Among the Ruins

This masonry is wondrous; fates broke it
courtyard pavements were smashed; the work of giants is decaying.
Roofs are fallen, ruinous towers,
the frosty gate with frost on cement is ravaged,
chipped roofs are torn, fallen,
undermined by old age. The grasp of the earth possesses
the mighty builders, perished and fallen,
the hard grasp of earth, until a hundred generations
of people have departed. Often this wall,
lichen-grey and stained with red, experienced one reign after another,
remained standing under storms; the high wide gate has collapsed.
Still the masonry endures in winds cut down …*

An archaeologist at work at the Oval yesterday surveying the third day of the fourth Test match between England and India would have seen a single wall, upright and unscathed by anything that time had thrown or bowled at it, evidence of the considerable skill and craftsmanship of a great civilization.

About the base of the wall he would have noticed fallen columns, single capping stones, dismantled steps, smashed arches and overturned cornices littering the ground; evidence of the destruction wielded against that civilization by some invading storm of vandals.  

This was not another find of the remnants of the Indian bowling, but the relics of the once great cultural expression of cricket which was Indian batting whose lyric verse no cricket lover can have ever tired of enjoying.

Rain took nearly four hours of time out of the day’s play but this forced England to declare at 591 for 6.  Bell had reached his first ‘double’ in Test cricket before perishing to the sweep against Raina for 235 (in 487 minutes and 364 balls).  Morgan had damaged his Test match reputation a little further and Bopara had done all that was required of him in personally testing circumstances.

India sheltered in their dressing room throughout the delay in play, either recovering from the pummelling they had received in the field or in dread of the pummelling they were about to receive when batting, or both.

England in contrast manifested their testosterone when going through their full pre-match preparations on the drying outfield.

Once again the Indiam batting line up had to be altered as Gambhir recovered from a concussion acquired when thumping the back of his head very hard as he stumbled backwards in a failed attempt at a catch the day before.

This necessitated Dravid opening once more, but it should not necessarily have necessitated VVS Laxman batting at number three again, but inexplicably it did.

Sehwag taking first strike untypically watched a couple of deliveries from Anderson go down the off-side before hitting the next two to the boundary in a more typical Sehwagian fashion.  All hearts were raised by the hope of witnessing this special batsman lead India’s counter attack against the Vandal horde, but Anderson was setting him up for the one that comes back and he was duly trapped LBW like a novice.

Laxman was accordingly sacrificed like some gambit with a pawn.  Who exactly is responsible for squandering the potential of this great middle order batsman against the new ball?

Tendulka arrived to another standing ovation as the crowd, keen to the history of events, willed him to the rather artificial milestone (or millstone) of a hundred international hundreds. 

This giant of all-time was all-care and all-attention but he was twice struck ducking under balls that were not that short, once on the helmet and once in the ribs.   It was an uncharacteristic awkwardness and discomfit, but he met the blow to his head with an embarrassed smile and then a perfect on-drive for four.  All might be well, thought the historically minded crowd.

But an all-or-nothing sweep him off his length approach to Swann, who came on to bowl salivating like one of Pavlov’s dogs, was fraught with danger.  He must have calculated that the risk was worth it.  It revealed the Indian estimation of the wicket and the threat that the off-spinner presents, but the odds were always against it answering the destructive challenge of Swann the Terrible, and it was not long before Sachin bent his knee again and gloved the ball over his head to a waiting slip.

All who slaver are not fools.

Raina’s humiliation continued with a 40 minute duck that showed him confounded by movement and then lured by flight to over-balance and be stumped by a quick handed Prior, the batsman’s toe finding only a precarious perch on the line.

England took 5 Indian wickets in two hours (including a nightwatchman). Fifteen therefore remain to be demolished and reduced to rubble by England in two days. Swann’s figures are 10 overs, three maidens, 3 for 27.

The Wall remains 57, the only lasting evidence of a shattered civilization.

* extract from “The Ruin“, an 8th-century Old English poem from the Exeter Book by an unknown author.

N.B. The Squire has been called to Town and Third Man’s valeting services are required.  His Grace has not revealed whether this journey is in response to a call from the Governor of the Bank of England, a secretive someone in Downing Street or Duncan Fletcher, but further morning reports of deeds at the Oval will not be forth coming.

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