England 238-5 v India
It was tales of the unexpected at Lord's yesterday after Dickie Bird, umpiring in his last Test, gave the England captain out lbw for a duck to the fifth ball of the day, after Mohammad Azharuddin had bravely asked England to bat.
At tea, when the home side were 144 for 5, that decision began to look inspired, with India all but stopping England's summer resurgence dead in its tracks with a spirited bowling performance, led by Javagal Srinath. That was the moment, however, when England decided to retort, a counter brilliantly marshalled by Graham Thorpe and Jack Russell and, by the time bad light had brought an early close, their unbroken stand of 131 had regained the initiative for England.
Thorpe, in particular, played his pugnacious strokes with relish, barely eliciting a mistake until Sachin Tendulkar hit him full on the helmet with a bouncer. He is now an organised player who reads conditions and the scoring options they afford quicker than most, and he reached his fifty off 100 balls.
Russell is similarly cast, though he is the only batsman who makes a hook shot look like a deep-sea fisherman landing a marlin and, by the time India had exhausted their ploy of bouncing him out, he had not refined it one jot, reaching his fifty in 12 fewer balls than his partner.
However, both batsmen clearly benefited from batting against a soft ball, and their dominance against a tiring attack late in the day made the Indian captain's decision to field - after an early shower delayed the start by half an hour - look an increasingly brash one. Had Atherton won it, he would have batted and Azharuddin's decision was probably more to do with not wanting to bat under grey skies rather than any real desire to bowl.
Mind you, the day could have fallen differently for India had the admirable Srinath consistently pitched the ball a yard or so fuller. When he did, England's batsmen had few answers and, before he tired, he beat the batsmen far more often than they defied him.
Atherton, with barely his mark etched on the crease, was the first to succumb. Beaten by the fifth ball, which nipped back sharply down the slope, the England captain could scarcely believe it when Dickie Bird, the world's greatest not-outer, decided in favour of the bowler.
By the umpire's strict frames of reference, it was not a plumb one but, with Atherton barely in front of the popping crease, the ball would probably have hit leg stump. With the ball nipping about off the seam, England had to work hard just for self-preservation. Every run became a cause for celebration with a full house enjoying a tense morning, as Alec Stewart and Nasser Hussain went about stitching together their partnership of 67.
It must be said that England endured more than their fair share of luck at this stage, and Alec Stewart, shouldering arms to Srinath, was lucky to survive an lbw shout every bit as worthy as Atherton's. The Surrey captain has one of the best Test records by an England player at Lord's, yet when he was bowled, playing one of his flat-footed drives, he made out as if he had lost the ball from out of the pavilion's brickwork.
Hussain, meanwhile, was playing the moving ball with great deliberation, watching its deviations carefully and riding its disconcerting movements with soft hands. Once settled, he flicked and cut with style until a loose drive was brilliantly snatched up by Vikram Rathore, after the slip fielder had parried the initial catch some way to his left. It gave the debutant Saurav Ganguly a first Test wicket with his seventh ball.
That left England with a secure-looking platform of 98 for 3, though the stability was short-lived as Graeme Hick and Ronnie Irani quickly departed to a brace of rash misjudgements. Hick, in particular, was guilty of a horrendous shot, as he smeared a wide ball from Ganguly straight to mid-off. It was certainly a desperate enough stroke to keep his critics carping on for a while yet.
None of Hick's Test hundreds have so far coincided with an England win and he rarely seems to contribute sizeable scores in low-scoring games. His dismissal left Irani exposed to the moving ball far sooner than England would have liked, and he was bowled round his legs after getting too far across his stumps.
County cricket, page 29
(India won toss)
ENGLAND - First Innings
*M A Atherton lbw b Srinath 0
(2 min, 5 balls)
A J Stewart b Srinath 20
(126 min, 81 balls, 3 fours)
N Hussain c Rathore b Ganguly 36
(171 min, 110 balls, 5 fours)
G P Thorpe not out 85
(226 min, 169 balls, 9 fours)
G A Hick c Srinath b Ganguly 1
(9 min, 9 balls)
R C Irani b Prasad 1
(4 min, 2 balls)
R C Russell not out 69
(160 min, 118 balls, 7 fours)
Extras (b8, lb6, nb12) 26
Total (for 5, 354 min, 80 overs) 238
Fall: 1-0 (Atherton), 2-67 (Stewart), 3-98 (Hussain), 4-102 (Hick), 5- 107 (Irani).
To bat: C C Lewis, D G Cork, P J Martin, A D Mullally.
Bowling: Srinath 22-6-51-2 (nb4) (7-4-5-1 7-2-16-1 8-0-30-0), Prasad 20-6-47-1 (5-3-4-0 4-1-8-0 8-2-24-1 3-0-11-0), Mhambrey 15-1-55-0 (nb8) (4-1-15-0 5-0-22-0 6-0-18-0), Kumble 12-3-34-0 (1-0-5-0 9-2-23-0 2-1-6- 0), Ganguly 9-1-36-2 (nb2) (6-1-20-2 3-0-1 6-0), Tendulkar 2-1-1-0 (one spell).
Progress: Rain delayed start until 11.30am. Lunch: 39-1 (Stewart 9, Hussain 25) 21 overs. 50: 109 min, 24.3 overs. 100: 180 min, 39.1 overs. Tea: 144-5 (Thorpe 47, Russell 21) 53 overs. 150: 250 min, 55.1 overs. 200 in 313 min, 70.5 overs. New ball taken after 80 overs at 238-5. Bad light stopped play at 6.23pm.
Thorpe 50: 122 min, 100 balls, 7 fours.
Russell 50: 120 min, 88 balls, 5 fours.
INDIA: N R Mongia, V Rathore, S Ganguly, S R Tendulkar, *M Azharuddin, A D Jadeja, R Dravid, A Kumble, J Srinath, P L Mhambrey, B K V Prasad.
Umpires: H D Bird and D B Hair.
TV Replay Umpire: A G T Whitehead. Match Referee: C W Smith.Reuse content