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In the dark, India find their mark

India fight back in the final session to leave Eng 268/4 at stumps on the first day, reports Rohit Mahajan.
Hindustan Times | By Rohit Mahajan
UPDATED ON JUL 20, 2007 04:24 PM IST

On Thursday evening, Lord’s was a theatre of colours, brilliant emerald when the sun was out, London-grey with the clouds draped over it. For England, it was all black.

Forced off and on the field as the weather turned in a matter of minutes, asked to bat out the 11 remaining overs, England lost two wickets for three runs — captain Michael Vaughan and Paul Collingwood must really be furious at whoever is operating the lights.

England were 268 for four when bad light stopped play for the final time on the first day of the first Test, Kevin Pietersen batting on 34, nightwatchman Ryan Sidebottom had not scored yet.

Finally, towards the end of a full day’s wayward bowling, India had found the mark. An hour before the match started, as Pietersen and Vaughan batted at nets, Indian fielding coach Robin Singh stared intently at them, standing a few yards behind the bowlers.

Singh was possibly trying to gauge England’s last-minute preparations, or perhaps just trying to land a psychological blow with his gimlet eye.

As it turned out, it was India's own bowling and fielding that could have done with attention. The pacers failed to control the swing, bowled too full and too often at the legs of the Englishmen, who took the gifts gratefully.

After Alastair Cook had been dismissed for a racy cameo, Andrew Strauss and Vaughan added 142 for the second wicket before Strauss fell on 96.

It was a frustrating day for India and their supporters, who made up a fair percentage of the near-full house. Unable to control the swing, the paceman allowed England to get away at a canter after Vaughan opted to bat under an overcast sky. The wicket was dry, the day was predicted to be equally so.

Zaheer Khan began with a neat over, but Sreesanth’s first over opened the floodgates. The first delivery was on the pads and Cook had to simply put bat to ball. Sreesanth erred similarly on the fifth delivery, 10 runs accrued from the over. Cook was looking very good, Strauss wasn’t — the two fours he got off Zaheer’s second came off the edge.

With seven and then six men on the off-side, the Indians were bowling a wrong line, Sreesanth’s outswingers coming to the left-handers’s legs. Or they bowled too far outside off, and Strauss’s early nervousness was not probed.

England were 40 in five overs, the ball was regularly crossing the rope. RP Singh’s introduction stopped runs a bit, though he was only disciplined and not dangerous.

Then Sourav Ganguly struck in the over after the first drinks break. He pumped his fists, stomped on the turf, Tarzanesque in his yell of triumph. Eleven years after he first rocked Lord's with the wicket of Nasser Hussain off his seventh ball on debut, Ganguly went one better in what he accepts is his last Test here, taking out the impressive Cook for 36.

That brought Vaughan in, and he immediately looked good, beginning with a couple of pleasing straight fours off Ganguly, who continued to pitch it up. Anil Kumble began with a full-toss, a bad omen, and India’s troubles continued to mount. The pace of scoring slackened but only because the batsmen decided to play cautiously — Strauss, gaining in confidence, perhaps began to eye a large score.

He was lucky. Dinesh Karthik was caught dozing at point when Strauss played a rising drive off Sreesanth straight to him. It was the easiest of chances and Strauss was more incredulous than the disbelieving audience when the ball was spilt.

The Indians didn’t have the pace to scare the batsmen. When they bowled short or drifted to the legs, Vaughan effortlessly sent the ball to the midwicket fence.

As Strauss prospered, he became composed and brave. Perhaps he became too adventurous, and that got India their second success. After reaching 96 with a four off Kumble, he left his crease to hit another big shot, failed to reach the ball and tried to nudge at it. All he managed was an edge and was caught at slip.

Finally, RP Singh, India’s best on show, got the reward when Vaughan drove outside off and edged the ball to Dhoni. In the next over, Kumble trapped Collingwood LBW with a googly.

In the dark, India finally found a bright spot.

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