February 24 2020
England makes slow but steady progress
21 July 2011

Zaheer, after scalping both wickets, hobbles off with an injury

India's troubles with starting tours continued here at Lord's on Thursday. Although there was some fine bowling, the fielding and the catching let India down. It ceded the honours of the first two sessions to England, which went to tea at 127 for two. Jonathan Trott, reprieved twice, was unbeaten on 58 and Kevin Pietersen, who didn't look entirely convincing, was on 22.What made it worse for India was the injury to its best bowler, Zaheer Khan. The extent and seriousness of the injury was unknown at the time of writing.Earlier, the start of the 2000th Test was held up a flimsy morning drizzle. With the pitch under cover — a posh hovercraft does duty here; canvas sheets are infra-dig — and the atmosphere heavy with moisture under cloudy skies, the toss wasn't straightforward.

Dhoni wins toss

The temptation was to bowl even though the maxim holds that one may consider such a course of action, but bat first anyway. When M.S. Dhoni won the toss, he had no hesitation in inserting England and giving Zaheer Khan and Praveen Kumar the new ball.

Till Ishant Sharma was introduced in the 15th over, the style of cricket was a throwback: highly skilful swing bowling at medium-pace; cautious, considered batting underpinned on survival not scoring; languorous, stiff-bodied fielding.

The style, especially in bowling and fielding, didn't change greatly through the first two sessions — just that Ishant's more contemporary hit-the-wicket method threw its old-world quality into relief.The new-ball battle was absorbing — it was watched with hushed appreciation by the full house. Zaheer attempted to drag England's left-handed openers across their stumps. This he did by shaping deliveries away, widening their line ever so slightly from time to time. By themselves, these had the potential to gain wickets (primarily to catches behind), but they had a larger purpose: to set the batsman up for the lbw.

Curling the ball

Praveen curled the ball more prodigiously and dramatically than Zaheer. Some deliveries veered from well outside the left-hander's leg-stump to have M.S. Dhoni collecting them in front of first slip'sright pocket. When he went around the wicket, he looked more threatening, for the batsman now had the chance to nick a ball, not miss it by inches.The ball was also moving off the surface — it was clear from the bowler's footfalls that the turf underneath was darker, a sign of dampness. In such conditions, the batsman's objective is to play as late as possible. Both Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook hung back, attempting to meet the ball beneath their eyes. They weren't always successful, but they had the fortune needed to survive.Strangely, the day's first chance was a run-out opportunity. Ishant missed the stumps at the non-striker's end from mid-on with Strauss well out of his ground.

Ploy pays dividends

Just as it seemed as if the English openers had done the difficult bit, Zaheer's ploy worked. Cook, habituated to the ball leaving him, fell over when one didn't swing. Umpire Asad Rauf's decision was excellent — replays and ball-tracking technology showed the ball had straightened down the slope just enough to hit leg-stump.

Harbhajan Singh nearly had Jonathan Trott (on eight then). Rahul Dravid did well to get down quickly to his right at slip, but couldn't grasp the ball with an outstretched right hand. It was the off-spinner's first delivery; considering the importance of Trott's wicket and the observed fact that Harbhajan is much better after an early scalp, it was a case of what might have been.

Bounced out

Trott settled and batted with a becoming simplicity. He had raised 43 either side of lunch with his captain when Zaheer struck again. The left-armer surprised Strauss with a good bouncer — not only was itwide, it also seamed away, making the batsman to fetch it. Furthermore the ball got big on Strauss, forcing a woolly hook rather than a precise pull. Ishant caught the top-edge at long-leg.

Well into the middle session, India suffered two minor tragedies, Zaheer at the centre of both. First he had Trott (on 32) edging a marvellous delivery that left the right-hander from around the wicket. M.S Dhoni made as if to go for it, putting Dravid off at first slip. The ball went between them.Then Zaheer pulled up short in his follow-through and left the field clutching his right hamstring. India will monitor Zaheer's fitness with some worry — its bowling attack is severely diminished without him.


England — 1st innings: A. Strauss c Ishant b Zaheer 22 (83b, 2x4), A. Cook lbw b Zaheer 12 (36b, 1x4), J. Trott (batting) 58 (104b, 8x4), K. Pietersen (batting) 22 (73b, 2x4); Extras (b-8, lb-4, w-1): 13; Total (for two wkts. in 49.2 overs): 127.

Fall of wickets: 1-19 (Cook), 2-62 (Strauss).

India bowling: Zaheer 13.3-8-18-2, Praveen 17.3-5-46-0, Ishant 11.2-3-33-0, Harbhajan 7-1-18-0.



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