Prior calms English nerves to set up hosts' final day victory push

 

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England have given themselves a clear chance to beat India here today and take an early lead in a series which could see them replace the visitors as the world's No 1 Test team. They need nine more wickets against a side now badly hit by injuries and ill luck.

India, set a never before achieved fourth-innings victory target of 458, will resume on 80 for 1. The pitch is playing well enough for them to survive the 98 overs that remain but their best batsman, Sachin Tendulkar, spent most of yesterday off the field because of a viral infection, while opener Gautam Gambhir could not launch the innings last night after being struck a fierce blow on the left elbow when fielding.

Far from pressing on merrily, England found themselves in unexpected difficulties yesterday when they lost four wickets for eight runs in the space of 32 balls to slip to 62 for 5. At that stage, their lead in this first of four Tests was only 250 and India sensed a real opportunity.

A so far terrific match – the 2000th Test of all time and the 100th between these two countries – turned firmly in England's favour again, however, thanks to a wonderful, unbeaten century from Matt Prior (left). He calmed the home team's nerves during a stand of 45 with Eoin Morgan, then powered to three figures in partnership with Stuart Broad (74 not out). Between them, the pair added 162 at almost a run a ball.

It was Prior's second Test century of the summer at Lord's – he made 126 against Sri Lanka last month – and Andrew Strauss declared the innings at 269 for 6 as soon as his wicketkeeper had completed his hundred, coming from 120 balls.

That was not the end of India's problems for the day, however. Broad, who bowled magnificently on Saturday to take four wickets and then batted with increasing confidence in partnership with Prior, soon dismissed inexperienced opener Abhinav Mukund.

Happily for India, Rahul Dravid – who scored a century in the first innings and was pressed into service as an opener yesterday – and another veteran batsman, VVS Laxman, denied England further success before stumps.

Tendulkar is expected to be able to bat today but Gambhir's chances of being fit enough to face England's bowlers, if necessary, remained uncertain last night. The tourists also have their most experienced bowler, Zaheer Khan, under an injury cloud because of a hamstring problem.

On top of all that, India's captain, MS Dhoni, could face a one-match suspension. His team have been punished twice already this year for a slow over-rate during Tests and a third transgression would see Dhoni, as skipper, banned for a game. India clearly failed to meet the required rate of 15 overs per hour here but allowances can, and often are, made for reasons such as injury. It will be up to Ranjan Madugalle, the International Cricket Council match referee, to decide later today.

Before that situation is resolved, though, England hope to be halfway towards the 2-0 series win that would put them top of the Test table. “It’s very important for us to win here because we have got ourselves in a very good position and it would be hugely frustrating for us not to go through with it,” Prior said.

“But if we do what we have done for the last two years, build pressure and keep the intensity high, then I’m sure we will have a very good day. There are no devils in the pitch and we may go some hours without taking wickets but, hopefully, we’ll then enjoy a silly hour where we get three or four.”

Prior walked to the middle yesterday after just such a silly hour. “I didn’t really expect to bat before lunch – I’d been looking at the menu and thinking I’d have the rack of lamb,” he joked.

Meanwhile, Haroon Lorgat, the chief executive of the International Cricket Council, has questioned Steve Waugh's claim that 56 cricketers reported illegal approaches by bookmakers to the world governing body last year.

The ICC has an anti-corruption and security unit, the body to which players can report suspicious approaches, and the former Australia captain, a member of the MCC's world cricket committee, is keen to speak to them about the way forward.

"I'm not sure where Steve Waugh gets that figure from because we do not publish any such information," Lorgat told the BBC. "In fact, there's one individual in the anti-corruption and security unit that maintains such records and he does not even know the figure himself, simply because he had not compiled it. So I'm not sure where Steve Waugh gets that figure from."

Stats magic: the numbers that matter from the fourth day

3 India had a trio of substitutes on the field yesterday. Anyone important missing from the action? Only Sachin Tendulkar (approaching 15,000 Test runs), Zaheer Khan (thick end of 300 Test wickets) and Gautam Gambhir (averaging 50.76 with the bat in Tests).



32 It is nothing much to write home about but 32 is Andrew Strauss's highest Test score of the summer. He now has a total of 81 runs from six innings against Sri Lanka and India.

10 England went from an air of serenity to a state of shock in the space of just 10 balls as they lost Strauss, Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell for the addition of one run.



397 India's highest fourth innings score in previous matches at Lord's which they made in 2002. But they still lost the match by 170 runs. The highest fourth innings total at Lord's was the 406 made by Australia in 2009 – and they also lost.

15 The number of years (plus 33 days) from his Lord's debut that it took Rahul Dravid to score a hundred there. Two batsmen waited longer. Charles Macartney of Australia made a hundred in his fifth Test at the ground in 1926, 17 years and 12 days after first appearing there. Rohan Kanhai scored a century for West Indies in 1973, 16 years and 64 days after the first of his four Lord's Tests.

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