The Lord’s Test finished with all of England happy. There was no Krishnamachari Srikanth smoking at the balcony of the ‘homeEngland of cricket’; no bare-chested Sourav Ganguly wildly swinging his jersey, mouthing expletives; no umpiring controversies and MSD bravado helping India draw a game; and no Ajit Agarkar century too.
The Prince of Kolkata, Sourav Ganguly, was present in the ex-captains’ parade during lunch time on day four, along with Sunil Gavaskar, Ravi Shastri and Farookh Engineer. It crossed my mind whether all four Indians could be requested to take the field, at some point of the series, looking at the rate our players were checking in at the nearby clinic.
The captains’ parade was at that stage of the opening Test, when it was closest to a balanced state. England were effectively 260/5, with their last batting pair at the crease and the pitch seemingly getting better every ball. Another repeat performance of the preceding session (62/5) would have ensured India to be in with a decent shout to win the game, something which was unimaginable until two hours ago on that day.
That state was reached courtesy a few individual stirring performances along the way – from PK’s day two perseverance to KP’s double century, from Broad’s dismantling of India’s steady start to Ishant bowling the spell of the series so far with figures of 5-3-4-3.
There was a sub-plot in between too. For too many times in the first innings, KP walked front and across whipping Ishant nonchalantly towards the leg side. It would have riled the tall gangly pacer being treated like a part time spinner – already frustrated by the additional long tiring run-ups; to cope in Zak’s absence. Ishant had the last laugh which so far would be ball of the series (Jonathan Trott will have something to say on that for the ball he got). KP got the man of the match, though.
All in all, a good riveting Test match and a deserved win for England. They did it despite being on the disadvantaged side of the conditions, despite rain cutting short the match by half a day and despite some decisions going against them the last day. Undoubtedly, they were fresher (shorter WC, no IPL), hungrier, raring, match fit and ably backed by their media and experts. This is the sort of environment our cricketers never enjoy, nor likely to enjoy ever; so we hope they get immune to it fast.
England’s last day bowling was patient, penetrative and assertive; Jimmy Anderson reaping the benefits of the collective pressure exerted. It didn’t help that our top batsmen played unwanted shots or allowed extreme pressure to build and dismiss them. Barring Raina’s edge, every batsman (including Bhajji and PK) need to reflect on how they batted the second innings; why they couldn’t bat the way they did bat the final day of the Test series at South Africa eight months ago; and why such a daunted batting lineup couldn’t stack up 300 runs in any dig on a pitch where Matt Prior and Stuart Broad scored easy despite coming to bat at 107/6. Stuart Broad was my man of the match.
At start of the game, any doubts on the playing 22 were with Praveen and Broad’s inclusion. That, both captains and team management took the correct decision was heartwarming. The Indian captain though had a poor game both sides of the stumps. He refused to go for catches which was his; stood too far back making his own life difficult and serving as the wrong indicator for the slips; chose the wrong end for all his bowlers in first innings (Duncan Fletcher should get more negative points for this) and batted with that same inconsistency which has dogged his career of late.
If am allowed to rub more, his over rate remained below the mark, although this involved a few circumstances which may finally save him being hauled up for the time being. India’s slow over rate problem can now be classified as a permanent disease, expected to be further aggravated when Munaf or Sreesanth play in the XI.
As has been his style, MSD still gave us an everlasting memory from this Test match. When the maverick in him, decided to stretch his outer limits to come over and bowl and show the way to his wayward wards. It pained me that some sections of the Indian media and ex-cricketers saw this otherwise. Possibly, they were saying with spirits in their system, and hence were at an inappropriate state of mind, to comment about the spirit of the game!
Captain cool has some out-of-the-box work to do for now. He needs to immediately talk to Sreesanth, restore faith; promise won’t nag in public and put him in starting XI for Nottingham. He also needs to explore the option of playing a fourth pacer (Munaf) in place of Bhajji, and get the pacers to finish their overs within four minutes. We don’t want MSD to walk into another post match presentation and take shelter under an excuse that the pitch didn’t assist spin; not to shelter a 97 Tests, 400-plus-wicket bowler. We have dropped Kumble too, midway in his career, and shouldn’t think twice about dishing the same for Bhajji.
Our premium pacer, Zaheer Khan, meanwhile, needs rest and work from physio before the third Test, which is good two weeks away. Somehow his on field movements suggest that of a far aged person, than what he really is, and that’s a worry. Unless Gauti or Sachin are 100 per cent fit, they need to make way for Yuvraj to take strike. We can’t afford to take chance with another unfit XI with so much at stake. England are playing at their best, India can only get better and will get better. Good time to put four fit pacers, hounding like a pack of wolves, seething for revenge in Trent Bridge conditions.