England Seize Their ChanceJake Howe |
When Stuart Broad had Ishant Sharma trapped lbw late on day 5 at Lord’s, England not only took a 1-0 lead in a crucial series. They knew the official no.1 side in the world was weakened, and had moved in for the kill.
There was always the feeling that if England were going to win this series – and with it claim the mantle of the best Test side in the world – they would need to make their case known at HQ. India’s typical poor starting of a series was in full swing, and their key players were not prepared – no matter how many Test tours they managed to skip in the proceeding months. Injuries to Sehwag and Zaheer, followed by an off-colour Tendulkar and a shaken Gambhir combined to give England their first sniff of victory. They did not waste their opportunity. They were onto the scent like a bloodhound.
Day 1 – If Zaheer Can’t Do It, Who Can?
In hindsight, it’s rather strange to think that India had the first chance to make an impact in this series. The Lord’s deck, while not quite the highway of some modern grounds, seems to have lost the art of deterioration in recent times. The decision to bat or bowl first relies almost entirely on the overhead conditions. When angry grey clouds met the two captains on Thursday morning, it required no thought for the winning captain to put the opposition in to bat – in the most bowling-friendly surroundings he was likely to have for the duration of the Test. MS Dhoni won the toss and made the correct decision.
This was India’s best chance to get on top of their opponents, but they failed. On a rain-struck first day, England reached 127-2 at stumps. It wasn’t easy for them as Zaheer Khan showed the world why he is one of the best swing bowlers playing, the left-armer removing both openers and never looking like giving away a run. However, he then showed the world why he is one of the most frustrating cricketers to his fans. 13 and a half overs he lasted into the series before breaking down with a hamstring fault. He would not be seen for the rest of the Test.
Was it luck that shined on England? Or was it a critical weak link in India’s game? Their main strike bowler must have been the centrepiece of their series’ preparation. And he could barely last one spell into the first day.
England’s progress was hardly serene – indeed, much could have been righted for the visitors if they had held their catches. However, the predictable weaknesses of poor fitness and poorer fielding had already shown themselves. Trott and Pietersen grafted hard through a day that was meant for the bowlers – and were ready to make it their own on the second day.
Day 2 – KP: The Revenge
Trott didn’t last long, with only 12 added to his overnight score. His 70 had been vital, but perhaps on a sunny day England no longer needed their grafter-in-chief. Kevin Pietersen made himself the star of the show, and there is no doubt that the man from Natal would not have it any other way.
Pietersen’s double-century was a perfect example of weathering the storm before striking when the going is good. at the end of the first day he had scratched his way to 22 off 74 balls. The Wisden Cricketer’s Sampson Collins called his performance “batting like Bambi on ice, on stilts, in a hurricane.” His first 50 was no quicker, his slowest ever from 134 balls. But once Pietersen hit his straps it was almost impossible for the Indians to keep him in check.
Having batted all day with Ian Bell, Matt Prior and later Graeme Swann, a message came out that England were to declare soon. Pietersen was on 186 when he saw part-time offie Suresh Raina preparing to bowl to him. Pietersen simply decided the double was his, and was there in four balls.
Ian Bell and Matt Prior were the day’s supporting acts, and were contained to that role thanks to the bowling of Praveen Kumar. Praveen faced plenty of criticism before the series, namely that he just wasn’t going to be fast enough to trouble the best sides. His new-ball swing had been threatening on day one, but Trott and Pietersen had been able to keep it out by eschewing all risk. On day two, with KP seeming nigh-unstoppable and his supporting bowlers in Harbhajan and Sharma looking far from threatening, Pravenn’s role amounted to damage limitation and he delivered.
He bowled almost like Muralitharan would on first-day pitch offering nothing to spin. It was tight, it was accurate, and he made sure that whenever a wicket fell it was his. Adding in a couple of beaustiful deliveries – such as the one that pinned Stuart Broad lbw first ball – and Kumar picked up his maiden five wicket haul, a marathon 40-over effort of 5-106. Nonetheless he was the only barrier for the home side. England declared on 474/8.
Day 3 – Come Home Stuart, All is Forgiven
Not many had backed Stuart Broad heading into the match. Whether coming from those who thought he would benefit from being made to earn his place back, or those that simply no longer rated him as a bowler, Broad had few friends. Much of the debate had centred around his role in the bowling unit. The England bowling coach David Saker had dubbed him an “enforcer”, saying his job was to bowl short, fast and aggressive, despit Broad’s finest hours being with pitched-up accurate swing. During the early-summer series against Sri Lanka, Broad’s consistent short-pitched efforts had fans frustrated and tired with him. Where was the Broad of the Oval and Durban 2009?
Team coach Andy Flower had publicly rubbished the “enforcer” idea – did this represent a return to the successful plan of full, accurate bowling? Or did it mean Broad had been ignoring instructions? Worse, did it mean Broad had been incapable of his best length in the previous series? Whatever sparked the change, Broad was suddenly back to his best. He started out by removing both openers during a hard-fought opening session on day three. Both were full deliveries coming back into the left-handers and both found their way onto the stumps.
Next, when the play was firmly in the hands of India’s world-class old guard of Dravid and Tendulkar, Broad came inches from ripping through the middle order. First another full outswinger had Tendulkar caught at slip, the most famous man in cricket gone for 34. The very next over, both Dravid and Laxman did the same, but chances were shelled in the slips. Broad should have had five, the Indian top order should have been run through.
Laxman’s dropping did not cost England much, after he flicked Tremlett into the hands of deep backward square, but Dravid’s cost them dearly. England took regular wickets and rooted out India’s lower order with the second new ball, but Dravid was always there, and the Wall was immovable on his way to a hundred. India were all out for 286, but crucially had avoided the follow on. Dravid’s 103* – having been dropped on 42 – had kept India in the game.
Day 4 – Swings And Roundabouts
England’s hunt for an opening win needed both quick runs in the first two sessions of day four, followed by a well-timed declaration. There is often an air of complacency about these situations, where moving into position for the win is fallaciously considered easy. Much of the talk was already surrounding how many runs England would want, let alone how many they would be able to get. They would aim for 250 or so in just over two sessions, and then aim to get at least one Indian out before the close. Anything more would be a bonus.
Rather it should have been expected for India to fight back. The surprise was the source. England were forced to tread carefully when a very good ball from Kumar removed Cook, and Strauss was out to a poor sweep shot off Harbhajan, and Ishant Sharma stood up to the plate. Having bowled a poor wide line and ineffective short length for much of the first innings, resulting in his 0-128, Sharma followed Broad’s example and found the wonders of pitching full and fast. three wickets went down – Pietersen, Bell and Trott – for only one run, and England were in trouble at 62/5, and suddenly the chance of an Indian win was back on.
After a lunch break that could not come fast enough for the hosts, Matt Prior and Stuart Broad – in the midst of an amazing match – were the men to rescue England’s innings. It was reminiscent of last year’s Trent Bridge test against Pakistan, when Prior’s hundred from 98/6 made a good lead into a commanding one. England needed the same from them here, and they needed them to do it quickly. They re-asserted their side’s dominance with an unbeaten 162 from only 28 overs, and England declared.
By the time the declaration had come – setting India a near-impossible chase of 458 to win, or a much more likely three and a half sessions to bat out, India appeared to have given up in the field. It was a far cry from when they had the chance to get on top of England at 62/5. Stuart Broad’s incredible match continued when he took the wicket of Mukund (again with a full, swinging delivery to take the young batsman’s inside edge), and India ended the day with nine remaining.
After all this, India had ended up with a target that was just about unchaseable, and a day to go with nine wickets remaining. England’s hardest-fought day of Test cricket since Perth 2010 had left the sides more or less exactly where they had been expected to be.
Day 5 – Seizing the Day
This was the day England had to make their hard work count. The grafting in good bowling conditions on day one, Kevin’s innings on day two, the bowler’s discipline on day three, the rescue job the previous day – all of it would count for nil if India batted out the final day. A stellar batting lineup would take on an excellent bowling attack in the hunt for nine wickets. Invoking memories of the final day of Old Trafford 2005, tickets were sold out in two hours.
Rahul Dravid, the first-innings saviour, and VVS Laxman, second innings specialist, were the overnight batsmen. On a flat wicket the pair were more than good enough to last the opening session. But neither was to manage it. England bowled with pace and discipline, and forced their opponents out through what will look like mere poor shots on the highlights reel. It was testament to the pressure England exerted that they were able to claim the two high-quality scalps, and when Gautam Gambhir – clearly not at his best after an elbow injury obtained when fielding – was out lbw to a typical Swann slider, India were in trouble at the lunch break.
Only three batsmen now stood in England’s way. Sachin Tendulkar was the number one obstacle. The Little Master was far from masterful, a fever keeping him off the field on the fourth day, but he still had a determined manner to his game. Tendulkar almost refused to score, and when Broad – yet again bowling beautifully – had a convincing lbw appeal turned down, nerves began jangling for the England fan.
James Anderson, who had been the benefactor of Dravid and Laxman’s dismissals, turned it back. Having bowled well below his usual standards in the first innings, Anderson came back to help clean the tail and finish with 2-87. In the second innings, he was back to his finest bowling seen in Australia. Tight lines, subtl movement, both conventional and reverse swing were all there. The game swung back to the England way when an Anderson inswinger pinned Tendulkar lbw.
Raina, who had forged a reputation as a firefghter, passed 50 as he and MS Dhoni made it to tea. They were India’s last hope, and hope the England bowlers dashed as soon as they had the second new ball. Dhoni fenced at one from Tremlett and was caught behind, and nderson bouncer did for Harbhajan and Broad bowled a delivery much too good for Praveen Kumar, coming in from wide of off to hit middle. Raina himself survived an almost certain lbw dismissal – again off Broad – but by then England were rampant. Anderson found his outside edge to claim his five wickets, and the last man out was Ishant Sharma to Broad. England had won by 196 runs.
It seemed as though nothing could have stopped England’s bowlers. They were up against the best batting lineup in the world. the deck was still good, and the umpiring and catching mistakes meant they needed to take 12 wickets, not nine. And yet they grabbed their chance by the throat.
What a match it was. What a day for England.