India fought valiantly — if not always cleverly — on a tense final day of the first Test, but eventually its past caught up with it.
Suresh Raina raged against the dying of the light with 78. England, however, wasn’t to be denied a 196-run win, which put the seal on a largely dominant all-round performance. James Anderson finished with five wickets.
Lord’s had drawn a full, raucous house on Monday morning – and understandably so, for the contest promised much.
The threats to India were from swing (if the conditions arranged it), inconsistent bounce (potentially a big risk because of the heights of the English bowlers), and spin (normally not a matter Indian batsmen would fret over, but Graeme Swann, with runs on the board, is another thing).
Most formidable of all was clock pressure: its batsmen had to find that elusive balance between playing their natural games and appeasing the demands of the situation. With victory out of the question, they knew England could station catchers all day.
Rahul Dravid and V.V.S. Laxman, who had batted with such conviction on Sunday evening, held England off for a little over half an hour on Monday before calamity struck.
Dravid, who had made very few errors of judgment in over eight hours in the two innings combined, twitched at a ball he would ordinarily have ignored.
James Anderson celebrated the wicket, but he had Chris Tremlett to thank. Tremlett had bowled beautifully down the slope, fermenting doubt in Dravid’s mind. The batsman was unsure of the line to leave — balls wider than normal can threaten the stumps when pitched on the incline.
Gautam Gambhir, bruised elbow and all, matched wits with Swann. Twice he flitted back in his crease to cut off-breaks for boundaries. But Swann nearly had his man with a drifting under-cutter that threatened to slip past the rapidly arriving bat.
Laxman, at the other end, was showing why he is considered the generation’s best big-innings player. An edge squirted through vacant third slip (Andrew Strauss had deep-point instead) and a nonchalant flip flew between mid-wicket and mid-on at catchable height, but otherwise Laxman was sinuously secure.
Then, as it sometimes happens when all appears well with the batsman’s world, things changed quickly. Laxman lifted a pull to mid-wicket. The length of Anderson’s shorter ball, whether by design or accident, was just right: not so full that it could be hit down on and not so short that it could be elevated further.
Gambhir left next over, adjudged lbw when stretched forward in defence. Swann’s delivery did enough from around the wicket, straightening to strike pad just before bat. In the past, the batsman might have escaped, but umpires these days, after seeing the game from Hawk Eye’s view, are comfortable giving such decisions.
Sachin Tendulkar, allowed after a recalculation to bat an hour and a half into the first session and not thirty minutes after lunch, had a curious time of it. He defended stoutly, played and missed, survived a shout for lbw that looked out, and went scoreless for 50 minutes and 38 balls. Anderson, who has an excellent record against the great man, got a delivery to curve slightly into the right-hander and continue further down this path off the surface. The length, much like Stuart Broad’s in the first innings, caught Tendulkar half-cock. What made the delivery even better was that it came after Tendulkar was dropped at first slip.
Raina, coming off a first-innings duck, showed he has the stomach for a fight. His defensive technique against the moving ball was tested.
He stayed back, trusting his eye and hands: he looked jumpy as a consequence, like a buoy in choppy waters, but, especially when the line was straight, the method held.
When the line was wider, Raina’s play was less safe. One edge went through a gap in the slips; another fell short of third slip standing impossibly close. But he let neither incident (nor a close stumping call that only just went his way) dismay him.
Once settled, Raina began to bat on instinct, playing some bright strokes in the short period before tea, against Jonathan Trott and Kevin Pietersen, to reach his half-century. The extra hardness of the second new ball accounted for M.S. Dhoni twenty minutes after tea. Tremlett got it to ascend — some achievement given how slow the track had become — suckering the Indian captain into touching a catch to the keeper. Dhoni walked, and with him went India’s last chance of saving the game. Hindu