First Test

England v India

Tim de Lisle

At Lord's, July 25, 26, 27, 28, 29. England won by 170 runs. Toss: England. Test debut: S. P. Jones.

England went into the four-Test series against India with a depleted team - no Gough, Caddick or Trescothick, and Thorpe visibly distressed by marital problems - and several scores to settle. They had lost the one-day final here two weeks earlier, they had lost the Test series in India in the winter, and they had lost the only game in which the teams met on India's previous visit, for the 1999 World Cup. In the 12 years since Graham Gooch's 333 at Lord's, England had managed to win only one Test against India, home or away. But you would never have known it from this match. On a pitch that could have been cooked up by Sourav Ganguly's personal chef, England weren't merely greater than the sum of their parts: they were greater than the sum of India's.

It was a personal triumph for Nasser Hussain. He won his third Test in succession, made his highest Test score for five years and spiked India's big guns with rigorous game plans. His team showed a spirit that radiated all the way from the middle to the stands, enthusing the crowd, who in turn inspired the players with the will to take 20 wickets on a blandly unresponsive surface. All England's stand-ins stood out - John Crawley with the two biggest partnerships of the match, Craig White with runs and wickets, Simon Jones with pace and a taste for the big occasion. India, by contrast, were tentative and drifty. Ganguly made one crucial error, opting to play a third seamer and leave out Harbhajan Singh, who had won the home series against England on day one. It was a classic case of compromising a strength in a vain attempt to patch up a weakness.

The match wasn't as one-sided as it ended up looking. Zaheer Khan was superb at the start, when England stuttered to 78 for three. Hussain and Crawley, making his second comeback of the summer, were forced to dig in: Hussain's first 60 runs took 50 overs. He might have stayed in second gear had he not been struck by cramp, but its effect was to bring out the strokemaker in him and he raced to 100 in another 12 overs. A wave of the bat is good for most ailments, and Hussain settled again to reach 120 overnight. When Zaheer removed Stewart, his third big wicket, England were 263 for five and could easily have crumpled. It was largely the bowlers who gave themselves something to work with. Flintoff finally showed a home Test crowd the effortless power of his driving in a partnership of 93 with Hussain. When they fell, almost simultaneously, White played the spinners with his usual panache and Jones slogged like the village blacksmith. The tail had wagged and wasted no time: a run-rate of under three on Thursday gave way to nearly four and a half on Friday.

The Indians took the cue, hitting first Hoggard and then Giles out of the attack as Sehwag, opening for the first time in a Test, rattled along to 84 in 96 balls. There was talk of The Oval 1998, when, on a similar pitch, England made 445 batting first and lost to Sri Lanka. But Hussain had not been captain then. He brought back Giles, conscious that "Sehwag treats spinners as if they shouldn't exist"; Sehwag's eyes duly lit up. On Saturday morning, against Dravid and Tendulkar, Hussain nannied his young bowlers into rising to the challenge. Jones flogged bounce out of the pitch without losing control, Flintoff and Hoggard stuck to the game plan (off-theory) in their contrasting styles, the ball reverse-swung from around the 35th over, and the runs dried up. Tendulkar tried to knuckle down, but after Dravid got a lifter, he could resist temptation no longer. Once Ganguly fell to Flintoff, who had taken on Gough's roles of celebrator-in-chief and opening bowler, a hefty lead was assured.

Hussain opted to give the bowlers a rest rather than impose the follow-on, and after a brief wobble, echoing the first day, the third innings was like 1990 all over again, with a hundred there for those who really wanted one. Vaughan got there in 140 balls with a crisp composure that still only hinted at the wonders to come. Crawley, all wristy intelligence, needed only 132 balls: in his first Test against India, he lifted his average against subcontinental teams to 97, compared with 25 against the rest.

If Hussain's declaration was cautious, setting India 568 to win, it allowed his field settings not to be. India reached 110 for one but only Dravid threatened to pull off the big salvage act that was needed, and eventually he picked the wrong ball from Giles to cut. Hoggard showed that England could bowl as well as bore Tendulkar out by slipping him three out-swingers, all left alone, followed by the one that came back. On the last day, English supporters lost interest - they weren't used to seeing their team dominate like this - and there was suddenly a different atmosphere, exuberantly Indian, which inspired Agarkar to show off his backlift and become one of history's more improbable centurions. The only cloud for England was that Jones bowled on when clearly struggling with a side strain. It was a minor blemish on an outstanding team performance.

Man of the Match: N. Hussain

© John Wisden & Co