The day before the game started, the ground was awash with water and despair — the neighbouring Trent seemed to have made a detour through the green. Steve Birks, the chief groundsman, and his team worked wonders so that just four hours were lost on the first day. When it was time to toss the coin in the afternoon, in overcast conditions, Rahul Dravid called it right — and India got a head start even before the first ball was sent down.
Bowling in conditions that batsmen abhor, the Indians still had to pitch the ball right. Enter Zaheer Khan — not at his best at Lord's, the paceman was fired up, taking four wickets in the first innings as England were routed for 198. Sreesanth and Ganguly chipped in, and RP Singh got the priceless wicket of Pietersen for nothing much. The game was on.
When India batted, the openers negated 147 of England’s runs with a partnership that combined intent, patience and aggression. They got their runs with ease, for the conditions had altered, the sun was out and the England pacemen were not quite as effective. Though Jaffer and Karthik lost their wickets within two runs of each other, leaving Dravid and Tendulkar stranded on zero each, the openers had done their job. They had allowed the next four to come in and bat without fear.
Tendulkar, Ganguly and Dravid, the stars that shone not at Lord’s, hit back hard. Perhaps piqued by the criticism in the press — scathing in the Indian, crowing in the British — brought back memories of the days gone by. The three contributed 207 runs, and Laxman added 54. England bowled better on the third day, but the sum total of all this was India walking away with a 283-run lead.
The great jellybean stratagem, born of desperation, would come under close scrutiny in the England war room. The prank was childish — cricket laws would not smile benignly on placing of foreign objects on the playing surface — but Zaheer was not amused. In his own words, it was an insult, and there was only one fit recompense for it — total subjugation of England. It was not easy, for England were batting on a surface where even Anil Kumble the batsman was unshakeable. Zaheer was magnificent — though Vaughan got a lovely century, the first of the game, Zaheer had run circles around him in the morning, troubling him with inswingers, outswingers, straight deliveries, with the angle. Zaheer finally got Vaughan, about 100 runs after he really should have had him, and that opened the floodgates. Any more of Vaughan would have been trouble for India, and Zaheer ensured that Vaughan could only delay the inevitable.
India did their homework well — Cook fell lbw for the fourth time in four innings, Vaughan has been removed by left-arm pacers bowling on all four occasions. This is no accident. Then India made the most of good fortune — the match was won on the first innings contest, when India had better batting conditions than England. Then Sidebottom was decidedly unlucky on the third morning, and deserved more than just the lone wicket he got in the game. But the result of a match hangs more on results than potential.
India won the war of words also — Zaheer's waving of the bat at Pietersen may have been a bit over the top, but it emphatically conveyed to England that their childish pranks, their ceaseless chatter, mattered not. England may have been better with their jibes, but India performed better with the traditional tools of the game.