England v India, 1st npower Test, Lord's, 1st day July 21, 2011

England's batsmen made to toil on damp day

Foul weather disrupted the first day at Lord's, but the overhead gloom also gave just enough encouragement to India's seamers to make for an intriguing battle

At some stage in this benighted summer, the persistent rain will surely have to abate. Unfortunately, on a day that was intended as a celebration of all that is good in Test cricket, the heavens just couldn't resist getting mixed up in the action once again. In the England-Sri Lanka series just gone, some 369 overs were lost in the course of three Tests, so today's shortfall of 40.4 was typical of yet another frustrating day at the office.

Nevertheless, the gloom still served a purpose, for the action that was possible - particularly in the hour-and-a-half before lunch - was a fine and timely tribute to Test cricket's most compelling virtues. Lord's, as they say, is a venue where you look up, not down, and sure enough when India won the toss and took their chance to bowl first, they quickly settled into an attacking rhythm that wasn't seriously disrupted until Zaheer Khan left the field with an ominous twinge in his hamstring.

The significance of that scare won't be known until the morning. However, England's batting line-up still displayed a diligence that befits a group of players in some of the most pristine form imaginable, and was all the more impressive given how hard they were made to work for their returns. Not since Pakistan's pacemen were zipping the ball both ways last summer, before the spot-fixing zenith, had England been subjected to such an examination of their credentials. And whereas they wobbled on numerous occasions back then, this time they dug in like a side that has not been bowled out for less than 486 in five consecutive contests.

"I think it's pretty even," England's top-scorer on the day, Jonathan Trott, said. "The pitch looked good when the covers came off, and at Lord's with the overhead conditions and a pitch that's been under cover, most teams would bowl first. You obviously want to make inroads as a bowling unit, and we did well to combat that and played pretty well. We are pretty happy with where we find ourselves, and there's a lot of hard work tomorrow."

From the moment Zaheer zipped his first delivery through the air, off the seam and into the upturned fingers of MS Dhoni behind the stumps, the ball did all the talking as England's batsmen were subjected to the sort of interrogation in which the only appropriate response was "no comment". Survival in those circumstances was England's first and only objective, and though Alastair Cook - for once - was unable to do so, India's end-of-day tally of two wickets was below par for the conditions. It left their coach, Duncan Fletcher, ruing a length that had given their quarry too much time to adjust and avoid the edge.

All the same, after being bullied to all corners of Taunton by Somerset last week, this was a vital demonstration of India's bowling credentials in traditional English conditions. Zaheer's 0 for 72 spell in that contest could have become 3 for 9 in 12.4 overs today had Dhoni not ushered a regulation edge from Trott to the boundary, while the extravagance of Praveen Kumar's outswing took the breath away at times. It's arguable that they were bowling from the wrong ends for much of the day - a little less zip down the slope and Praveen could have snagged many an edge, but England now know the extent to which they'll need their wits about them.

India's early strikes could have undermined a less composed outfit. When he played down the wrong line to Zaheer, Cook was sent on his way for his lowest Test score since the final innings of the 2010 summer against Pakistan. Moreover it was the first time he had failed to pass fifty since England's Ashes defeat at the WACA back in December, six innings ago. However, the shock of the setback did not initially rattle his partner Andrew Strauss, whose eventual dismissal at Zaheer's hands seemed a rare moment of recklessness, rather than anything more sinister to England's series prospects.

The hook shot hasn't been a particular flaw in Strauss's armoury since his grim run of form in 2006-07, when he stepped out of his comfort zone in a bid to fill the void left by his more forceful opening partner, Marcus Trescothick. He fell in that manner twice at Brisbane and again at The Oval against India nine months later, when Zaheer was again the bowler, but on this occasion, it did not seem indicative of anything other than overconfidence. The weather had been threatening to clear, and England sensed a chance to raise the tempo after a dour morning. Nevertheless, the fact that Ishant Sharma was still lurking at deep backward square was intriguing. Perhaps Fletcher knows his former pupil better than the batsman does himself.

Kevin Pietersen is another man whose card will have been marked by India's coach, but his initial foray was atypically cautious, not least when Praveen began operating with Dhoni standing up to the wicket. Against a lesser opponent, Pietersen might well have taken the bait and been left to regret it, but the manner in which he built up his form throughout the recent Sri Lanka series suggests he is back in the zone mentally. An overnight score of 22 from 73 balls is no more than a beginning, but he'll take it.

So far, Pietersen's performance has had echoes of his determined century in this same fixture four years ago. He said back then he'd never had to work harder for three figures, and while it sounded at the time like standard KP hubris, by the time England had been beaten 1-0 in the three-match series, his assessment seemed far more justified. Zaheer was the thorn in England's flesh then, as he was for 13.3 overs today. The speed of his recovery could hardly be more critical to the balance of the match.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • JIGNESH on July 23, 2011, 4:18 GMT

    How Strauss played in practice game with strike rate over 80 in both innings, and in this match, he just survived for only 22 runs with strike rate of only 26. So, the bottom line, never predict the result from practice match performance. Both teams are equal in statistics and averages of their players. They have few advantages-they play in their own country, the great Sehwag is not playing, India have only one specialist opener, so they can break thru easily. India should have given Dravid a chance to open and should have include Yuvraj, the last World Cup's hero and man of the series. A Mukund already failed to show his performance in previous series against one of the struggling team as WI, but still got a chance in this series against one of the strongest team because of South Indian Srikanth is the chief selector of Indian team. What a poorness of India.

  • Dru on July 22, 2011, 10:29 GMT

    Eng the happier side after being asked to bat to only loose two wickets and now with Zaheer uncertain Ind want to make sure they get some wickets today before the Eng batting line up racks up another formidable score. I am surprised that Sreestanth didnt play ahead of Sahrma (unless he injured) as these conditions would have suited Sree better. Sharma got wickets in the Windies but this is a totally different ball game. Is Trott ever going to stop and what was Dhoni thinking- that should have been a straight forward chance and a game changer.

  • Varun on July 22, 2011, 10:25 GMT

    @awg3599 : Buddy your sense of humor is awesome .... Jimmy Anderson the best bowler in English Conditions...Joke of the century ..... if he's so good...then why even after a century and a half of cricket's history...why haven't England haven't won a single World Cup..the problem with English fans is that The Ashes is world Cup for them....Since they've retained the ashes..they think that they've conquered the World....every time whenever there's a world event...English rise up and say ..they'll win it...and every time they fail....history will repeat itself again in this series....and sense would prevail...and India will win this seris 2-0.

  • Varun on July 22, 2011, 9:46 GMT

    @ tjsimonsen : buddy....long are the days gone when we use to rely on a individual to deliver the goods....look at the Indian record over the past 3 years .... there are hardly ay individual performances that stand out...it has always been a team effort that has boosted the victory for team India... Zaheer's injury I once again say is goig to hurt...however, we have bowlers who can pick 20 english wickets .... take a man to man comparison in terms of bowling....english bowlers don't even come into frame barring Swann..... and he can't pick 20 Indian Wickets... everytime... and I gyess you have forgotten the Mighty Indian batting line-up .... It's a joke even to think that England can bowl out this line-up .... Cheers !!!

  • arjun on July 22, 2011, 9:08 GMT

    @5wombats with the rate England are making runs, they will need 25 days to accumulate anything that would surpass what India would score in 2 days. As far as this test is concerned England are playing for draw. They have no desire to win, all their batsmen want is their personal records. And this is what they will get in the end.

  • Dummy4 on July 22, 2011, 9:08 GMT

    without Zaheer the indian bowling lacks sting and venom..the indian loss cud be huge were he suffer longer.Not the fittest athlete/fast bowler ever to ave worn a cricket shirt but he more than makes it up with cunning and experience..may ave been a bit rusty/undercooked going into this game at Lords after having missed the Carib leg..

  • John on July 22, 2011, 8:05 GMT

    As usual, the comments from the Indian "cricket fans" are almost as entertaining as the cricket itself - though I do often wonder whether I have been watching a different match! Let's be clear, on a day like yesterday you put a team in to bat if you win the toss and you expect the opposition to at least be 3 down by lunch if you have made use of the conditions. With the one exception, India's bowling was woeful backed up by some equally inept fielding. The one good thing - which might temper the comments of the Indian fans here - is that the forecast over the 5 days is pretty consistent so yesterday's conditions might be replicated on any other given day and then we will get a masterclass from Jimmy Anderson in swing bowling in English conditions (name a better bowler in the world in such conditions?) So we shall wait and see if 127-2 is a good or poor effort. I suspect in similar circumstances India would have been 160-8.....India's attack seem to be a one trick pony.

  • Srinivas on July 22, 2011, 7:58 GMT

    Trott should have been back. Dravid dropped a very very difficult one. We had to move on from there. But what with the next sitter that Dhoni got? That was unpardonable! I'm very disappointed with Dhoni's judgement there....

  • thomas on July 22, 2011, 7:53 GMT

    @hbkvarun2003: You are absolutely right that a side need to win. So how can you belive that India will win 2-0? After all that means that India will have to bowl out England twice several times, and given their perfaormance yesterday that seems a little unlikely - with the exception of Zaheer who may not last the series.

  • Ram on July 22, 2011, 7:49 GMT

    India was unlucky not to take a couple more wickets ( and they did lacked pace as well and Trott played really well) and a score like 120-4 would have been par on day one. 127-2 is deffo advantage England and sets up the platform to score at least 400 unless India can deliver on Friday and grab a couple of wickets ( and remove Trott) in quick time.

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