England v India, 1st npower Test, Lord's, 4th day July 24, 2011

An expected end after a thrilling journey

The series opener between England and India already has a storyline worthy of its 2000th Test status, and a compelling final day awaits

Their miracle workers remain in the middle, but India face a mighty struggle to save this Test. The hope of victory has long been snuffed out; their batting order has been disrupted by injury and illness; and they have toiled on the field for close to three days with three bowlers. While Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman have bailed India out of more hopeless situations in the past, batting on the last day at Lord's against England's bowling attack will test their skills, if not temperament, more than Kolkata and Adelaide, where they mounted their legendary 300-run partnerships.

Sachin Tendulkar, who was off the field for two sessions with a viral infection, cannot bat until half an hour before lunch or till five wickets are down. Gautam Gambhir, the regular opener and the hero of a couple of gritty draws, has suffered a sickening blow to the elbow. But Dravid, who is yet to be dismissed in this Test, and Laxman - who it seems cannot summon his best unless a crisis beckons in the final innings - have managed to survive, with some luck and plenty of fortitude and skill, a tough final session to keep India afloat in a contest worthy of the 2000th Test.

In Test cricket, the journey is often more interesting than the outcome. At tea on the fourth day, the match stood where everyone, including both the teams, would have expected it to be - England then declared with a lead of 457 and India faced the prospect of surviving more than 120 overs to go to Trent Bridge with a clean slate - but what a route it took.

For about half an hour before lunch, India, chasing the match almost all through the Test, turned predator, and England bore the look of the hunted. Ishant Sharma breezed in, the ball zipped around, catching men waited expectantly, and the Indian fans found their voice as England lost four wickets for eight runs in 5.2 overs.

From what was meant to be a smooth and routine passage to a point from where England could declare safely with time in hand to bowl India out, there arrived the prospect of an Indian chase of around 330 runs; still mighty tough, but not beyond the realm of achievable. It was Test match cricket at its most sensationally unpredictable.

Among the many wonderful things about Test cricket is that it offers the prospect of redemption within the course of a match. Ishant Sharma, after his high in the West Indies where he was the Man of the Series, was so listless and out of sorts in the first innings that India were effectively reduced to a one-man seam attack after Zaheer Khan's withdrawal. With its pronounced slope, Lord's is a difficult ground to adjust to for a first-timer, but life generally rewards those who learn from mistakes, and the key change Ishant made in the second innings was adjusting his length.

Just as Stuart Broad had proved in the Indian innings, this track rewards those prepared to pitch it up. Even the wickets Ishant got with the shorter balls were the result of his having bowled fuller earlier. Kevin Pietersen was already pressing forward when he got a snorter, and Eoin Morgan was almost surprised by the bouncer that forced a mistimed pull.

Inevitably, though, India's three-man attack ran out of juice and India's intensity in the field dropped as Matt Prior built two vital partnerships to drive England into the ascendancy again. The match returned to script again in the final session as the Indian batsmen began their struggle against three high-quality pace bowlers of contrasting styles.

Throughout this match there have been discussions about whether Prior is the world's best wicketkeeper-batsman in Tests and, purely on the evidence of this Test, Prior has sealed the case. As the full package, MS Dhoni is among the most influential figures in world cricket, but Prior has been a match-turner for England at the vital position of No. 7, and twice in this Test he has swung the innings coming in after the loss of quick wickets.

He has a well-organised defence and the confidence to play his strokes even in tough conditions, and while square on the off side is his favourite scoring area, he is accomplished enough to tuck away to leg when the bowling is straight. England have scored 327 runs while Prior has been at the crease in this match, and while Dhoni has shown his versatility by running in to bowl, Prior has comfortably won the battle of the wicketkeepers.

Dhoni has had a poor match behind the wickets, and while it is always a challenge to keep at Lord's, he got himself into tangles with his footwork, leading to two missed chances. He managed to pouch an edge from Ian Bell in the first innings by diving to his right, but today he simply let an edge from Stuart Broad fly past with a whimper of an attempt. He did save a Test here with his batting in 2007, and he might yet have the opportunity to redeem himself on the fifth day.

This Test could end in a hurry on the final day, with the scorecard presenting the picture of a one-sided affair, but the truth is that barring the second day, when India were ragged with the ball and in the field, this match has already provided everything that you could want from high-class Test cricket: an absorbing contest between bat and the ball, swing and seam, batsmen fighting through tough periods, strokes of the highest pedigree, dramatic turnarounds, one double hundred and two hundreds, a five-for and two four-wickets hauls.

There is still the possibility of a draw, but it will hardly be a dull one. If you happen to be in and around London, queue up early at the counters tomorrow. A contest beckons and tickets are available at a bargain. And if it counts for anything, it's the last chance to watch Dravid, Laxman and Tendulkar in Test whites at this ground.

Sambit Bal is the editor of ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Bob on July 25, 2011, 12:48 GMT

    Excuses.. excuses.. Any team arriving for an away series is surely the best team the selectors can assemble... If its not, then your selectors need sacking... Secondly, the old saying, fail to prepare, prepare to fail is never truer that in cricket. (Check Englands preparation for the last Ashes series for the proof of that). India went to the WI without some of their major players, who are are subsequently not match fit and are now suffering the consequences. If India want to retain its number 1 ranking, they'll need to sharpen up their act pretty quickly indeed.

  • Dummy4 on July 25, 2011, 12:45 GMT

    I completely agree with hawkeye30. Zaheer is a good bowler. Tendulkar and Dravid are world class. Laxman has his moments. The rest, sadly, might roar in their own backyard, but in an away match are found badly floundering. Unfortunately this is not a 3 man team....the rest cannot contribute consistently. The hype is too much and their contributions negligible. England on the other hand have match winners from top to bottom with bat and ball.

  • Dummy4 on July 25, 2011, 12:39 GMT

    Cometh the moment cometh the man. No better moment for 'god' to save his people. My GOD always does that.

  • Dummy4 on July 25, 2011, 12:34 GMT

    It appears as though England would win. The mere fact that both Dravid and Laxman are already out is enough to think that they don't have any chance of saving the game - the records of the rest do not give the Indian fans any hope towards saving the game. As usual, they could only have won if Sehwag was around and had played one of his mysterious innings. I think that the Indian selectors also made an error when they did not play Yuvraj instead of Raina. Yuvraj has the added asset of a relatively good legspin which the English batsmen don't play very well. You could see how much he was missed when India could not effect the break through or limit the scoring. I wonder when Yuvraj would be respected by the Indians as a genuine senior player? AFTER JUST WINNING THE WORLD CUP FOR THEM SINGLE HANDEDLY with his BATTING and his LEGSPIN, the reward for him in the next match for which he was available, was to LEAVE HIM OUT OF A TEST MATCH AT LORDS, thereby embarassing the poor young man!

  • Kashi on July 25, 2011, 12:23 GMT

    @Amit Agrawal - Why drop Mukund? Drop Gambhir! He has done very little in this test. Against genuine pace he is rabbit. I would retain Mukund as he showed promiss. Agree with you drop Zaheer abd Harbhajan and bring in Munaf, Sreesanth and Yuvraj I would even think of drop Sachin, but nobody seems to have the guts

  • rahul on July 25, 2011, 12:16 GMT

    many english fans are saying that it doesn't matter whether some main players of india are injured or not . india should have find some replacements for them .i agree with that but to find a proper replacement for a main player is not that easy. 3 months ago when england 's world cup campain was ended by sri lanka . they saId the same thing that some main players were injured so we lost. my meaning of saying is that injury to some important players like zaheer ,gambhir have effect on the result of this test match . peoples who are predicting that indian side is very weak and would get thrashed by england by 3-0 or 4-0 are completely wrong .this indian side would be different in second test when zaheer returns & would come harder on england when sehwag returns in third test .

  • Jawad on July 25, 2011, 12:09 GMT

    As Tendulkar attempts to go for his 100th century. we take a look at the 99 centuries of Sachin Tendulkar and why India loose when Sachin scores a century. Read my analysis @ cricblogger.wordpress.com

  • Imtiaz on July 25, 2011, 11:50 GMT

    Why dont BCCI try out Irfan Pathan, he can be good all rounder, just need to guide him properly he can be good asset to Indian team. He can hit the bal very well and bowl. A better option i think will be try Irfan. Few tips from Zaheer and bowling couch can make him much better ....

  • Shehan on July 25, 2011, 11:06 GMT

    India is ordinary as it gets in cricket. Just that one billion people make a huge hype about how good they are..India is going down in England! Looks a white wash at the moment!

  • Dummy4 on July 25, 2011, 9:49 GMT

    As an Indian fan and a cricketer playing in England, I have been saying for the past 3 years, a nos.1. Test side should not be relying on one world class but injury prone seamer in a 4-man attack. Test matches are won by sides taking 20 wickets, and the reason India cannot win away in Australia and South Africa is that they we do not have the bowling to do that consistently. England are a much better balanced side - those on this forum who are calling their bowling attack 'mediocre' have a very poor understanding of the game - and India will need all the experience and nous of our ageing middle order to get a result from this series. It should be a fascinating watch - and a lesson in why test match cricket is the ultimate in skill, endurance and drama.

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