Even if you were away on another planet and returned just in time to catch the happenings on Lord’s over last two days, you wouldn’t have missed much- barring the hype and hoopla around the 2000th Test of course!
What began as a game of verbal volleys between the two teams contending for the Test no. 1 spot, if not the championship itself, at the home of cricket; and a freewheeling contest for journalists and part time pundits to stamp their expertise through articles that were part fun, part romance, and banal at other times, has given way to a gruelling contest that promises to be a thriller- rain or no rain, result or no result!
When Dhoni won the toss at the Lord’s amidst the thick cloud cover, India chose to throw the first dart at the English with Zaheer and Praveen looking to wrest the early initiative with some immaculate swing bowling. Like the two boxers are weary of each other’s strengths at the start of the bout and want to use each second to assess the strengths of the opposition, Zaheer and Strauss played a bit of a cat and mouse game to provide a slow and sedate start to the game, with none willing to give each other an inch. At the other end, Cook and Praveen were playing a perfect foil to the main battle.
After Zaheer tucked one in to Cook and got his number, it was time to shift focus to Strauss, who weathered the early storm, got a bit comfortable after a while and then lost his concentration marginally to hook a skier to be comfortably caught on the fence. With two main openers back and Zaheer looking menacing, the tide was to turn. With Kevin and Trott looking to settle themselves in, Zaheer pulled a hamstring and left the four man Indian bowling unit hamstrung. Before leaving the field hobbling, he had induced an edge off Trott which a tardy Dhoni had left a little too late for Dravid to react. A chance that India would go on to regret as Trott went to score half of his average score at Lord’s- a healthy 70 nevertheless.
At the other end, Kevin Pietersen had borrowed Rahul Dravid’e genes (or jean’s if you may like) to bat in a fashion that would have shocked his followers on Twitter or any other place where people choose to follow the game these days. He bid his time and paid undue respect to the depleted Indian bowling comprising of a little shorter than the ideal length Praveen, a back to his erroneous ways Ishant, and a none too threatening Bhajji. Bell on the other end took a toll on some lacklustre bowling as sun baked the pitch at Lord’s to a perfect cookie.
In a move that was part desperation and part bravado, Dhoni decided to let Dravid do the keeping duties and decided to run in for his military medium pacers on a track that afforded him both ways movement. How Pietersen survived a caught behind chance will be a case heavily argued in the courts of ICC against UDRS in near future. Enough has been written about it anyway.
With Zaheer out of contention one man, who has been more under rated than what his bowling has deserved, chose to rise to the occasion. Praveen Kumar utilised his natural gifts to the best to get rid of Trott, Bell, and Morgan- the last two off consecutive balls. The tide and luck was turning India’s way one thought as England found themselves at 270-5 from an impressive 270-3.
Matt Prior it has to be said that has a bat broader than his gloves! He decided to step up to the plate as Kevin started looking more assured and approached to a well earned century. Bhajji and Ishant bore the brunt of Prior’s swagger to yet again hand over the initiative to England and Prior duly reached his 50. Praveen Kumar was not done for the day. He came back to claim Prior and Broad, yet again of the successive deliveries to claim an immensely satisfying fifer at the Lord’s.
With Swann at other end, Kevin decided to have some fan. Ishant Sharma and Bhajji got a quick reminder of his monstrous ability with the bat, and so did Suresh Raina who got duly deposited over the long on gallery en route to Kevin’s double, a feat he achieved cutting Praveen past a diving square cover. It was an effort that would have made Spanish bullfighter proud for its sheer bravado, warmed a marathon runner’s hart for its stamina, and left his critics eating the humble pie.
In the last couple of hours England gave away their waiting instincts to launch into the Indian attack. It was a statement that will not be lost on the Indian batting line-up. England has thrown its hat into the ring and has scored the decent first hand. The Indian batting unit now has a challenge that could see their reputation soar or dwindle based on the results they produce in their first innings. The setting though is perfect- a historic ground, a hospitable track and some history that reckons to be written in golden words- just the recipe that Indians have thrived on for the past few years.
So far so good dear God- or good Lord. You seem to have written the first two chapters of this game well. I will stay awake tomorrow to see what you have in store for us. Let me sleep for now with the images of day three already running on the silver screen of my mind’s eye.