Team India played comprehensive cricket and re-wrote history when the side - led by Ishant Sharma's 7/74 - beat England by 95 runs to win the Lord's Test and take 1-0 lead in the series.
Notwithstanding how Ishant Sharma’s spiteful delivery to Moeen Ali with the last ball before lunch crucially gave India renewed hope on the final day at Lord’s, the desperate debacle that ensued after the interval was the stuff of nightmares.
Sitting in the Grand Stand with my two sons, I’d enjoyed the morning session, watching MS Dhoni’s clever field placings both encourage attacking shots by Ali and Joe Root, but largely nullify them.
However, despite the odd alarm here or there, runs were gradually accrued. Wickets weren’t forthcoming. There was a lady two seats to my right bedecked in an easy blue ODI top. She had yelled “Come on India!” moments before the first ball of the day, but choose to go awfully quiet by around 12.45pm.
The 95-run victory also improved India’s awful record at the home of cricket to two wins in 17 Tests and set them 1-0 ahead in the five-match series. It also ended India’s run of 15 Tests with no away victory.
Using the short ball to perfection, Sharma took all but one of the six wickets to fall on the final day of the second Test, returning a career-best 7 for 74 to dismiss England for 223.
Also it was easy to understand why. Ali and Root were playing at classic Test match tempo, only attacking poor balls. Having battled through the floodlit fourth evening when balls shot along the deck, leapt up and swung around a little, now the batsmen found life a little easier. There was still plenty of spin for Ravi Jadeja and co, but Ali and Root were coping with it.
Sharma’s wicket really helped India, because it justified the short-ball tactics which Dhoni had implored from the bowler. Sharma is the only tall fast bowler in the Indian team, but his position has been questioned sometimes, perhaps his belief too. No surprise he needed Dhoni’s encouragement. After lunch, the skipper just needed to keep giving Sharma the ball. England needed to hit self-destruct.
Exhibit no. 1 for the prosecution: Matt Prior- out-of-form wicketkeeper dropping catches, with fitness issues, but at his best an excellent counter-attacking batsman. A glimmer of the old Prior was there when Sharma misdirected a couple of his bouncers, and he attacked them outside off and away to collect boundaries each time.
But Prior currently has no way of dealing with the straight bouncer: he either gets hits, fends a catch away, or top-edges a catch to the deep. This time around, deep midwicket was the beneficiary of Prior’s present.
In the event that was scarcely believable, then Ben Stokes didn’t perform a lot better, the left-hander splicing a catch off another ill-advised pull before he’d departed the mark. The game appeared to be gone let’s focus on England, but just to make sure Root presented a seventh wicket of the innings for Sharma with yet another catch arcing gently in the milky summer sky off a poorly executed pull shot.
In an obscure way, history was repeating itself. In 2009, England beat Australia at Lord’s and among their most complete performances in recent times. Six Australians in the first innings were dismissed getting the pull shot wrong. Now, not just were England the victims, it had been India, a nation never recognized for its demonic pace bowling, shelling out the punishment. The shame of it!
As much as we can admire Sharma and Dhoni, the all-round zest of Jadeja, the tenacity with the bat expressed by Ajinkya Rahane and Murali Vijay, it’s all too easy to kick the dog on the floor that’s England.
There have been 10 Tests with no win (the first of those celebrated with a urination ceremony at The Oval 11 months ago). Of these 10 winless Tests, seven are gone for good in defeat. Alastair Cook may not want to resign but he’s England’s record century scorer of all time and we need those runs back; we don’t need his captaincy.
Prior has made one task easier for the selectors by taking out of the last three Tests on fitness grounds. However they have many more jobs for attending – and they are rapidly losing public support.
Ever since the ECB arrogantly dismissed the paying public as “people outside cricket” in certainly one of its pompous missives during the winter, it has built a disconnect with supporters which will continue to widen while the defeats increase. This is a grim time indeed in the house of English cricket.