If you win the toss on a pitch that looks more suited for grazing sheep than opening the batting in Test cricket, you must ensure that the opposition struggles to put bat to ball. To everyone’s surprise, nothing of that sort happened in the first and, perhaps, the most crucial session of the Test match at Lord’s.
A frustrated Stuart Broad on Day Three of the second Test at Lord's. Pic/Getty Images
That was enough for me to harbour thoughts of an India win while most treaded cautiously. The pitch was unusually green and it was imperative for the English bowlers to reduce India to a paltry score for a couple of reasons — 1. Seizing the advantage of winning the toss and 2.
To manage the overworked pace battery’s workload. The pitch at Trent Bridge was akin to a fast bowler’s graveyard and the short break between the two Tests was never going to be enough for the English bowlers who bowled twice in the first Test.
The waiting game
From India’s perspective it was all about making them bowl a lot of overs once again and taking the game into the third or fourth day without losing the plot. England had a few windows of opportunity to sneak past the Indians, but didn’t have the tools or the intent to make it happen.
One hundred and forty five for seven on Day One was the first such opportunity but as much as India’s rescue mission was about Ajinkya Rahane’s skill and Bhuvneshwar’s resilience, it was equally about the listless English captain and, perhaps, tired English bowlers.
Instead of going for the kill, Alastair Cook chose to wait for the second new ball. India scored 291. First round to India and my initial thought of India winning started gaining strength.
Since England did not dismiss India cheaply, it was imperative to take a big first innings lead because the sun, heavy roller and the grass mower had made the pitch a decent one to bat on. Once again, England had the opportunity to make up for lost ground, but they let it slip once again, and much to India’s pleasure.
Yes, Bhuvneshwar bowled well for his six wickets but the way Moeen Ali, Matt Prior and Gary Ballance got out, made me believe that the pendulum was shifting India’s way. A Test match is all about winning the mini battles and that key moment, and England lost two in three days.
A slender lead was going to trouble India only if their bowlers triggered a dramatic collapse in India’s second innings and luckily for them, they did.
A page from The Cricket Paper newspaper in England which the author wrote for during the Test
Virat Kohli, Chesteshwar Pujara and Rahane on the third evening and MS Dhoni, Murali Vijay and Stuart Binny on the fourth morning brought them right back into the game.
It wasn’t a coincidence that England allowed the match to slip away once again, for a pattern was developing. If you could keep the English bowlers on the field for over a 100 overs, it was quite apparent that they would struggle to dismiss the tail. And they did.
By the time India had 318 on the board for the fourth innings, I had become bullish about India’s chances. Throughout 2011, I closely observed India when they often let the game slip away by losing key moments. I could clearly see the same happening with England this time around.
In the last eight Test matches before the one at Lord’s, England had found themselves in a position of strength in almost every single game, yet showed the inability to turn it in their favour.
Once you go down that slippery slope, it takes a superhuman effort from the senior members in the team to stem the rot. Those days India needed Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman or Dhoni to turn the tide and now, England need Cook, Ian Bell, James Anderson and Stuart Broad to stand up together. It didn’t happen for India and it isn’t happening for England either.