A shot at redemption
Amid all the rain, gloom, wickets and runs that we've witnessed at Lord's over the last four days, there's been a cracking Test match unfolding out in the middle. The pitch has supported the batsmen and bowlers in equal measure, the moisture in the air has added spice to the contest, rookie bowlers have shone and one of the world's most exciting batsmen has reeled off what could turn into a matchwinning hundred.
At a quarter past noon today, when Ian Bell played on trying to pull, the game hung on a thread. England were 132 for 5, with an effective lead of 229; India's first-change bowler, RP Singh, was impressing with every over; more than six sessions remained and the match was thrown wide open. Even the sun didn't want to miss out on the action. We know what happened after that and can predict what might happen tomorrow but, irrespective of the result, one mustn't forget the rivetting fare that's been dished out.
India arrived at Lord's with an egg-shaped line-up, and will possibly leave with one resembling an hourglass. They were apprehensive about the openers and uncertain if they possessed the bowling ammunition to take 20 wickets but their biggest worry after this game will be in connection with the middle order, dysfunctional and in need of resuscitation. They could yet leave unscathed, considering how fickle the weather has been of late, but at some point the bowlers need to start raising the volume in the dressing-room. During the early stages of the World Cup, in 2003, Javagal Srinath spoke on behalf of India's bowlers and made it clear to the batsmen that they needed to pull up their socks. They did. There was a time when former coach John Wright used to pit the batsmen against the bowlers in volleyball tussles and later realised that India did really well during that period. They restarted the practice.
Here England were dismissed for under 300 in both innings, a situation the batsmen would gladly have bargained for before the game began. Two inexperienced bowlers, Sreesanth and RP Singh, have turned up for their first Test in this country and done what was expected of them; in fact one has raised his game for the occasion. RP Singh, 21, has been part of just four Tests before this, despite a Man-of-the-Match debut performance on a concrete Faisalabad pitch last year. Just like in that game, he surprised batsmen with bounce, swing and pace, the type you wouldn't expect from a man of his build. He has the knack of picking up wickets with innocuous-looking deliveries, as Bell realised, but he can surprise you occasionally, as Paul Collingwood had found out earlier.
There was a lesson in his batting as well. Sent in as a nightwatchman in the first innings he stayed out there for a minute under an hour and ended up as the fourth highest scorer in a line-up filled with stars. He's stuck to the basics, not been overawed by the occasion and, unlike the rest of the team so far, registered his name on the honours board in the Lord's dressing-room.
It's a feat that Sachin Tendulkar may never manage after choosing not to use his bat to a Monty Panesar arm-ball but it's something Dinesh Karthik is in a position to achieve, especially after the composure he displayed this evening. On the first morning, he might have been tempted to dig a hole in the point region and bury himself in it all day - after dropping what one newspaper termed the "easiest catch in history" - but there was a discernible assuredness in his game today. To gauge Karthik's form it's best to observe his cover-driving: crisp and all along the ground. The lack of swing this evening helped and he could afford to go after the full ones, lacing them through the off side. Edges and airy flashes are part and parcel of a Karthik innings but his urgency between the wickets and confidence to back himself took him through to stumps.
The weather might come to India's rescue, maybe even one of their batsmen might, but another engrossing day's cricket will be a fitting way to end this Test. India will hope the tickets are sold out; if the sun gets in it may be curtains.
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is assistant editor of Cricinfo