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By Arunabha Sengupta
Lord’s: 19 Jul, 2014
The morning was greeted with scattered showers, some rumbling thunderclaps and a meticulously covered playing area. However, the rain stayed away, the sun occasionally peeped through the clouds, the covers were peeled off, the ridiculously many officials on the ground made their ways out of the arena and the umpires walked out right on time for the grand occasion of a Test match Saturday at Lord’s. And the first session provided some thrilling cricket, the virtual pendulum swinging this way and that, and in the end the balance remained steadfastly even.
The weather was dodgy to start with, rains predicted through the day, some unfriendly clouds set to come in from the south over the channel. But for the moment it did not look threatening. Ishant Sharma and Bhuvneshwar Kumar started the proceedings for India. Matt Prior, edgy to start with, fished outside the offstump, but when Kumar strayed on the legs, he clipped to the fine leg boundary.
Mohammed Shami replaced Ishant after just two overs from the Nursery End, and bowled at a quick, lively pace. Plenty happened in his first over. The first ball flew off the pitch and MS Dhoni could only parry it towards the fence for four byes. The second lobbed up from Prior’s thigh pad, Cheteshwar Pujara at short leg claimed the catch but was turned down. The third was edged, falling just short of Shikhar Dhawan at first slip, the fourth punched through mid-wicket for four. The fifth jagged back and was inside edged on to the pad. The final delivery beat the outside edge and thudded into Dhoni’s gloves. It was fiery stuff, cricket at its most interesting.
Meanwhile, Liam Plunkett was demonstrating more ability with the bat than he is credited for. A couple of backfoot drives were struck with considerable force. The next over saw Prior drive Shami through the covers down the slope for four, and Plunkett dispatched him through mid-wicket. The total was over 250 and runs were coming far too quickly for comfort. The strict restraint of discipline of the previous day was showing signs of wearing away.
By now, as Ishant replaced Kumar at the Pavilion end, the floodlights were switched on to counter the murkiness. Plunkett now drove off his front foot, through the covers, and the ball raced away for four. Ishant bounced him, and was pulled away with considerable relish to the mid-wicket boundary. Plunkett had raced away to 25, four fours in his last 12 balls.
Prior continued on the spree of strokemaking, driving Shami down the ground past mid-on. 46 runs had come in quick time during the first 40 minutes. And now, adrenaline surging in waves, the England stumper got carried away. Shami pitched short, Prior went for the pull, the ball took the top edge and went high up in the air over the slips. Dhawan ran back and held on to a difficult steepling catch. Once again India had pulled one back just as the game seemed to be running away from them. Shami’s furious spell had helped. The score was 266 for seven.
Plunkett meanwhile went on in his merry way, inside edging to fine leg, outside edging past third slip, meaty blows interspersed with streaky ones. The lead was less than 20 now. And once again it was Kumar who brought India right back in the game. The paceman from Uttar Pradesh sent one through the defence of Ben Stokes, bowling him off the back pad. And up he went on to the honour board at the home of cricket. No one deserved it more than this splendid young man.
Stuart Broad started in characteristic fashion, with a thick edge for four through the gully region off an extravagant drive. The very next ball was short and the batsman tried to hammer it through the off. The edge was pouched by Dhawan in the slip. Kumar had taken six and the score 280 for nine. And James Anderson, his new found batting mojo swirling inside him, hammered the second ball he faced to the cover boundary under the Grand Stand with an exquisite drive. A couple of overs later, he drove Kumar uppishly, just past Stuart Binny at mid-off. With this chancy boundary England had the lead. A quick single to point in the following over brought up the 300. Anderson celebrated by creaming a half-tracker from Shami past point. The England No 11 seemed to be carrying on from his long vigil at Trent Bridge.
At the other end, Plunkett drove Kumar, hard and handsome, through the covers for four. The next ball was shorter, and the thick outside edge went between the slips and gully for another boundary. He pushed the next to cover for a single to bring up his half century, first in Test cricket. The tail was continuing to be a menace in the series. The last wicket stand was now worth 34, and the Indians were growing jittery by the minute.
Ravindra Jadeja had to be introduced, after the tail had blunted the pace options. After five runs were scored by Plunkett of his first three balls, it was Anderson versus Jadeja for the first time in the match. Predictably, the reverse sweep was unfurled to the first ball, but the connection was with the glove. The ball went in a mild loop to Ajinkya Rahane at first slip. Jadeja’s lips parted in a wide smile under his trademark moustache. The last wicket stand had added 39 runs off just 43 balls in a thrilling collaboration. After adding exactly 100 runs in just 19.4 overs in the morning, England led by 24. Kumar’s figures read six for 82.Strangely, only one of the other four was taken by a pace bowler. Eight of the wickets had been captured while bowling from the Nursery End.
The sun shone brightly and the sky turned blue as the Indian openers walked out to negotiate the four overs before lunch. Dhawan edged past slips, Murali Vijay survived a confident shout for leg before. In between Dhawan steered a couple of boundaries through point. Eleven runs from the lead have been chipped away. Once again, a session has gone by with neither side managing to break ahead. The Indian top order will be looking for a stable and steady performance during the rest of the day. The match has turned out to be a great game of Test cricket.
(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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