England move giant step closer to No 1 after near-perfect day
India 224 England 84-0
Andy Flower, feet on the ground sort of chap that he is, worked hard last week to try to keep a lid on the triumphalism that followed a thumping victory in Nottingham. But even England's widely-respected coach might have been struggling to conceal his satisfaction last night.
Flower has seen just about everything during his career – enough, certainly, to know there is no sense in celebrating until the job has been done and the opposition cannot possibly recover. Well, India were almost at that point of no return yesterday afternoon: two Tests to nil down and 111 for seven. But, just to prove the coach right, MS Dhoni, India's previously out-of-form captain, crashed his way to 77 from 96 balls to breathe life back into this series. But only a little, it would seem.
Any relief the visitors had felt at recovering to 224 was quietly and efficiently swept away by England's opening pair of Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook. By the time they trooped back to the pavilion, with an unbroken stand of 84 in the bank, Strauss had bagged his first half-century of the summer and his team were a giant step closer to that title of the world's No 1 Test team.
It was the perfect end to a near-perfect day for England, who had once again done great work with the ball. Bowling first after winning the toss has become the norm, rather than the exception, this summer. But while there was enough green about groundsman Steve Rouse's last Test pitch before retirement to suggest it might do a bit for the seamers and sufficient cloud cover to indicate that Messrs Anderson, Broad and Bresnan would find some swing, Strauss's decision was probably based, more than anything, on wanting to put India's brittle batting line-up under pressure again.
Brittle batting line-up? Sounds ridiculous, doesn't it, considering the personnel on view? But, with the exception of Rahul Dravid, these star-studded visitors have so far failed to do themselves anything like justice. And, here, not even the belated arrival of Virender Sehwag or the return from injury of Gautam Gambhir could change things as England's bowlers scented blood, then quickly tasted it.
It does not matter how spectacular your strike rate (nearly 82 per 100 balls) or how high your average (above 50) if your first Test innings since January lasts precisely one delivery. Expecting Sehwag to be a saviour so soon after his recovery from shoulder surgery was asking a lot, but not even the most optimistic home supporter would have reckoned on a golden duck.
Broad probably called it, though. The man who could do little right, with bat or ball, through the first half of this summer, has scarcely put a foot wrong since India turned up. And when he nipped what was anything but a loosener back into Sehwag at the start of the second over, a gloved catch behind – detected by HotSpot if not umpire Steve Davis – set England on their way.
The bowlers had to bide their time while Gambhir, who missed Trent Bridge with a bruised elbow, got away to a frenetic flyer (mixing thick edges to third man with thumping cover drives) and Dravid tried to settle into another long occupation. But their patience was rewarded soon enough as three more wickets fell in the space of 40 balls before lunch.
Bresnan seems to have played most of his nine Tests as a fill-in (replacing the injured Chris Tremlett in Nottingham and again here) but he is a thousand times better than that and would be the first name on many a team sheet. In any event, he was too good for Gambhir and Dravid yesterday.
Clearly fretting at being bogged down, Gambhir edged a flamboyant drive into his stumps while not even Dravid's wall-like defence could cope with an absolute beauty that pitched on off stump and then held its line to clean bowl one of the game's greats.
Between Bresnan's two successes there had been two standing ovations for Sachin Tendulkar: one when he marched out to replace Gambhir and another after he had steered his eighth delivery, from Broad, into the safe hands of Anderson at third slip. There is still time, of course, but so far, this series is turning into a big anti-climax for the Little Master.
If the morning was good for England, the afternoon looked like being even better. Suresh Raina, regularly tested with the short ball, fell to one pitched right up by Anderson, VVS Laxman – out twice at Lord's pulling – perished to another cross-bat shot when tempted by Bresnan and Amit Mishra snicked a firm-footed drive against Broad.
It was hard to see India making 150 at that stage. But, having failed in his previous four Test innings, Dhoni decided to play a bit of Twenty20 cricket and, for a couple of hours, lifted India's fans out of their depression.
England do not lose the plot very often these days. They did for a while yesterday, though, when bowling too short for too long against Praveen Kumar, the No 9 who gave his captain brave and increasingly confident support during an innings-salvaging stand of 84.
Dhoni has not had much to feel good about this summer. But after throwing the kitchen sink at Anderson to drive a mighty six, he enjoyed himself further by swatting Bresnan into the crowd and then hooking Broad over the rope.
Strauss tried to regain control through Graeme Swann but saw that plan backfire when Kumar lifted the spinner well beyond long-on. But just when England were looking a little wobbly, Bresnan's bouncer flicked Kumar's glove and the end was nigh.
Now almost out of partners, Dhoni drove murderously, but unsuccessfully, against Broad to edge to slip before Ishant Sharma managed to drill Anderson to silly point.
Yes, a little shine had been taken off England's bowling performance, but only a little. And if there was even the slightest doubt about who had enjoyed the better of the opening day, Strauss and Cook removed it with their first significant stand of the summer.
Stats magic: The numbers that matter from the first day
5 Bowling first after winning the toss used to be a rarity. Not any more. It has now happened five times in six Tests this summer – and not yet paid a victory dividend. India have lost twice after choosing to bowl while England and Sri Lanka settled for draws.
5 India have played five Tests at Edgbaston before this one and have failed to win any of them. Their record in Birmingham shows four defeats and a draw.
8 England have eight players 'long-listed' for the International Cricket Council's Cricketer of the Year award. Jonathan Trott and Graeme Swann, who have been nominated in three categories, are joined in the hunt for the main prize by Jimmy Anderson, Ian Bell, Stuart Broad, Alastair Cook, Andrew Strauss and Chris Tremlett. The winner will be announced at a ceremony in London on 12 September.
1 India may not be No 1 for much longer but they have created another first through their captain, MS Dhoni, declining to do interviews with television and radio rights holders after the toss. His bosses say he is too busy to speak to anyone other than host broadcasters Sky.
11 Sachin Tendulkar has made the century everyone expected of him when this series began. But an aggregate of 119, in five innings, is not what India, and their countless millions of fans, had in mind.
Third Test (First day of five): England are trailing India by 140 runs with all first-innings wickets in hand; England won toss
India: First Innings
G Gambhir b Bresnan 38, 64 balls 0 sixes 7 fours
V Sehwag c Prior b Broad 0, 1 balls 0 sixes 0 fours
R Dravid b Bresnan 22, 68 balls 0 sixes 3 fours
S R Tendulkar c Anderson b Broad 1, 8 balls 0 sixes 0 fours
V V S Laxman c Broad b Bresnan 30, 41 balls 0 sixes 6 fours
S K Raina b Anderson 4, 21 balls 0 sixes 0 fours
*†M S Dhoni c Strauss b Broad 77, 96 balls 3 sixes 10 fours
A Mishra c Prior b Broad 4, 13 balls 0 sixes 1 fours
P S Kumar c Prior b Bresnan 26, 39 balls 1 sixes 4 fours
I Sharma c Cook b Anderson 4, 19 balls 0 sixes 1 fours
S Sreesanth not out 0, 4 balls 0 sixes 0 fours
Extras (b4 lb14) 18
Total (62.2 overs) 224
Fall 1-8, 2-59, 3-60, 4-75, 5-92, 6-100, 7-111, 8-195, 9-224.
England Bowling J M Anderson 21.2-3-69-2 (7-1-23-0; 7-1-9-1; 3-1-21-0; 4.2-0-16-1), S C J Broad 17-6-53-4 (4-1-18-1; 5-1-14-1; 5-2-15-1; 3-2-6-1), T T Bresnan 20-4-62-4 (6-1-8-1; 8-3-32-2; 6-0-22-1), G P Swann 4-0-22-0 (4-0-22-0).
England: First Innings
*A J Strauss not out 52, 83 balls 0 sixes 10 fours
A N Cook not out 27, 67 balls 0 sixes 3 fours
Extras (lb5) 5
Total (for 0, 25 overs) 84
To Bat I R Bell, K P Pietersen, E J G Morgan, R S Bopara, †M J Prior, T T Bresnan, S C J Broad, G P Swann, J M Anderson.
India Bowling P Kumar 9-4-27-0 (9-4-27-0), S Sreesanth 5-2-21-0 (3-1-12-0; 2-1-9-0), I Sharma 7-2-16-0 (4-1-9-0; 3-1-7-0), A Mishra 3-0-13-0 (3-0-13-0), S K Raina 1-0-2-0 (1-0-2-0).
Progress Day One: India 50 in 14.4 overs, Lunch: 75/4 in 26.2 overs (Laxman 13), 100 in 34.3 overs, 150 in 44.5 overs, Dhoni 50 off 62 balls (7 fours, 2 sixes), 200 in 54.5 overs, Tea: 205/8 in 56 overs (Dhoni 61, Sharma 4), 224 all out in 62.2 overs. England 50 in 15.5 overs, Strauss 50 off 76 balls (10 fours), Close: 84-0 (Strauss 52, Cook 27).
Umpires S J Davis (Aus) & S J A Taufel (Aus).
Third Umpire R J Tucker (Aus).
Match Referee R S Madugalle (SL).
Weather Sunny with cloudy intervals. Risk of rain and scattered showers in early afternoon. Maximum temperature: 20C.
TV Sky Sports 1, 10.30am-7pm. Highlights: Channel Five 7-8pm.
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