Prior reasserts England's hold after Sharma sparks chaos

England 474-8 dec & 269-6 dec India 286 & 80-1: Wicketkeeper's composed century saves home side from the brink of an unexpected collapse

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The Independent Online

In the early proceedings yesterday, India demonstrated the quality that has made them the best side in the world. By the end of the fourth day of a glorious Test match, England had shown why they may assume the mantle sometime next month.

This is the 2000th Test and there could have been no finer advertisement for the longest, purest, most alluring form of the game.

Onward and upward to the next 2000 – and not a soul who was present yesterday would disagree unless they were saboteurs operating under deep cover for Twenty20.

The morning belonged so convincingly to the tourists that it was possible to conceive that they might win to take an improbable 1-0 lead in the series. That was entirely dissipated during an afternoon when England reasserted their authority in remarkable fashion as Matt Prior scored his sixth Test century.

Left needing 458 to win, which would be a record chase, India negotiated 27 overs in the evening for the solitary loss of Abhinav Mukund, still 377 adrift. England passed the bat several times without making contact. Rahul Dravid, forced to open, VVS Laxman, unusually in at No 3, are in languid occupation. This match deserves a gripping conclusion today.

India's initial charge was led by their 22-year-old fast bowler, Ishant Sharma, lanky both of body and hair, who produced an irresistible spell from the Nursery End which dislocated the foundations of England's second innings.

The recovery was marshalled (not for the first time) by Prior whose essential composure was allied to urgency throughout. He understood the gravity of his side's position but he never took his eye off the clock.

England declared at 269 for 6 when Prior completed his sixth Test century, his third at Lord's and also his third in his last six innings. He had come in at 62 for 5 which was to become 107 for 6, from which point he put on an unbroken partnership of 162 from 166 balls with Stuart Broad.

For Broad, who was 74 not out, this was probably small fry since he scored 169 on the ground last year in a record stand of 332 with Jonathan Trott. These runs were equally valuable both for the cause at hand and for Broad's career. The gossip rushing through the camp followers and the bar rooms was that Broad should have been dropped for this match because of poor form. This theory has rather less substance now than it did five days ago and if charges of heresy were to be brought against his accusers they might well yield a conviction.

Broad bowled splendidly on Saturday and made the breakthrough yesterday evening. He was an impeccable left-handed foil to Prior and the pair finished with some blazing strokeplay doing much as they pleased in considerable style.

How different it had seemed when lunch was taken. The expectation as Lord's filled up in the morning was that England would control the destiny of the match and that their opponents would have to cling on to any passing flotsam or jetsam to survive.

The initial exchanges did nothing much to disturb this line of thought. When Alastair Cook was out, feathering a ball from Praveen Kumar that went cross him, England continued to tick along. Andrew Strauss looked in splendid fettle, bristling with the sense of occasion: Lord's on a Sunday, sun shining, ground full, pitch full of runs. Then he missed a sweep shot against Harbhajan Singh and was lbw. Chaos followed.

Sharma, who is from Delhi but has the bearing of man who hangs out with the hippies at Goa, first played for India when he was 18. He has not quite lived up to his abundant promise but seemed to rediscover whatever it was he had mislaid on the recent tour to the West Indies when he twice took five wickets in an innings.

Now he loped in, bowling a good length with plenty of lift and movement. The delivery with which he removed Kevin Pietersen was a fizzer. As the batsman insisted on pressing forward he must have swiftly realised that this was a fatal error as the ball pitched a fraction short for his purpose and reared up. It kissed the glove poisonously on the way through.

Ian Bell followed in the same over, forced to play one that shifted just enough to take the edge of the bat and shortly after Trott, who had been a passive observer as this carnage erupted, became part of it, bowled by a Sharma ball which split his defences asunder.

And so the teams took lunch in unlikely circumstances. England were 260 ahead but that was nowhere enough and they were five wickets down. When the teams came out, MS Dhoni had a straightforward option: give the ball to Sharma.

He did not. He asked Suresh Raina, the occasional off spinner, to bowl and then Praveen Kumar, with Harbhajan operating at the other end. They might as well have been removing their feet from the opposition throat to go tap dancing.

Eleven overs passed before Sharma was brought back. He soon accounted for Eoin Morgan who miscued a pull to midwicket but the moment was gone. Dhoni faces a ban if India's over rates do not meet the required minimum in this match but this was a peculiar strategy.

But Sharma now could not recapture the magic of the morning. The game had moved on. Prior took it away from India in beautiful style. He pulled, cut and drove with real conviction as he and Broad ran their singles and twos with utter certainty like thirsty men determined to make closing time.

India began to fall apart. Sachin Tendulkar spent most of the day off the field because of a viral infection and cannot bat until 215 minutes of the innings have elapsed, Dhoni watched an edge from Broad sail by, Gautam Gambhir was hit a painful blow on the elbow at short leg by Prior and they needed yet another substitute fielder.

Their refusal to capitulate – quite the opposite – in the evening suggests that it will not be done quickly today.

Lord's scoreboard

First Test: (Third and fourth days of five): India, with nine second-innings wickets in hand, require 378 runs to beat England

India won toss

ENGLAND First Innings 474-8 dec. (Pietersen 202no, Prior 71, Trott 70, Kumar 5-106)

INDIA First Innings

(Friday Overnight 17-0)

A Mukund b Broad49

88 balls 5 fours

G Gambhir b Broad15

46 balls 1 four

R Dravid not out103

220 balls 15 fours

S R Tendulkar c Swann b Broad34

58 balls 7 fours

V V S Laxman c Trott b Tremlett10

36 balls 2 fours

S K Raina lbw b Swann0

2 balls

*†M S Dhoni c Swann b Tremlett28

103 balls 2 fours

Harbhajan Singh c Prior b Tremlett0

2 balls

P S Kumar c Strauss b Broad17

13 balls 2 fours

Z Khan b Anderson0

7 balls

I Sharma c Prior b Anderson0

12 balls

Extras (b5 lb12 w1 nb12)30

Total (95.5 overs) 286

Fall: 1-63, 2-77, 3-158, 4-182, 5-183, 6-240, 7-241, 8-276, 9-284.

Bowling: J M Anderson 23.5-6-87-2 (7-3-23-0; 5-0-15-0; 4-0-29-0; 1-1-0-0; 4-1-19-0; 2.5-1-1-2), C T Tremlett 24-5-80-3 (10-nb) (8-2-27-0; 8-2-24-0; 3-1-6-1; 5-0-23-2), S C J Broad 22-8-37-4 (2nb, 1wd) (8-2-25-2; 6-3-3-1; 4-1-5-0; 4-2-4-1), I J L Trott 6-1-12-0 (1-0-1-0; 5-1-11-0), G P Swann 19-3-50-1 (one spell), K P Pietersen 1-0-3-0 (one spell)

Progress: Day three: 50 in 15.4 overs, 100 in 28.2 overs, Lunch: 102-2 in 32 overs (Dravid 15, Tendulkar 10), 150 in 39 overs, Dravid 50 off 98 balls (10 fours), Tea: 193-5 (Dravid 59, Dhoni 4), 200 in 66.2 overs, 250 in 84.4 overs, Dravid 100 off 202 balls (15 fours).

ENGLAND Second Innings

(Saturday overnight 5-0)

*A J Strauss lbw b Singh32

70 balls 4 fours

A N Cook c Dhoni b Kumar1

27 balls

I J L Trott b Sharma22

55 balls 2 fours

K P Pietersen c Dhoni b Sharma1

3 balls

I R Bell c Dhoni b Sharma0

5 balls

E J G Morgan c Gambhir b Sharma19

56 balls 1 four

†M J Prior not out103

120 balls 1 six 5 fours

S C J Broad not out74

90 balls 9 fours

Extras (b7 lb8 w2)17

Total (for 6 dec, 71 overs) 269

Fall: 1-23, 2-54, 3-55, 4-55, 5-62, 6-107.

Did not bat: G P Swann, C T Tremlett, J M Anderson.

Bowling: P Kumar 20-2-70-1 (1wd) (11-1-34-1; 1-0-5-0; 4-1-7-0; 4-0-24-0), I Sharma 22-6-59-4 (1wd) (8-3-11-0; 5-3-4-3; 5-0-26-1; 4-0-18-0), Harbhajan Singh 21-1-66-1 (2-0-5-0; 4-0-9-1; 12-0-36-0; 3-1-16-0), S K Raina 6-1-43-0 (1-0-4-0; 2-0-3-0; 3-1-36-0), M S Dhoni 2-0-16-0 (2-0-16-0).

Progress: Day three: Close: 5-0 in 5 overs (Strauss 3, Cook 0). Day four: 50 in 19 overs, Lunch: 72-5 in 31 overs (Morgan 5, Prior 5), 100 in 40.1 overs, 150 in 52.1 overs, Prior 50 off 78 balls (2 fours), Tea: 174-6 in 59 overs (Prior 55, Broad 36), 200 in 63.2 overs, Broad 50 off 76 balls (6 fours), Prior 100 off 120 balls (5 fours, 1 six).

INDIA Second Innings

A Mukund b Broad12

32 balls 1 four

R Dravid not out34

73 balls 5 fours

V V S Laxman not out32

58 balls 6 fours

Extras (lb1 nb1)2

Total (for 1, 27 overs) 80

Fall: 1-19.

To bat: G Gambhir, S R Tendulkar, S K Raina, *†M S Dhoni, Harbhajan Singh, Z Khan, P S Kumar, I Sharma.

Bowling: J M Anderson 8-0-26-0 (4-0-13-0; 2-0-8-0; 2-0-5-0), C T Tremlett 8-3-22-0 (1nb) (6-3-9-0; 2-0-13-0), S C J Broad 6-2-12-1 (6-2-12-1), G P Swann 5-0-19-0 (5-0-19-0).

Progress: Day four: 50 in 19.1 overs.

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

TV umpire M Erasmus (SA).

Match referee R S Madugalle (Sri Lanka).