At Lord’s in England’s crowded metropolis, with the humidity clocking 80 per cent and a wicket prepared in a period when only one in the last eleven days had been fine, it was perceived wisdom that the first day of the 100th Test between England and India would be a bowling day.
So it was no surprise to the throng of 30,000 cricketing experts, buzzing with the expectation and hope always roused by attendance at the Taj Mahal of cricket, when an immaculately blazered MS Dhoni, on winning the toss, chivalrously invited England to bat.
The stage-wise magician Zaheer Khan, who knows that, if you are to deceive an audience, you have first to control their mind, deceptively appeared less threatening than his opening partner Praveen Kumar who swung the ball at 80 mph and repeatedly beat England’s lefty openers with deliveries ducking late across their blades making them resemble those who, waking in the night, grope for a light switch in the darkness and confusion.
In a manner that immediately undermined the perceived wisdom that this was a bowling day and gave encouragement to the iconoclast, it was apparent that the ball lacked pace and bounce as it travelled through to Dhoni’s gloves. The keeper and slips advanced a yard or three and still seemed deeper than prudent. Was this simply a ‘leaving’ day?
Nevertheless, and however strong the mind, recurring failure preoccupies the attention that should be watching for the conjuror’s sleight of hand. Away and away and away went the ball hypnotically from Khan as he manoeuvred Cook mentally into familiarity and physically across his stumps until this recent run machine’s heavy head reached beyond the point of balance at which precise moment the Wizard of Shrirampur imperceptibly changed the direction of movement to send the ball inward where it cannoned into Cook’s pad.
There is no DRS in this series which is a shame for a sport that calls for as much justice as can possibly be dispensed. But those who thought the ball might have missed leg stump were less worthy judges than the eyes and experience of Umpire Rauf. “That’s out!”
Trott joined Strauss and a short midwicket and a couple more fielders positioned square on the leg side testified to the influence of India’s new guru, Duncan Fletcher, who sported a fetching India tracksuit to remind those looking on that he now ‘batted’ for the other side.
After lunch Khan addressed his arts of prestidigitation to England’s captain who he encourage to preoccupy himself with questions concerning the orientation of his off-stump.
Once Strauss’s mind was thus fully engaged he slipped him a short delivery which the batsman tried to yank from outside off to leg only to be caught in the deep by Sharma in a manner identical to a dismissal a few years back.
Note to England batsmen: dig out the old videos. How has he got you out before?
Pietersen, who replaced Strauss had a simple Pietersenian plan; stand a couple of feet outside your crease, step across and play forward. It worked in as much as he survived until bad light and then rain deprived the throng of any further play, by which time Trott had moved his score to 58 and England’s to 127 for 2.
India would have wished to have taken four or five wickets in this time and they might have done so, but Dravid could not hang on to a slip catch off Bhaji’s first ball and between them Dhoni and Dravid allowed a catch to intersect them.
The wicket’s lack of pace and bounce meant that survival was possible for the careful batsman and wickets less probable than might have been anticipated. Zaheer was Khan the Magnificent, but he limped off the field with the spell binding figures of 13.3 overs, 8 maidens, 2 for 18.
Everyone, except those campaigners against the practice of selecting only four bowlers in a Test side, must hope that it was a case of cramp and not a pulled hamstring.
This was enthralling cricket – deep cricket – but, as has happened so often in this miserable English season, rain has done its worst to destroy of a precious chunk of time in this mighty test of cricket played fittingly for the Pataudi Trophy.
England127 for 2