Ishant Sharma struck off the final ball of the session to put india ahead © Getty Images (File Photo)
Ishant Sharma struck off the final ball of the session to put india ahead © Getty Images (File Photo)

By Arunabha Sengupta

Lord’s: Jul 21, 2014

It was dull and murky as play started on the fifth morning, the floodlights coming into play early.

Yet, the pall of gloom that had settled around England’s fortunes were stripped away by slow and painstaking progress. But, in spite of the overnight pair sticking to the wicket like a pair of limpets, the game remained precariously poised. Just as the session was about to end, Joe Root proceeded to light up the ground with a few bright strokes that seized the initiative for England. And at the stroke of lunch a vital strike by Ishant Sharma restored the balance yet again removing Moeen Ali.

Ravindra Jadeja and Ishant started the operations in the morning. Moeen got the first runs on the board with a pleasing drive through the covers, and then nicked one through the slips for four. That was to be the story of the session, occasional moments of comfort interspersed with periods of anxiety.

With Moeen on strike, MS Dhoni initially stood back to Jadeja as he had done the previous evening. The line remained in the rough, some turned disconcertingly. A sharp one down the leg side was collected down the leg side by the Indian captain. It would almost certainly have been four byes if he had been standing up.

Root was beaten outside the off by Ishant, the next one took his outside edge and dropped just short of first slip. Was Shikhar Dhawan standing too deep? The last ball of the over was steered through third slip and gully for three. It was gripping, tense, and the England batsmen were fighting hard. A fluent Moeen drive through the covers brought up the fifty of the partnership.

Not much was happening for the Indian bowlers. And after half an hour in the morning, the first change as the surprise form of Dhawan. He came in round the wicket to left-handed Moeen and pitched an atrocious two feet outside the leg-stump. Four byes resulted. The Indian opener was taken off after a solitary over.

Bhuvneshwar Kumar, introduced from the Pavilion end, bowled steadily, conceding just 11 runs off eight very tidy overs. What he lacked was the movement that had proved so troublesome to the batsmen in the first innings. After a short burst from Shami, Jadeja returned from the Nursery end. The progress remained slow, the bowling tight. Runs were rare, a couple of Moeen boundaries punctuating a quiet attritional period.

Fifteen minutes before lunch flashes of strokeplay provided a much needed contrast to the bleak morning’s play. Ishant ran in and Root struck him delightfully, thrice in four balls, two drives through cover and mid-off and a cut past point. His fifty was greeted by grateful applause by the England spectators. Moeen, perhaps influenced by Root’s new-found belligerence, lofted Jadeja over mid-on for two. The two young English batsmen had demonstrated plenty of guts and gumption to pull England back.

And then, having been hammered for plenty in the previous over, Ishant roared back to make one rear at Moeen. The batsman took his eyes off and fended at it, and it lobbed to Cheteshwar Pujara at short-leg. The 101 run partnership came to an end with the last ball before lunch. England still need 146 to win with five wickets in hand in the final session. The new ball is due in four overs, and much will depend on how the Indian bowlers use it. The match continues to hang in balance over a knife’s edge.

Complete coverage of India’s tour to England here

(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)