India's chances looking limp as wily Zaheer hobbles off

England 127-2 v India: Paceman takes two early wickets but Trott steadies England with characteristic grit
  • @stephenbrenkley

Perhaps the most significant event of the year's blue riband Test series took place at 3.10pm on its first day. England were struggling valiantly to come to terms with difficult batting conditions, India were striving to take advantage of favourable circumstances for bowling.

If anything, England might have been the more pleased but it was a close call and precarious enough out in the middle for swift recalculations to be necessary about the balance of power. Zaheer Khan was in his 14th over of a day on which he had already demonstrated his mastery of the craft of fast bowling and claimed the wickets of both the opponents' opening batsmen with some truly slippery, thoughtful work.

He reached the stumps, released the ball but never made the follow-through. He pulled up, felt immediately around the back of his right leg and the sages knew right away that a hamstring had twanged as he stretched in the delivery stride.

There was no question of completing the over; there may be no question of his completing the match or the series. On the scant evidence of the other bowling on display yesterday India's chances of winning by the end of this summer may have hobbled with him through the Long Room. The full extent of the injury will not be clear until today but the indications were that he will not make an early return to action.

By the premature close, although it was not confirmed until two and a half hours after play had been halted, England had reached 127 for 2. Jonathan Trott was playing his usual diligent role while Kevin Pietersen was taking on the self-denial he generally fails to reach.

There were several attempts to resume, all of them greeted with anxious looks on the England dressing-room balcony. Only one team could gain advantage from more play, even short of their most impressive bowler.

It is fair to say that, coming into this series, Zaheer had not left all his preparation in the gymnasiums of Mumbai. He had missed the recent tour of the Caribbean to ensure he was ready for the particular challenge of England and when he arrived in Taunton last week his chunkiness was evident.

Not even one of those seven-day diets being promoted in the papers at this time of year was about to do the trick in time for this match, but it seemed of no import. Zaheer knows about bowling, he knows how and when to produce.

He was not at his absolute peak after England lost a toss they would have preferred to win. There was too much for the batsmen to leave but equally he gave them nothing to score from.

The manner in which he dismissed both Alastair Cook (and any method of dismissing him these days deserves a statement in Parliament) and Andrew Strauss was a pleasure to see in action. Zaheer had concentrated on bowling outswingers to both of the left-handers, to most of which they could shoulder arms.

In doing so he drew them across the crease to ensure they were covering the off-stump. Of course, he reserved the right to move it the other way. And then he did. Cook began to move across expecting one probably moving away and suddenly found it zooming in to rap him on the pad.

The lbw appeal upheld by Asad Rauf was tight but it was correct, as Hawk-Eye, which is not being used as part of the decision review system in this series, amply illustrated. Thus Cook failed to become only the third England batsman to make at least 50 in six successive Test innings.

Strauss had gone along with wariness, one eye on the pitch and what it was doing, one on his moderate statistics this summer. He left everything he could, he was not about to be rushed.

For most of the time when Zaheer bowled at him, two men were posted on the leg-side boundary. They seemed as redundant as a silver-service waiter in a gin joint. To come into play, if at all, they needed short ball and of short balls there were none. Then one came. Strauss's eyes widened. The ball pitched outside off and the batsman must have been alarmed to see it jagging further away as he attempted his hook shot. He was late on and the resultant top edge sailed in a gentle parabola to Ishant Sharma at long leg.

At 62 for 2 with the ball still doing too much for any batsman's comfort, it was a position custom-built for Trott. He was never really in, but India did not bowl enough balls at the stumps of sufficient length to discomfit him.

There were two escapes. To Harbhajan Singh's first ball, Trott plunged forward and edged just wide of a flailing Rahul Dravid at slip. A younger Dravid might, who knows, have moved a fraction quicker.

The same could have been said when Trott edged Zaheer when he was 32. It was probably a catch that M S Dhoni should have pouched to his right behind the wicket but he pulled out of it and left it to Dravid who was fractionally too late swopping to his left. The ball went for four, the first runs off Zaheer for 33 balls.

By the next over he was gone and batting became a different proposition. Neither Sharma nor Praveen Kumar, who can move the ball both ways at will but is short of pace, were accurate enough. The Lord's slope can make fools of all.

Trott reached his 12th score above 50 in 35 Test innings and by the time common sense prevailed and the umpires decided they would not face a Pavilion lynch mob should they suspend play, his Test average stood at 64.16.

Only one man in history has a higher one, and that is Donald Bradman. Seven other players had higher averages after 34 innings than Trott and then faded a little (apart from Bradman, naturally). Michael Hussey for instance averaged more than 80. But Trott shows no sign yet of having his form disrupted. He may not be pretty on the eye but he continues to get on with the job of batting.

Lord's scoreboard

First Test (First day of five): England have scored 127 for 2 wickets against India; India won toss

England: First Innings

*A J Strauss c Sharma b Khan 22, 83 balls 0 sixes 2 fours

A N Cook lbw b Khan 12, 36 balls 0 sixes 1 fours

I J L Trott not out 58, 104 balls 0 sixes 8 fours

K P Pietersen not out 22, 73 balls 0 sixes 2 fours

Extras (b8 lb4 w1) 13

Total (for 2, 49.2 overs) 127

Fall 1-19, 2-62.

To bat I R Bell, E J G Morgan, †M J Prior, S C J Broad, G P Swann, C T Tremlett, J M Anderson.

Bowling Spells: Z Khan 13.3-8-18-2 (7-3-9-1; 4-3-0-1; 2.3-2-9-0), P Kumar 17.3-5-46-0 (9-4-18-0; 3-0-18-0; 2-0-4-0; 3.3-1-6-0), I Sharma 11.2-3-33-0 (2-0-10-0; 9-3-21-0; 0.2-0-2-0), Harbhajan Singh 7-1-18-0 (2-0-3-0; 5-1-15-0).

Progress Lunch: 43-1 in 21 overs (Strauss 20, Trott 9), 50 in 21.3 overs, 100 in 39.6 overs. Trott: 50 off 89 balls (7 fours). Tea: 127-2 in 49.2 overs (Trott 58, Pietersen 22).

India A Mukund, G Gambhir, R Dravid, S R Tendulkar, V V S Laxman, S K Raina, *†M S Dhoni, Harbhajan Singh, Z Khan, P S Kumar, I Sharma.

Umpires Asad Rauf (Pak) and B F Bowden (NZ).

TV umpire M Erasmus (SA).

Match referee R S Madugalle (Sri Lanka).