Match hangs in balance as India need a further 378 runs to win

Rahul Dravid remained unbeaten on 34 at the close of day 4 Getty Images

London: Jul 24, 2011

India were left with the arduous task of batting out the entire fifth day to save the first Test after England recovered from a top-order collapse to set a daunting target of 458 at the Lords on Sunday.

The Indians lost opener Abhinav Mukund early as they reached 80 for one at stumps on an eventful penultimate day which saw wicketkeeper-batsman Matt Prior hit a heroic unbeaten 103 to pull England out of trouble.

At close of play on day four, Rahul Dravid was batting on 34, while VVS Laxman was giving him company on 32.

The visitors were forced to change the batting order after opener Gautam Gambhir was rushed to a hospital for an x-ray after being hit on the left arm by a full-blooded sweep from Prior while fielding at forward short leg just before tea.

Sachin Tendulkar, who missed most of England’s second innings due to viral infection, took the field only in the final session, and will only be able to bat at the number seven position.

It was a dramatic morning as England were reduced to a precarious 62 for five with Ishant Sharma wrecking havoc before Prior and Stuart Broad (74 not out) put on 162 runs for the seventh wicket to restore the hosts’ command over the match.

Ishant took the wickets of Jonathan Trott, first-innings double centurion Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell and Eoin Morgan to finish with impressive figures of four for 59, but what surprised many was skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s decision to not use Ishant straight after lunch.

On the final day on Monday, India will have to bat a minumum of 90 overs on a track which has all along helped the seam bowlers.

Even as a tough final day awaits India, their two best bet for such a situation, Dravid and Laxman, looked solid in the last session, putting on 61 runs for the second wicket.

Sachin Tendulkar did not field for the first 215 minutes of England’s batting today and the official word is that since India negotiated 117 minutes of batting on the fourth evening, it would be 98 more minutes on the final day, or the fall of the fifth wicket, whichever is earlier, for him to bat again.

As far as Gautam Gambhir was concerned, there was some good news as the x-ray reports have shown that the left-hander has only suffered a bruise and not a fracture.

The third fitness concern for the Indians was the hamstring strain of spearhead Zaheer Khan who could not bowl more than 13 overs in this match.

India started their chase on a steady note with Mukund looking good in the initial overs. He flicked Anderson to the fence and with Dravid square cutting the bowler for a four, India displayed positive intent.

Chris Tremlett, from the other end, though soon found his rhythm and at one stage sent down three successive maidens.

The introduction of Broad immediately brought good tidings for England as Mukund (12), like in the first innings, dragged a delivery from outside the off stump.

Then began a fascinating duel between two of India’s all-time best and England’s bowlers.

Laxman struck Tremlett for three successive fours once playing a rising delivery past widish mid-on, then driving one past cover point and rounding it of with a steer to third man.

Dravid backed himself against the spin of Graeme Swann and made use of virtually an unmanned off-side field.

Dravid has so far batted for 117 minutes and hit five fours. Laxman’s knock was embellished with six boundaries.

Earlier England overcame a horrendous start to declare at 269 for six, an hour after tea, for an overall lead of 457.

And the credit for England’s turnaround goes to Prior who struck his sixth Test century.

It was also his second straight ton at this venue this summer after his 126 against Sri Lanka last month and third overall the first coming on debut against West Indies in 2007.

Prior batted for 186 minutes and faced 120 balls, hitting five fours and a six. Broad lasted for 126 minutes and hit nine fours from 90 balls. The duo cut loose after tea and scored 95 runs off 12 overs.

Despite enjoying the caution of a huge first-innings lead, the hosts, resuming at five for no loss, had a disastrous start as they lost five wickets in the first session and one in the afternoon to be 107 for six at one stage.

Ishant was a bowler rediscovered and at one stage picked up three wickets in the space of 16 deliveries. At one stage of the morning session, his spell read an impressive 5-3-4-3.

Ishant took Pietersen out of the equation with a surprise bouncer which the latter wasn’t prepared, edging it behind to Dhoni.

Bell played and missed a couple of Ishant delivery before a thick edging one to Dhoni.

The Delhi bowler got his third wicket when he went through the gate of Jonathan Trott’s defence.

England had lost four of their prime batsmen in a matter of 32 balls as Harbhajan Singh had accounted for skipper Andrew Strauss (32) in the over before Ishant took over.

Praveen Kumar, the star of the first innings with a five-for, had started the rot when he had Aistair Cook (1) edging a catch to Dhoni.

Brief Scores: England 474 for 8 dec (Kevin Pietersen 202*, Matt Prior 71; Praveen Kumar 5 for 106) and 269 for 6 dec (Matt Prior 103*, Stuart Broad 74*; Ishant Sharma 4 for 59, Harbhajan Singh 1 for 66) lead India 286 all out (Rahul Dravid 103*, Abhinav Mukund 49; Stuart Broad 4 for 37 ) and 80 for 1 (Rahul Dravid 34*, VVS Laxman 32*; Stuart Broad 1 for 12) by 378 runs.

Full Scorecard

PTI