After claiming the first bout of the battle, England is moving in for the kill with a clinical bowling performance on day three of the Lord’s Test riding on a brilliant day in the park for the comeback man Stuart Broad (4/37). His spectacular show with the ball has reduced Rahul Dravid’s fine century to more of a consolation for team India.
Facing an uphill task of chasing the first innings total of 474, Indian batsmen struggled to come to terms with the swing and pace of the English pace trio of Tremlett, Anderson and Broad. Combining admirable together, the trio kept the pressure on the famed Indian middle order throughout the day to skittle the Indians out for 286, for a strong first innings lead of 188, which could well prove to be the match winning one.
The incisive English bowling exploited the part sunny, part cloudy conditions to the hilt. Gambhir and Mukund started in an assured manner at the start of the day against Anderson and Tremlett to put up a fifty plus opening stand. The introduction of Broad into the attack changed the equation dramatically. He bowled with a lot of intent and aggression, in a bid to justify his inclusion ahead of Bresnan. His strategy of keeping the ball up to the batsmen paid rich dividends as he got rid of both the openers, inducing them into false strokes, only to see their woodwork unsettled. Before being lured, Mukund played a promising hand and went on to score an admirable 49, mixing solid defence with some fine strokes on the leg.
As Tendulkar walked in to accompany Dravid, the anticipation around the ground was at the hilt. Tremlett tested the master with some fiery outswing bowling, keeping him on the toes all the time, and was successful in putting the sense of doubt in the Master’s mind. The sense of occasion may have been playing on the Master’s mind as well. Despite their obvious struggles, Tendulkar and Dravid gave the glimpses of their class by executing some delightful strokes to take India to 100 for 2 at lunch.
The positive start by Indians post lunch was short lived with Broad back into the attack. He first pushed one up to snare the edge of Tendulkar’s blade sending a hush around the ground. The 100th 100 at Lords has to wait for the time being. In the same over, Broad caught the edge of Laxman and Dravid, only to see the chances going down begging- Strauss and Swann being the culprits. The respite proved short lived as Laxman’s brief stay at the crease ended with a soft dismissal, when he timed a flick off Tremlett too well to be caught in the deep. Sensing the opportunity, England put the pressure on Raina straight away who went for a forgettable duck, playing across to a Swann delivery, only to see Billy’s crooked finger going up to a vociferous LBW appeal.
The rest of the day was to be reserved for a poetic resistance by Rahul Dravid. In a refreshing change, he looked willing to attack from ball one against the guile of Swann, who turned the ball a fair bit and was game to toss it up. As the English pace battery ran in to test his skills, Rahul brought out the silverware from his treasure and spread it around to regale the packed Lord’s. His knock was the glittering lining to the dark clouds of India’s disappointments in the day.
At the twilight of his career, Rahul brought all his experience into play and proved that grace and style are not the personal fiefdom of VVS alone. He was tight in his defence and was sublime on his feat. You had to be blind to miss the beauty of his strokes and deaf to miss the collective sighs of “shot’’ emanating from the background in the commentary box. When on 94, Rahul went onto the backfoot, balanced himself in the thin air and caressed the perfectly good length delivery from Tremlett to the cover fence to race to his highest score at Lord’s.
In the company of a daredevil Praveen Kumar he saw India through the first hurdle of avoiding follow-on and dutifully brought up his first hundred at the Mecca of cricket driving Tremlett through long on. It was the kind of knock that will add greater credibility to the honours board at the Lord’s.
Broad was possibly unlucky to miss out on a fifer as Anderson cleaned up the tail, but his performance ensured that India remained a poor starter in the first Test of an away series. He showed what the right length is to bowl on this pitch which still has a lot in it for the bowlers as well as the batsmen. Towards the fag end of the day, England reached to the security of 193 runs lead without losing a wicket and two full days to force a result.
Entering Day 4, Indians have their task cut out, as it looks increasingly clear that they will miss out on the services of Zaheer in the second innings, who batted with a runner in the first innings. Only an abject failure from England in their second innings and a colossal batting from Indians on the last day may see this test slipping away from the grasp of the English.
Heartening fact- Indians have shown the heart for the fight if not the skill to last. Let’s see if they cover that base in the next two days. Whether they do that or not may be a matter of speculation, but what remains a fact is that that Sachin will get one more crack at the illusive century and Laxman will get one more chance to play the redemption song, in the company of ever reliable Rahul. Stay tuned for more. This Test is not getting over without its share of drama for sure.