Young Englishmen rise to the occasion
According to reports in today's papers, Lord's is fighting for its right to host two Tests a summer. There are simply too many venues and too few big matches to go around, and the likes of Chester-le-Street and the Rose Bowl are agitating for their share of the action.
Today's extraordinary events in St John's Wood, however, could hardly have been more timely for the MCC. Back in the winter of 2003, they took the bold decision to dig up and relay the entire square, at the cost of £1.25 million. Today, as two months' worth of rain fell on the ground and then vanished, that investment was justified a million times over.
Other grounds up and down the country would simply never have coped with the deluge - Worcestershire's flooded executives at New Road, for instance, can only look on in envy as they contemplate the cost of aborting their second home fixture in a row. It's a moot point whether England's batsmen were quite so enamoured by Lord's powers of recovery, however.
"We were surprised we were playing as early as we did, considering the rain we had," said James Anderson, ever England's master of understatement. At 12.30 this afternoon, there was simply no way back for the day - the top tier of the Edrich Stand was doing a passable impression of the Jog Falls, while the Hooghly and the Meghna seemed to have been spirited from the Bengal Delta to the Tavern Stand boundary. Two hours (and a frantic scramble for the pads) later, England had lost their last six wickets for 30 in a performance that left a succession of bemused batsmen blinking into the sunlight.
The rain had freshened up the pitch and made the ground especially receptive to swing, but England's mindset seemed to go a little bit rusty in the interim - little wonder, seeing as the same players who had risked trenchfoot as they trudged across the square to the indoor nets were now expected to gather their thoughts and face a trio of fast bowlers who had learned swift lessons after their wayward performance on the first morning.
India's transformation was as dramatic as the weather itself. Venkatesh Prasad, the bowling coach who performed with such distinction on the 1996 tour, doubtless impressed the importance of keeping things simple as Sreesanth, the pick of the attack with three lbws in 14 balls, spoke of hitting the "right areas" no fewer than six times in a five-minute chat with the media.
"Maybe the rain helped us, we really enjoyed ourselves in the dressing room," said Sreesanth. "It was a good break and we were really together. I listened to a lot of music, just relaxing, and the moment the umpires said the game is on from 1.50pm, I said 'okay cool'." Such an angst-free attitude will carry the squad far.
India's progress was so serene, in fact, that they were able to make light of the sort of moment that might have caused a more highly strung unit to snap. When Kevin Pietersen edged Zaheer Khan to MS Dhoni behind the stumps and trudged off for 37, he had made it all the way to the pavilion gate before turning round to find that the umpires were still in consultation about the legitimacy of the catch. Two balls later, he was on his way again - another edge, another take and this time no dispute.
|"I felt during the one-day matches a little more responsibility, and I enjoyed that today," said Anderson. "I see this as a chance to show what sort of form I'm in and what I can do."|
It was a messy situation all round. The umpires are entitled to change their decision at any stage, although it was ironic that Pietersen, perhaps in the spirit of the recent Cowdrey Lecture at Lord's, had walked for the edge before Simon Taufel had raised his finger. But Steve Bucknor was less certain, as were certain members of the England dressing room who caught Pietersen's attention as he reached the rope.
"A few of the guys spotted it, but I'm not sure exactly what happened," said Anderson. It mattered not in the end. Rarely has Pietersen looked so confused on a cricket pitch - his on-off switch had been flicked so many times in the course of the hour his lights had effectively fused.
By the day's end, however, England's bowlers had turned the situation to their favour, as the young-gun attack of Anderson, Ryan Sidebottom and Chris Tremlett made light of their rookie status with a performance that was as mature as it was professional. They may boast just 23 caps between them, but lurking in the dressing-room is a man with a lifetime of situational experience to hand out.
Allan Donald was actually ushered off the pitch by the umpires as he attempted to bring on the drinks and a few words of advice, but his influence had already been ingrained in his charges. "He has a very different approach - he talks more about match situations and less about run-ups," said Anderson. In his previous incarnation as an England cricketer, Anderson was as anonymous as the fifth Beatle, notable only for the way in which he would wheel away at a single stump during Test-match intervals.
Now he is leading England's line, his confidence restored after classy performances in the championship for Lancashire, and massaged by the scalps of both Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar. "I felt during the one-day matches a little more responsibility, and I enjoyed that today," he said. "I see this as a chance to show what sort of form I'm in and what I can do."
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo