Plays of the Day July 23, 2007

Dhoni, the fab fifth

Dileep Premachandran comes up with the plays of the fifth day of the Lord's Test between England and India

Show Pony Dhoni shows his class and forms a formidable partnership with the rain as India hold on for a draw © Getty Images

Show Pony Dhoni?: That's what some have taken to calling India's wicketkeeper in these parts. As much as the Fab Four who are no longer fab, Mahendra Singh Dhoni had a whole lot to prove when he walked to the crease this morning. His first-innings dismissal had been a shocker, his keeping patchy, and his technique remains among the most ungainly you'll see at this level. But what Dhoni has is heart, and an ability to adapt, and he showed that with an innings that spanned 159 balls. There was plenty of flirtation with Dame Fortune, as edges evaded fielders, but he stuck around for the denouement, rotating the strike and thumping the odd boundary. India's hero.

Sledge of the day: Gamesmanship standards have undoubtedly declined, with coarseness and crudity almost completely replacing humour. Matt Prior came up with a gem though soon after Dhoni had arrived in the middle on a filthy, grey morning. "Yuvraj is looking brilliant in the nets, isn't he Dhoni?" he piped up. Not quite in the Eddo Brandes-Glenn McGrath- biscuit category, but well worth a chuckle.

The big trees also fall: After a calamitous start, India were starting to dream of a miracle when VVS Laxman and Dhoni stepped up the scoring after lunch. On came Chris Tremlett, who had looked both incisive and innocuous on Test debut. A magnificent full delivery that cut back appreciably crept through Laxman's defence and pegged back the stumps. Laxman's pose was a familiar depressing one, keeling over like a tree attacked by a chainsaw.

So near, and yet so very far: Just before the players went off for bad light, Monty Panesar had a huge appeal against Sreesanth. Steve Bucknor, who doesn't get too many Christmas cards from Indian fans, pondered long and hard, as he's prone to, but the finger never went up. Replays showed that it might have clipped the top of middle stump. A fortuitous escape for India, though they would argue that there were in such a mess mainly because Rahul Dravid didn't get any benefit of doubt.

Timing, timing: Unlike the Australians, the English have seldom seen the best of Laxman. But in one Tremlett over, there were two signature strokes, little more than wafts of the bat that sent back-of-length deliveries through point. The fielders gave chase, but even with the ball going up the slope, it was futile.

The forgotten man: One of those watching his former team-mates strive to save the Test was Aakash Chopra, the Delhi opener who once forged such an effective combination with Virender Sehwag. Not even a contender despite his experience of English league cricket, Chopra could only watch anxiously and hope for rain. Like this Indian team, he had seen better days, most notably in Australia and Pakistan in the 2003-04 season.

Omens and all that: India's record at the ground some call headquarters is pitiful, but they can take encouragement from their great escape here. In 1986, when they won the series, Dilip Vengsarkar's 126 and Kapil Dev's relentlessly accurate swing bowling set up a five-wicket win. And going back even further to 1971, the defiance of Eknath Solkar staved off defeat, with India finishing on 145 for 8 in pursuit of 183. A month later they went to the Oval and clinched the series, with Chandrasekhar's Mill-Reef deliveries wreaking havoc.

Dileep Premachandran is associate editor of Cricinfo