S. Ram Mahesh

Remarkably improved Indian bowlers cut England innings short

London: The city awoke to a stormy Friday. With the clouds pulled close over Lord’s like a grey blanket, there seemed little chance of play.

But, play there was, and what a day it turned out to be!

It was full of the most intriguing incidents. Rain and thunder gave way to the sun, which dripped over Lord’s like yolk from a broken egg. For corroboration that the air had magic, Boris Becker appeared in the press box.

As Tom Holt might have written, self-consciously the cricketing plot thickened.

Improved show

Lunch was taken early, and play began nearly three hours after the scheduled start.

India’s bowlers put the misery of the first day behind them, displaying remarkable improvement.

The new ball was taken in the 83rd over. Six wickets were ransacked in 8.4 overs, as England, resuming on 268 for four, was dismissed for 298.

Line and length

The virtues of an honest line and length were realised. Sreesanth won three leg-before decisions, while Zaheer Khan, R.P. Singh, and Anil Kumble finished with two wickets each.

Thus concluded a fight-back that had started late on Thursday when R.P. Singh procured for wicketkeeper M.S. Dhoni a thin edge from Michael Vaughan (79), and Kumble pinned Paul Collingwood with a googly.

A match that had threatened to spiral out of India’s control had been salvaged.

But, now began the task of gathering material for a win.

With six over to go on the second day, India had reached 134 for four in 54 overs. Wasim Jaffer fell at 58.

Sachin Tendulkar, who had looked determined to score big, was masterfully set up by James Anderson.

Amidst outswingers came one that shaped in to satisfy the requirements of a leg-before.

But, Tendulkar’s partnership of 79 with Jaffer helped India hang flesh on the skeleton the openers had begun with in trying conditions.

Sixteen overs before tea is the kind of awkward period every opening batsman dreads.

Dinesh Karthik struggled against Ryan Sidebottom’s lefty swing, but looked to settle.

Wasim Jaffer was dropped before he had scored Matt Prior pawing away the edge off Sidebotom and soon unfurled a sterling off-drive.

The openers had put on 18 when Sidebottom bent one into Karthik’s pads to have him leg-before. Though tempted and nearly snared by Sidebottom, Rahul Dravid left deliveries briskly, bat high above danger’s way.

James Anderson had three balls at Dravid and gave him, in that order, a yorker on leg, one short of length at pace, and an immaculate outswinger that moved just enough. Squared up, leaning forward, Dravid nicked and walked.

Tendulkar appeared at the Pavilion door nearly a minute after Dravid had left. The crowd had settled. As he began his walk to the middle, applause rang around the crowd, led by the members. Dravid had been greeted by a similar show of respect.

Tendulkar passed Steve Waugh to become the third-highest run-getter in Tests, behind Brian Lara and Allan Border, with a four off his legs off Chris Tremlett. The moment was poignant, though not as significant as India’s stirring comeback with the ball. But, both ceded honours for the talking point of the day to an incident that had no numerical significance.

High drama

After R.P. Singh had pierced night-watchman Ryan Sidebottom’s rickety defence with the second new ball, Zaheer Khan induced an edge from Kevin Pietersen. M.S. Dhoni caught it low and rolled over, Pietersen walked to the Pavilion, where he was urged back by his mates. The third umpire was brought in, and he deemed Dhoni had caught it on the bounce.

There are several points of interest. For one, the umpires can call for the third umpire’s assistance only if their line of sight is obstructed. That didn’t seem the case. Did the actions of the English players on the balcony force the umpires to refer the catch? If the players explicitly ask for a referral, it constitutes dissent. But, had the system been subverted by creating doubt in the umpires’ minds?

Timing is everything. According to a journalist who works with the official broadcasters, cameras showed the umpires, Simon Taufel and Steve Bucknor, in deliberation before Pietersen turned around. The referral hadn’t been made however.

There will be those who will blather on about morality, about how Dhoni shouldn’t have claimed the catch. In his defence, the decision had an element of doubt. The replay wasn’t conclusive, for the ball looked to hit the edge of Dhoni’s fingers and roll into the gloves, thus creating an illusion of having bounced. That certainly was the view of many experts who saw the replays.

There has been recent discussion on how judging if catches are clean on grounds where the field slopes away from the pitch is near impossible. The reduction of three dimensions to a two-dimensional television screen almost always makes it look like a bump ball.

The incident had no tangible impact: Zaheer had Pietersen caught behind for the same score in two balls.

Scoreboard

England — 1st innings: A. Strauss c Dravid b Kumble 96, A. Cook lbw b Ganguly 36, M. Vaughan c Dhoni b R.P. Singh 79, K. Pietersen c Dhoni b Zaheer 37, P. Collingwood lbw b Kumble 0, R. Sidebottom b R.P. Singh 1, I. Bell b Zaheer 20, M. Prior lbw b Sreesanth 1, C. Tremlett lbw b Sreesanth 0, M. Panesar lbw b Sreesanth 0, J. Anderson (not out 0); Extras (b-9, lb-10, w-7, nb-2) 28; Total (in 91.2 overs) 298.

Fall of wickets: 1-76, 2-218, 3-252, 4-255, 5-272, 6-286, 7-287, 8-287, 9-297.

India bowling: Zaheer 18.2-4-62-2, Sreesanth 22-8-67-3, R.P. Singh 17-6-58-2, Ganguly 9-3-24-1, Kumble 23-2-60-2, Tendulkar 2-0-8-0.

India — 1st innings: D. Karthik lbw b Sidebottom 5, W. Jaffer c & b Tremlett 58, R. Dravid c Prior b Anderson 2, S. Tendulkar lbw b Anderson 37, S. Ganguly (batting) 19; Extras (b-4, lb-7, nb-2) 13; Total (for foru wkts. in 54 overs) 134.

Fall of wickets: 1-18, 2-27, 3-108, 4-134.

England bowling: Sidebottom 15-4-40-1, Anderson 14-5-23-2, Tremlett 14-6-29-1, Panesar 8-3-22-0.

More In: SPORT | Today's Paper