England cruelly denied at LordGeorge Roberts |
Cricket, like almost every sport, can be desperately cruel at times. Today at Lord’s, the cricketing gods were especially severe on England as bad light and showers brought an early end to the first Test with the home side just a single wicket away from clinching the match.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni was India’s hero, resisting for 203 minutes as he steadily ran out of partners, before the weather prevented any play after the tea interval. A gripping match stalled at its climatic point, like a bestselling thriller with its final chapter frustratingly lopped off.
Despite the dominance of ball over bat throughout much of the game, there was a genuine feeling at the beginning of play that India could still clinch an unprecedented victory. Although the likes of Dravid and Tendulkar had departed the previous evening, in Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman, India had two batsmen whose careers are dotted with the Homeric epics of innings necessary to chase such a score as 380.
Those hopes all but vanished just 24 deliveries into the day’s play. Ganguly, on 40, played inside the line to Ryan Sidebottom’s signature inswinger and was trapped leg before. When Dinesh Karthik nicked James Anderson to Paul Collingwood at second slip after adding just the solitary cover-driven four to his overnight score of 56, India had slid to 145-5 and thoughts of sneaking a win had given way to those of grim survival.
However through Laxman and Dhoni, India ground their way through the remainder of the morning, a session punctuated by near-misses and the odd wristy flash of subcontinental brilliance. Laxman cut maharajah-like; Dhoni squirted a delivery over the slip cordon, played-and-missed on numerous occasions and was fortunate to survive a Panesar lbw shout minutes before lunch; yet India had consolidated at 207-5.
The critical blow came within half an hour of the restart. Chris Tremlett continued an impressive debut by jagging the ball back through Laxman’s defences and England sensed an opening. From 231-5, India fell to 263-9 as England again ran through the tourists’ fragile lower order. Anil Kumble was another victim of Sidebottom’s booming in-ducker, while Zaheer Khan gloved a rising Tremlett delivery down the leg-side. Rudra Pratap Singh however can have no excuses: after a cameo as nightwatchman in the first innings, he missed a rather ambitious drive against Panesar and all of a sudden, India were in deep water.
In contrast, Dhoni continued to play with new found maturity. There were no mindless hoicks, as irresponsibly exhibited in Mumbai a year ago as India capitulated in similar circumstances, instead replaced by unforeseen steel. The runs naturally continued to flow – he was particularly tough on Michael Vaughan’s part-time off-breaks as England sought to prolong the game with spin at both ends – but for once that was almost irrelevant. With the clouds closing in, Panesar appealed in vain as Sreesanth went agonisingly close to becoming the tenth man out and cheeky, child-like smiles began to creep onto the faces of the Indians.
When the players first came off for bad light at 3.34 pm, India’s last pair had clung on for five overs to reach 282-9, Dhoni unbeaten on 76 from 159 balls. Intermittent rain delayed proceedings further, preventing play from restarting at 4.40 pm when the cloud had appeared to have lifted. After a further wait of an hour and a half, the day’s play was officially called off and the match declared a draw.
This was a match that upset expectations, settled old arguments and opened up new questions. Both sides came into the match boasting distinctively top-heavy lineups: virtually the whole of England’s seam attack was unavailable, while the performance of the Indian pace bowlers in the first hour on Thursday seemed to confirm their ineffectiveness. Now, from a supposed lack of any backup for England’s first-choice seamers, there are faces capably of displacing the established stars. The success of Sidebottom, Zaheer and RP Singh led some pundits to suggest a rebirth of left-arm swing bowling. Dhoni shrugged off his critics to play the match-defining innings, while Rahul Dravid fell for single figures at both attempts. A potentially explosive series has begun in a fascinating manner, even if the touchpaper was ultimately too damp to light.
England 298 and 292
India 201 and 282-9 (96 overs)
Dinesh Karthik 60, Sourav Ganguly 40, VVS Laxman 39, Mahendra Singh Dhoni 76*
Chris Tremlett 3-52, Ryan Sidebottom 2-42, Monty Panesar 2-62, James Anderson 2-83
Man of the Match: Kevin Pietersen