Head of Cricket, CouchExpert
22 July 2011
The occasion could have so easily gotten on to you! A series, unheard of in Mathematics, constantly buzzed through the minds of ardent cricket lovers yesterday: 2000, 100, 100, 100, and 100? The statisticians have clearly had a ball of a time during the build up to this series: 2000th Test Match in the history of the game, 100th test match contesting India and England – the earliest of which was played in the Pre World War II era – back in 1932, Duncan Fletcher – former coach of England and current coach of the Indian team – approaching his 100th test match as coach, the batting trio of Tendulkar, Dravid & Laxman approaching a grand total of 100 test centuries between them, and finally, to the common spectator and billions of Indians from around the world, Tendulkar – approaching his 100th international ton in a career that has spanned over 22 years.
And the drama was to take place at Lords – a befitting venue for an occasion of such titanic magnitude!
And all this before a wet outfield delayed the start of the game, much to the agony of a packed Lords. The conditions, gloomy and overcast, didn’t require too much thought over what the teams would favor to choose on winning the toss. MSD’s call at the spin of the coin was probably one of the few calls that went India’s way yesterday.
After an alarming batting performance against Somerset, it probably wouldn’t have been the greatest start to the series to have the top order up against the world’s leading swing bowler in overcast conditions.
But having said that, the Indian bowlers never really came across as attempting to use the conditions – especially through the tricky first one hour of play – to their favor. The lengths weren’t full enough, the pace was a few yards short, and the lines never really made the batsman play.
The best of the Indian bowlers, Zaheer Khan, who hasn’t played first class cricket in a long time, seemed like the only one who could trouble the openers, both left-handed and within Zaheer’s zone of predatory instincts. The English openers were happy to graft and leave during the first hour of play. It took a ball that zipped on to Cook’s pads, after he moved considerably across his stumps, to create India’s first breakthrough of the day in the 11th over. Getting rid of the dangerous Cook, for a few paltry runs, was pretty much about the only positives of the day for the Indians.
Zaheer’s bunny Strauss stayed in, after getting through the difficult initial session before his attempt to pull a ball wide outside off-stump was top-edged to safely land in to the hands of Ishant Sharma at fine leg, who barely had to move. The English skipper would definitely look back at that shot with disgust, especially after having got through the tricky passages of play during session one.
What surprised me, and many to my knowledge, is the positioning of Dravid at first slip all day. There was a belief that he was standing too deep, a thought that was reflected during the Caribbean tour by many. This theory was justified when Trott was dropped twice – both difficult chances. The first was off the bowling of Harbhajan Singh, when an outside edge died down on its path to first slip. Maybe if Dravid was closer, he would have clung on to it – nobody can doubt his test catching record! He is the best in the business.
The second chance was probably more Dhoni’s than it was Dravid’s. Zaheer’s around the wicket approach to Trott, a tactic that worked so well with right handed batsmen during India’s previous tour to England back in 2007, enticed the number three batsman to have a poke at a ball that was moving away from him. The outside edge flew between Dhoni and Dravid, who once again might have clung on to it had Dhoni not initially appeared to go for the catch, which in all common logic, he should have. It was quite evident once again that first slip was positioned a touch too deep as the ball died down on its way.
Whether India will live to regret dropping Trott twice will be evident soon after he battled his way to a half century. Trott, England’s most consistent batsman over the last 18 months, proved his worth once again by neutralizing England’s early setback of losing both their openers with a gritty knock. Trott has always looked calm and assured at the crease, and he did leave Dhoni plenty to think about. Trott’s strengths on the leg-side invoke most captains into setting a stronger leg side field for him, which would mean that the slip cordon would be trimmed by one. The frustration on Ishant’s face was vivid when Trott edged one down to the third man boundary, a trajectory that 3rd slip would have happily settled for any day.
It is still early days in this test match, and MSD will surely look back at this day as one where many an opportunity was buried. Kevin Pietersen looked vulnerable on the front foot, and had it not been for Zaheer’s injury, India might have scalped another couple of wickets before play was called off due to bad light.
In hindsight, the first day of play didn’t quite live up to the build up to this test match. With the weather forecast not looking too promising over the next few days, this test match could well be about the battle of morale. With Zaheer’s absence inevitable, the Indian think-tank has plenty to ponder over.
It should be an interesting second day.