The quality of the cricket on view on the third day of this classic Test lived up to expectations. The best batsmen faced the best bowling and the ball moved sideways.
Sideways, not ‘sideways’. ‘Sideways’ is a term normally reserved for exaggerated movement in the air or off the pitch.
Yesterday, as indeed on all three days of this match, the movement was not extraordinary, but it was distinctive. It was the result of skill and it could be countered only by matching that skill with batting technique of the highest order (or in the case of Pietersen with peerless innovation).
There was a passage of play when the Master and the Wall, Tendulka and Dravid, batted together for 81 runs against twenty or so overs from Anderson, Tremlett and Broad, and there can never have been a better contest at this special venue which has staged over a hundred Test matches since the first in 1884.
Dravid triumphed, undefeated on 103. Tendulka perished. The former played as late as was humanly possible against a ball moving across him at 85 mph – surely the optimum speed for swing at pace.
Dravid opened the face of his bat and played the ball square into the off-side with the blade angled backwards, his hands well in advance of the rest of the bat.
Tendulka playing a foot earlier, much straighter and with the blade perpendicular was often beaten and in truth never looked capable of surviving to make that first century at Lord’s which was palpably his prime ambition.
India may have expected to face two such bowlers with Anderson capable of well disguised swing in both directions and Tremlett trading extra bounce for such disguise, but they were to come up against a Broad determined to pitch the supply of last year’s Duke cricket ball being used in this series at a fulsome length.
It was Broad who dismissed Gambhir with a perfectly drawn French curve to trap the left hander, LBW. It was Broad who, with fortune at his side, tempted the promising Mukund, anxious to reach ‘fifty’ to drag a wide half volley back onto his stumps for 49.
It was Broad who might have had India five down for 159 had Strauss and Swann been able to cling on to straightforward slip catches from Dravid and Laxman in the same over. It was Broad who finished his day with 4 for 37 in 22 overs; half as frugal and twice as potent as his companions.
As it was, no other batsman was capable of staying with Dravid, no other capable of playing the moving ball so consistently well.
India were able to save the follow on but are in a parlous position 193 runs in arrears, all second innings wickets standing and with two days of cricket remaining.
The day’s play heightened the value of Pietersen’s innings and intensified the importance of the third umpire’s decision not to allow Dravid’s catch when the double-centurian turned Kumar to backward short leg. This decision has made the difference between the two totals.
But the true star of this Test has been ‘the red’ used in this match with its tenacious, proud and hand-stitched seam – the product of two hundred and fifty year’s of artisanship.
It is said that Test cricket is dying, it is also said that Test cricket is prized by those who play it. If so, then, a cricket ball must be developed that has a seam that withstands the harsher surfaces found in other countries and the players must insist on its adoption – such a development cannot be left to the politicking of the administrators.
It is the seam that creates the turbulence, and the skilful positioning of the seam through the air that creates the differential patterns of air flow that produce the movement which, when exploited by bowlers and countered by batsmen, so enthrals and entertains.
Spinners appreciate it too.
For cricket of the quality on show in this Test match, there must be a balance between bat and ball – bats have developed, so now must cricket balls.
England 474 for 8 dec and 5 for 0, India 286