James Lawton: Test sceptics don't know what they're missing

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The Independent Online

Anyone whispering as much as a breath of scepticism over the hullabaloo attached to the 2,000th playing of a Test match should be frog-marched to Lord's along with all the holidaying school kids for 11am prompt today.

Ideally, he would not only see the outcome of a match which might well mean England making a crucial stride towards their anointing as the best team in the world. He might also get a personal briefing from 22-year-old Ishant Sharma, who back home in Delhi is generally known as Lambu – Tall Guy.

Sharma, who has a dreamy prophet's face wreathed in long dark hair, is indeed extremely tall at 6ft 5ins but that by some distance was the least of his distinction during the most dramatic phase of the fourth day of a contest which had mostly seen England moving from one position of strength to another.

For a little over an hour, Sharma turned all of that inside-out. Piece by piece, he stripped down the bulwarks of English batting, Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott. When England embarked on a recovery which would in time become thunderous in the hands of Matt Prior and Stuart Broad, Eoin Morgan, a one-day hero battling to establish his Test credentials, became Sharma's fourth victim.

At that moment Sharma was heading for a place on the Lord's honours board that goes to all century-makers and takers of five wickets in an innings.

Yet here is the point, the splendour and the eternal intrigue of Test cricket. Within a few hours, Sharma could hardly have been further from that engraved roll call of the great men of Lord's. He was in the deepest shadow of Stuart Broad, the young Nottinghamshire all-rounder who was himself straddling the narrow line between recognition and rejection coming into this historic Test.

Broad was under pressure from the rugged Yorkshireman Tim Bresnan before the England team was announced. His talent had been submerged in a debate about whether he should dilute the tide of short-pitched deliveries which many believed a desperate reaction to dwindling success.

Here at Lord's, though, Broad has shown the courage and the daring to remind everyone of his most precious talent. He has always had the look of someone who might have wandered out of the pages of Evelyn Waugh or F Scott Fitzgerald but yesterday in this Test match, which has been growing from one crescendo to another like some great symphony, he has been all raw, working-class business, more D H Lawrence than Brideshead Revisited.

What Broad has returned to, brilliantly, is much of the self-belief and, let's be frank, arrogance of his Test-match star father Chris.

He certainly showed the belligerence of his old man – an opening batsman – while tearing great holes in the Indian top order on Saturday and then joining Prior in the batting partnership that turned the Test back in England's favour. Prior reached his sixth Test century undefeated and, in the end, brilliantly prolific. Broad was no less aggressive when he walked back to the pavilion, with his wicket also unclaimed, with 74 runs.

That left India with the mountainous target of 458 – one which was made even steeper when Broad bowled opener Abhinav Mukund with the score on a mere 19.

Today, there is a huge burden on the Indians as they seek to survive unbeaten before the journey to Trent Bridge later this week. They have come under-prepared, partly because of the cocky belief that they are good enough to win in any circumstances, partly because the rupee glitter of 50-over and Twenty20 cricket has blinded the Indian board to the need for proper respect for Test cricket – and, apparently, any real understanding that it will always define the depth, the beauty and the wonder of the game.

The schedules of instant cricket have squeezed Test cricket almost to the point where you can hear the pips of this Indian team squeak and scream. Their best bowler, Zaheer Khan, was palpably unfit coming into the Test and he duly broke down on the first day, requiring his captain MS Dhoni to shed the wicket-keeping glovers and impersonate, very poorly, the kind of bowler required at this level. Three days of adaptation to English conditions had been granted the squad for Thursday's start of play.

However, you would have been forgiven for not quite noticing during the course of this tumultuous collision and especially in the bright sunshine last evening when two of the great veteran batsmen, VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid, a brilliantly calm century-maker in the first innings, showed flashes of elegant defiance in a tense last session.

Did we say frog-march the sceptics to Lord's? All in all, it is probably too good for them.

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