James Lawton: Uninterested India run up white flag – and Test cricket is the loser

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The Independent Online

Maybe the opening over bowled by Rudra Pratap Singh here yesterday in a Test match said to be laden with historical significance was not the most anti-climactic passage in the annals of big-time sport.

There was, after all, the time Muhammad Ali threw a speculative jab and Sonny Liston toppled on to his back, from where he gazed at the world with rapidly accelerating disinterest. Steve Harmison, it is also true, scarcely sent the pulse racing when he launched the 2006 defence of the Ashes in Brisbane with a ball that went directly to second slip. However, what Singh did yesterday had a particularly haunting quality in that it went on a lot longer – a whole eight minutes – and when it was over you weren't so much concerned about the commitment of one 25-year-old international sportsman as the entire future of the most superior form of a great game.

If you worry at this point about a touch of over-statement you haven't been following India's shocking version of how you defend the honour of being rated the world's best Test team. If it is so, you just might not have seen Singh's offering for what it was. This, you had to believe, was a near perfect reflection of India's calamitous surrender to the point where they came here with only the slimmest possibility of avoiding a humiliating 4-0 whitewash.

Singh made such an idea not much more than a fantasy. His first delivery came in at 77.5mph, trailing down the leg side. England's captain Andrew Strauss looked a little bemused. He then played Singh's second delivery off his pads with such nonchalance he might have been away on some distant beach amusing his children with a little beach cricket.

It wasn't entirely Singh's fault that the first over of a Test match that was supposed to be the end of something significant, even historical, stretched to eight minutes. Stewards failed to control movement behind the bowler's languid arm. Strauss's bemusement turned to something harder, meaner, his eyes narrowed. As well they might have done.

He has led England with superb application for some years now, scoring Ashes victories in England and Australia and guiding his team to the moment of world leadership. Yet it was as if Strauss and his men were being denied the normal satisfactions of a great campaign when Singh's body language suggested an almost total lack of interest.

The sell-out crowd were already guarding themselves against the onset of rain. What they couldn't have anticipated was any illusion of an outbreak of serious competition should be so quickly swept away.

For one breathtaking moment, Ishant Sharma did provide an eruption of heightened competition. A short delivery reared up and took a chunk out of Strauss's helmet. There was almost a flash of nostalgia here because it was Sharma who provided one of the few moments of authentic Indian resistance at Lord's in the opening Test.

For a little while he had bowled with the conviction of someone who really believed he had a chance of taking up the burden put down when Zaheer Khan, India's best bowler, walked out on the first day – a man without preparation, but for the capering of the Indian Premier League, representing a country for whom Test cricket seemed to have slid away into the margins of ambition – and profit.

Yesterday Strauss and the run-gorging Alastair Cook simply did what has become the requirement of all members of this England team. They batted through to lunch, gleaning runs beneath the rain clouds, and confirming the truth all over again that it doesn't matter who the opposition are, and what competitive values they have chosen to adopt, you can only produce the best you have.

Maybe something extraordinary will happen in the next few days. Perhaps with a little sun on their backs, the Indians will remember who they are supposed to be.

Who knows, when India come to bat, Sachin Tedulkar may inhabit again the vein of brilliance he occupied at Edgbaston before being run out with such bizarrely malign fate.

Yesterday we had come a long way from such optimism, some belief that when we celebrated the 2000th Test match at Lord's we were merely registering a milestone and not wondering fearfully if we might just be at the end of something fine.

We were contemplating the possibility that one of the great forces in cricket, the makers of magic, the most cunning, artful spinners, batsmen of sublime timing and artistry, were signalling they no longer had the heart to play the game they had so recently mastered.

These were maybe excessively bleak thoughts on a dark day south of the river. But then you didn't experience the opening over of R P Singh.

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