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Hits and mishits

Hits and mishits
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First Published: Thu, Jul 28 2011. 12 58 AM IST

Updated: Thu, Jul 28 2011. 12 58 AM IST
The first Test at Lord’s revived the glory of Test cricket and provided rich, compelling fare over the five days to please the aesthete and the lay fan. Crowds packed the ground on all days, with the fifth day seeing a record attendance.
A defeat for India would have disappointed the diehard supporter, but this Test may have set the tone for what promises to be a riveting series—provided, of course, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Co. get their act right from here.
A quick look at what went wrong
Not getting Ishant to bowl after lunch on day 4
This was a bigger puzzle than captain M.S. Dhoni coming on to bowl himself. In the period before lunch on the fourth day, Ishant Sharma had given India a glimmer of hope by claiming three wickets for just one run. At 72-5 going into the break, India were not in a winning position—but they still had a chance.
After lunch, Dhoni preferred to use bowlers other than his spearhead, allowing the English lower order to breathe easy. The pressure off them, Matt Prior and Stuart Broad put on a century partnership which effectively put India out of the match.
True, Sharma had bowled 11 overs before lunch and India were a bowler short. But the situation called for a do-or-die effort. There is no guarantee that Sharma would have taken more wickets, but many years later, Dhoni will ask himself if he was too defensive.
Photograph by: AP
Gambhir’s injury,Tendulkar’s illness
This was supposed to be Sachin Tendulkar’s tryst with destiny. Apart from a first-ever hundred at Lord’s (in possibly his last innings here), he was also seeking his 100th international century. The massive burden of expectations obviously played on his mind. As if that was not enough stress, Tendulkar contracted a viral infection which clearly hampered his batting, and didn’t allow him to bat at his usual No. 4 position in the second innings.
The problem was compounded with Gautam Gambhir bruising his elbow badly while fielding at short-leg. He too could not open the innings, which made it that much easier for the England pace trio of James Anderson, Chris Tremlett and Stuart Broad to put pressure on the Indian batting in the final innings.
Photograph by: Reuters
Losing Zaheer on day 1
India’s many successes in Tests and One Day Internationals, or ODIs, in the recent past have come because of Zaheer Khan. Since 2007, he has been the country’s premier Test bowler—his superb bowling in the 2011 World Cup was one of the significant reasons for India’s triumph.
With two wickets in two short spells, Khan looked like he would make Dhoni’s luck with the toss count. But after having England on the ropes, as it were, he pulled up with a strain in the 15th over. There was to be no gain for India, only pain.
Photograph by: Reuters
Harbhajan failing to adapt
This was not a pitch for spinners, yet Harbhajan Singh’s failure to pose any threat to the English batsmen in either innings was a big let-down. For somebody who has 400-plus Test wickets, Singh looked innocuous and completely out of sorts.
In this first leg of the battle of off-spinners, he was completely upstaged by Graeme Swann. The English slow bowler did not have too much success either, but constantly posed a danger to the Indian batsmen. Quicker in the air, he was able to get some nip off the wicket, more turn and showed more guile too. In a sense, he showed Singh how to bowl on English wickets. Now, if only that lesson has been learnt
Photograph by: AP
Pietersen getting a reprieve on 49
Common consensus is that in England’s first innings, Kevin Pietersen was caught at leg slip by Rahul Dravid when he was on 49. The decision went to the third umpire, who ruled “not out”, though there was every evidence to the contrary, not to mention the word of a player like Dravid.
Pietersen benefited massively from this decision, adding more than 150 runs to his score after that, and India were effectively blanked out of the Test.
Photograph by: Reuters
Why hope is still alive
Sachin! Sachin!
He failed to overcome the Lord’s jinx, but is still the batsman England respect and fear most. His dismal run of scores at the home of cricket must rate as one of the great anomalies in sport. But so spectacular has been his form over the past few years that everybody believes it is only a matter of when, not how, the runs will start flowing again.
For a brief while in the first innings, Tendulkar showed glimpses of his best before inexplicably getting into his shell. Now that he’s rid of the albatross round his neck, watch out for runs scored more freely, and in his inimitable style. Yes, the 100th century does not look too far away.
Add the redoubtable V.V.S. Laxman, the hardy Gautam Gambhir and the swashbuckling Virender Sehwag, and you have a batting line-up that could still make England pay heavily.
Photograph by: AP
Young guns come good
For many people, Suresh Raina would have had only a marginal edge over Yuvraj Singh when it came to selection for the first Test. His discomfort against short-pitched deliveries was widely known to all fast bowlers on the circuit and his technique against swing was thought to be suspect.
A second-ball duck against Graeme Swann in the first innings didn’t help. Written off by most, he came up with a doughty, finely crafted half-century in the second inning, showing no vulnerability against bounce or swing. The wolves have been kept at bay.
Abhinav Mukund, given the onerous —almost impossible—task of filling Virender Sehwag’s boots, impressed with his grit and mature temperament. He reads swing well and plays late. Only 21, he is obviously only the stopgap opener in this series, but looks set for a long haul in Indian cricket nonetheless.
Photograph by: AP
Praveen, Ishant rise to the occasion
Praveen Kumar’s five-wicket haul in the first innings and Ishant Sharma’s fiery burst in the second, which fetched him three wickets for one run, made one wonder what might have been had Zaheer Khan not pulled out on the first day itself.
Bowling at a little under 80 miles per hour (around 128kmph), Kumar looked least likely to trouble batsmen whose staple diet is medium-pace swing. But he rose to the occasion, bowling long spells with great skill and a big heart.
Sharma, almost a yard quicker, looked to be many paces behind when he struggled to find his rhythm in the first inning and went wicket-less. But in the second, he discovered the line and three-quarter length that had fetched him 22 wickets in the West Indies in June-July and suddenly looked lethal.
Going into the second Test, this pair look every bit as dangerous as England’s pacemen, though relatively inexperienced. Now, if only Zaheer Khan returns to full fitness in time.
Photograph by: AP
Dravid’s sublime century
With all the brouhaha over Tendulkar, Lord’s and his impending 100th international century, everybody overlooked the fact that India also had in their midst a batsman who had scored 32 Test centuries and in excess of 12,000 runs.
But Rahul Dravid’s entire cricketing career has been understated, though it would appear he prefers it that way. As he was to say after scoring his 33rd century—and his first at Lord’s, after making 95 on debut 15 years ago—it helped that all the attention was on Tendulkar because he could slip by unnoticed.
For years, Dravid has been India’s most consistent performer overseas, and nobody has been better in crises. In the context of this match, his unbeaten 103 in the first inning was a tour de force. By the looks of it, there are still loads of runs in his bat.
Photograph by: Reuters
We always do better as the series progresses
Slow starters, late bloomers, or whatever other cliché one can think of, the Indian team always struggles in the first match, then picks up momentum. The reasons are inexplicable, but it is a fact. This is a four-Test series. Perhaps, their time has just begun.
Ayaz Memon is a senior columnist who writes on sports and other matters. He will write weekly during the course of the series from England.
Write to Ayaz at beyondboundaries@livemint.com
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First Published: Thu, Jul 28 2011. 12 58 AM IST