England vs India: England come up short after faith in the bowlers proves wide of the mark
India 290-9 v England; second Test, day one
All summer England have craved the comfort of the familiar. Give us the tools, the lads have been indicating, and we will do the job. It turns out they were being economical with the truth or a bit too full of themselves, or both.
How their lips must have smacked on Thursday morning when they rolled up on a smashing morning at Lord’s and saw that grass was not only on the square. At last they had a Test pitch worthy of the name and the occasion, a pitch where the ball carried and moved and where batsmen could not simply drop anchor to survive.
This was the big chance. The hue of the business area resembled mouldy Wensleydale and it was the right side of sporting. If the wickets had not been there it would have been difficult to be sure where play was to take place.
But how England’s bowlers squandered it on the opening day of the second Investec Test. They were short and wide when they ought to have been full and straight. Indiscipline seems to be affecting them in many areas.
Perhaps it was their way of peacekeeping with India in a series that threatens to be spicier than phall. Give them some innocuous stuff they could leave at will and we can all be pals together again.
Yet it seemed to matter not initially. Wickets fell intermittently enough. Maybe, reciprocally, that was India’s idea of rapprochement before the preliminary hearings of charges against Jimmy Anderson and Ravindra Jadeja are held next Tuesday.
England’s penalty for their miscreant behaviour came later. An admirable eighth-wicket stand of 90 between Ajinkya Rahane and Bhuvneshwar Kumar took India out of deep trouble if not to certain safety.
Rahane played serenely, left well alone when he could and declined to be overawed by the occasion, the second half of his second Test hundred coming at a run a ball. His first name in Sanskrit means incapable of being defeated and when he struck Anderson back over his head for six into the pavilion as he dashed to three figures in the evening, it seemed to fit perfectly.
The day closed with the tourists on 290 for 9, which is not riches but was more than England would have wanted or expected. Rahane went three overs from the end to a sharp return catch taken by Anderson and given the history of the 10th wicket in this series, England can expect to be batting by mid-afternoon today.
The recovery from 145 for 7 might have been averted if more damage had been inflicted in the morning when there was the rare sight of a seaming ball and four slips, all of whom felt that they would shortly be in business.
Somewhere deep in their memory banks, England’s pace quartet - the three long-in-the-tooth merchants, Anderson, Stuart Broad and Liam Plunkett and even the tyro Ben Stokes - should have located the image that this was an English type of surface for the ages. More Derby in May than Lord’s in July, though there similarities ended.
The tone was set in the morning by Anderson and his long-time new ball partner, Broad. They have been together in 66 Test matches during which they have taken 491 wickets between them. Yet they produced what amounted to unintelligent dross.
Anderson broke a plethora of records. He became the leading Test wicket-taker in several categories: in England, eclipsing Fred Trueman after 50 years, for England against India, passing Bob Willis and Derek Underwood after 32 and at Lord’s, overhauling Ian Botham after 22. But only in spasms was he at his best. Broad never achieved those heights, even without a level three ICC charge hanging over his head.
This was hardly the first occasion in 2014 that this most durable of pairings has failed to deliver what was expected. At Headingley, in both innings against Sri Lanka they were profligate with the new ball. The other worrying fallibility was Matt Prior’s wicketkeeping. He could be forgiven most of the 17 byes he conceded, with the ball often starting wide and seaming and swinging prodigiously, but his lapses mount. The two dropped catches in the morning brought to seven his misses this summer so far.
He shelled Murali Vijay before the batsman had scored in the fourth over, failing to move alertly enough to his right, which immediately suggested that his various ailments are restricting his agility. Then he could not close his gloves to a thin edge from Virat Kohli from the last ball before lunch by Moeen Ali, who for some reason had been brought on to bowl. Neither was expensive individually but a wicketkeeper influences a side’s well-being and self-esteem. Prior has been a wonderful Test cricketer, he may be again but he is on borrowed time.
When Anderson seared one across Shikhar Djawan in the third over, the edge being taken with cool judgment by Gary Ballance at third slip, there was a prospect of a rapid demise. But instead of being forced to play and hang on for grim life the batsmen were allowed to leave.
Vijay was removed by Plunkett, bowling well in this spell, with another catch flying to Ballance. It might have been a celebratory moment for taking your shirt and waving it above your head but Ballance has been doing enough of that in a Nottingham nightclub with photos to prove it and been warned by management about his future behaviour.
Kohli, either side of his reprieve, batted like a genius before Anderson unfurled a perfect away swinger.
Cheteshwar Pujara was effective in a different way and over three hours batted with rare skill and orthodoxy, building an innings in difficult circumstances. It took a fast, full seaming ball from Stokes to pierce his defences.
MS Dhoni and Jadeja, the main protagonists in Anderson’s charge, came and went without Anderson having a sniff at either of them. Moeen bowled his best and longest spell and removed Jadeja, but England are groping forlornly for some proper rhythm.
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