Bhuvneshwar Kumar puts India in the driver’s seat at Lords © Getty Images
By Arunabha Sengupta
Lord’s: Jul 18, 2014
By lunch on the second day, the Test match is locked in an intense battle, the bat and the ball engaged in a riveting and equal contest. After the deadest of tracks at Trent Bridge, the green surface of Lord’s is producing an intriguing game of cricket, and after the first session of the second day, it rests on the knife’s edge with India just ahead by a whisker. It took 10 balls for England to knock over the last Indian wicket on the second morning. The early clouds had cleared and the sun smiled down, hinting at another bright, hot and sultry day. Mohammed Shami got four from an inside edged French cut before nicking one from Ben Stokes. Alastair Cook held on his second attempt; 295 was quite an imposing total given the circumstances.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar ran in to Cook from the Nursery Road end with four slips in place. The ball swung in to him, and the struggling England captain played it with the middle of his bat, invoking scattered applause from around the stands. Sam Robson edged the first ball he faced just short of third slip, and opened his account with a leading edge through cover as he shaped to play on the leg side. The wicket had lost some of the greenish tinge from the day before, but there was swing aplenty for Bhuvneshwar. Occasionally he brought one jagging back into the right hander while his stock ball kept moving away.
From the Pavilion end, Shami kept the ball just short of good length, generating the occasional movement. An inside edge was drawn, luckily falling far from the perching short-leg. Bhuvneshwar swung them into Cook, drawing watchful forwards strokes. The first easy delivery to Cook was when Shami pitched on his legs, and the skipper gratefully clipped it to fine leg for four. A leg gully was positioned in response. Robson got going with a push down the ground for three off Bhuvneshwar, and followed it by clipping Shami to the deep square for two. After a while Cook forced Kumar past mid-wicket, down the hill for a boundary. The progress was slow. The opening attack was steady, the ball was moving — if not as prodigiously as the day before, but after the first few overs the English batsmen were beginning to look untroubled. And just then things started happening.
First Shami induced the edge from Robson, and Ajinkya Rahane dropped a sitter at second slip. They don’t come easier, and it underlined slip fielding as a department of the game India could do well to put some thought into. The disappointing groans had just died down when Kumar moved one away from Cook and the England captain, who had left several in the previous over, played at it. His opposite number caught it smartly, tumbling away to his left. The England skipper’s dismal run continued as he walked back for 10. Gary Ballance, the man in all sorts of news, walked in to join Robson. Drinks were called after 13 overs, England 29 for one.
It was Ishant Sharma who charged in after the break, trying to get some bounce. A leg gully perched for Ballance apart from the four slips. The enthusiasm was carried a bit far as balls were short and moved away from Ballance down the slope. Dhoni collected one in front of slip and Kumar Dharmasena spread his arms to signal wide. The last ball rapped Ballance on the pads, generating a loud appeal. The very next ball got a wicket. The break perhaps played tricks with Robson’s concentration. Bhuvneshwar moved one away off the slope, and the opener went for an expansive drive on the up. Dhoni gleefully held behind the wicket. Bhuvneshwar’s dream tour continued. It was 31 for two. Rahane’s miss had not proved expensive.
Ian Bell came in to bat at his favourite ground with a short extra cover crouching to welcome him along with the four slips. Bhuvneshwar, in the midst of a long spell in the heat, kept a probing line. Ben Stokes was seen making for the nursery ground in full batting gear, perhaps for a hit which looked likely to be needed soon. Bell stood out of his crease to counter the swing and up came Dhoni to the stumps. The batsman got off the mark with a steered boundary through the third slip and gully.
Shami replaced Ishant at the Pavilion end and beat Ballance several times outside the off-stump. In between the batsman punched him through the on side for two, ending a 27-ball scoreless period. As many were advocating, Ishant now ran in from the Nursery end, giving Bhuvneshwar a rest after a 10-over spell. Bell flicked him through the vacant onside field for four. The fifty of the innings came up in 22.1 overs. The progress was slow, often a struggle.
Bhuvneshwar was brought back for one over just before lunch. Dhoni was no mood to give any easy runs to the Englishmen. Two balls were struck well, both to hand. The last two were bowled from round the wicket. Balance survived. Lunch was taken at 51 for two. The left hander has looked tentative, even uncomfortable, as he has progressed to seven off 46 balls. Bell, with his vast experience, has been the more confident of the two. It is that sort of a match where one poor session can take the match away from a side. Every session and every part thereof will be crucial from now on.
(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)