Choice of game
The Lord's Test between England and India had been see-sawing for four days. At stumps on day four, both teams were presented with a clear path to victory: India needed to take six wickets, and England needed to score 214 runs. This situation, coupled with the fact that watching a Test at Lord's is a must for any cricket fan, meant attending this match was a no-brainer.
From a neutral perspective, logic and recent form suggested India would win comfortably. However the cricket romantic in me was desperate for England to fight back and regain some of the confidence and swagger that they possessed under the captaincy of Andrew Strauss. Indeed, if they had managed to scrape a win, it would have been one of their finest victories.
It's difficult to look beyond the Man of the Match, Ishant Sharma. During a scratchy first session, England were regaining momentum due to a series of boundaries off Ishant, but the Indian pacer maintained his composure the following over to break the partnership that was threatening to take the game away from the Indians. After lunch, he bowled with pace and hostility, to finish with his best Test figures of 7 for 74 - the best figures by an Indian bowler in England. Ishant has been the subject of a lot of mirth in the past, but today he repaid the selectors for their faith, picking him even when his figures suggested that they do otherwise. An Indian fan behind me remarked to his friend (with a hint of disappointment in his voice): "Now we can't make fun of him for at least another month!"
One thing I'd have changed
Moeen Ali and Joe Root seemed to have luck on their side in the morning session, as a couple of chances bounced just short or just wide of the slip cordon. However, their luck ran out at the stroke of lunch, when Ishant bowled a well-directed bouncer at Ali, who contorted his body in a half-attempt to play a shot, but to no avail. The ball bounced off his glove, and into the grateful hands of a gleeful short leg that had been positioned for exactly that sort of chance. Astute captaincy by MS Dhoni, who never let the match get away from his control. If Ali had managed to stick around for another hour or so after lunch, this report could have been very different indeed.
In ten years, when people remember this Test match, they won't remember Ajinkya Rahane's century or M Vijay's patient vigil at the crease. This match will be remembered for an English implosion that was astonishing in its lack of professionalism and its pace. In one hour, just one measly hour, Matt Prior, Ben Stokes, and Root undid all the hard work that their team-mates had put in for the last four days. Dhoni didn't need to resort to one of his unorthodox tactics. His strategy was simple: put three fielders on the leg-side boundary, get Ishant to bowl bumpers, and test the mental fortitude and determination of the English batsmen. They failed this last test. Miserably.
In essence, this was leg theory (oh, go on then, Bodyline!) and everyone in the ground - me, my uncle, the Englishman behind me, the Indian sitting beside him, even the exasperated little boy in front of me - knew what was coming. Well, it was more like everyone except the batsmen, who made unforgivable, schoolboy errors that have no place in the international arena. Three moments of madness. Unbelievable.
Mohammed Shami, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, and "Sir" Ravindra Jadeja all fielded in front of us in the Compton Stand. The highlight was Jadeja, who embraced his role as the pantomime villain in the Indian squad after his controversial and infamous confrontation with Anderson at Trent Bridge. He re-energised the crowd, most of whom seemed much more animated after what must have been quite a liquid lunch. Chants ranged from the unusual "Sirjee Jadeja, get us a wicket" to the rather more common "[player's name], give us a wave!"
Shot of the day
In a game that ebbed and flowed, Root's series of three boundaries off Ishant in the 74th over injected some urgency into the England chase. The second one was not off a half volley as it was for the first boundary, nor was it short and wide as it was for the third boundary. This delivery was just short of a length and a fraction outside off stump. Root caressed it through the covers, with the ball on the up at the point of contact. Sheer class.
The crowd at Lord's is usually quite knowledgeable, and today was no different. Wherever you looked, people were chatting about topics ranging from the Anderson-Jadeja spat, to the origin of the term "Bodyline" (an interesting anecdote!). The crowd was split pretty evenly between Indians baying for English wickets, and Englishmen praying for rain! The crowds streamed in throughout the morning session, and the atmosphere improved as the afternoon progressed. In a bit of gallows humour, Jimmy Anderson was even heralded as "The Burnley Lara" by a group of fans who seemed determined not to let the inexplicable batting collapse ruin their day out.
Tests v limited-overs
For a real cricket fan, just as for any respected cricketer, Test cricket is the pinnacle of the game. I feel limited-overs cricket will continue to coexist with Tests, but that the genteel nature of the game, coupled with the mental fortitude and concentration required to consistently excel, raises Test cricket to a higher level than limited-overs cricket.
A morning session that set up what seemed to be a potentially fascinating day of cricket was cruelly cut short by the same unforgivable pull shot to the man in the deep, not once, not twice, but thrice. Ali enhanced his reputation as a gritty, determined player in this English line-up, as did Joe Root, who improved his reputation before falling victim to a lapse in concentration that he will be ashamed off. Ishant Sharma was instrumental in engineering the English implosion, and the manner in which they feebly collapsed should be of concern to the management. England have not won a Test since beating Australia in Chester-Le-Street a year ago, and it's quite plausible that this run of poor form won't change in the remaining three Tests.
Marks out of ten
8. Decent weather at Lord's. Determined, focussed batting this morning. A flurry of boundaries either side of the lunch break. Good fast bowling by a very decent Indian pace attack. A nice little rivalry established between Root and Ishant Sharma. If only the afternoon session lived up to our expectations.