad complained vehemently about the bowling run up and out ran three members of the groundstaff, with various instruments, looking equipped to dig down to the Antipodes.
From the Pavilion end, James Anderson kept his length outside the off-stump, perhaps a trifle too wide, and the Indian captain was not really interested in nibbling at any. Broad kept up a good line and was again frustrated by a Vijay edge through the slip and gully. The Indian opener was into his seventies.
After six overs, Liam Plunkett was introduced into the attack from the Nursery End. Vijay drove him straight, the full face of the bat in view, the ball thudding into the boards in front of the sight screen. The partnership was 68. Dhoni was on just 14, he had faced 75 balls. After some curious methods employed on the previous afternoon, the Indian skipper was showing great restraint.
As the floodlights were switched off, Ben Stokes came on from the Pavilion End. The ground was almost packed to the brim, even the Members Stand filled early on the Sunday morning with red and gold hats and ties. Vijay creamed the new bowler through extra cover for four to move into the eighties. Dhoni turned him to the deep square and scampered away for a hasty couple to bring up the 200.
Just as the England team was getting frustrated, the Indian skipper left. Plunkett cramped him on the crease, the ball was just on length and Dhoni’s prod ended in the hands of Ian Bell in the second slip. The captain’s 19 had come in 86 balls. He was never comfortable but had hung in there with plenty of patience. The innings did not amount to much but the partnership of 79 with Vijay was crucial in the context of the match. It was 202 for five and the match was again precariously poised.
Stuart Binny was promoted ahead of Ravindra Jadeja. With four overs remaining for the new ball, Moeen Ali was introduced to hasten the overs. The new batsman jumped out, attempting to hit the spinner out of the ground, against the break. Captain Alastair Cook ran back from mid-off and held an excellently judged catch. After all the feats of discipline and concentration, it was a rather needless show of bravado. At the stroke of the hour England had come back with a couple of wickets. The match still did not have a clear leader.
Ravindra Jadeja, moved down the order, walked in and drove Moeen through the on side for four. The next ball was tossed up and Jadeja rushed out to hoik him down the ground. The leading age took the ball to deep point and Vijay was intent on rushing back for a tight third, perhaps to keep Jadeja from getting back on strike against Moeen.
There were plenty of moments with hearts leaping into the mouths of the Indian spectators. One from Plunket held up on Vijay, and the checked drive just about eluded the bowler twisting the other way on his follow through. With the resulting three Vijay moved into his nineties. Jadeja relieved the tension with a fluent drive through the covers for four. With the score on 225 for six, the new ball was taken. The lead had just crossed 200.
After all the controversy between the Tests, Jadeja faced Anderson for the first time in this match. The bowler had the advantage of a shining new cherry. And the southpaw jumped down the track to hit him down the ground. The inside edge took it to deep mid-wicket for a brace.
From the other end ran in Broad. Vijay drove him through the covers down the hill for three. Jadeja clipped the last ball of the over to fine leg for four. Jadeja was upto 19 from 17 balls. The entry of the left-hander had added some fizz into this already delightful concoction.
And then the biggest blow was struck. Anderson moved one away short of a good length, Vijay played at it, and the edge was taken held gleefully by Matt Prior. A dejected Vijay dragged himself back for an impeccable 95, made from 247 balls over six hours and 17 minutes. He failed by five runs to get his name onto the honours board at this home of cricket, but no innings has ever been more valuable. It was 235 for seven.
The pugnacious Bhuvneshwar Kumar was greeted with a reception of a cluster of slips. He played straight as he has all through the series, but got off the mark with a dodgy inside edge off Broad. The next ball was short and Jadeja mistimed a pull and ran furiously for two.
The next over started with Anderson steaming down round the wicket to Jadeja. And the batsman jumped down the track and drove it through covers for four. The methods were outrageous, the results positive. The two batsmen picked quick singles, ran hard for twos. Anderson pleaded beseechingly for a leg before decision, but was turned down. Words were exchanged. The contest could not get better.
Kumar hung his bat out to Broad and the ball went straight through Joe Root’s hands in fourth slip. A run resulted as the fielder remonstrated with heaven. Broad ran in round the wicket to Jadeja and he hoisted him straight batted over his head one bounce into the fence. The 250 of the innings was up. A ball later Broad pitched short and it was pulled with blistering force to the mid-wicket boundary. Jadeja was on 36 from 27 balls.
Anderson ran in again and pitched slightly short of length and Kumar drove him, handsome and graceful, through to the square boundary on the off side. He followed it up with an on drive for an all-run four. Twenty had come off the last two overs; 32 had been added at more than five an over.
The last over before lunch was bowled by Broad, no room for Moeen in these tense circumstances. A run was added, gasps were heard. At lunch India stood at 267 for seven, 243 ahead. Jadeja was on 37 from 30. Another half hour of the all-rounder and the match can run away from England. As usual, the match hangs on a knife’s edge.
(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)