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Rain drain and tumbling wickets

England were 77/2 when stumps were finally drawn to end the third day’s play at the Lord's, reports Rohit Mahajan.
Hindustan Times | By Rohit Mahajan, London
UPDATED ON JUL 23, 2007 05:50 PM IST

In a play of shadow and shine, rain and sun, in the battle for honours in the first Test at the Lord’s, it’s the batsmen who are suffering. England were 77 for two, 174 ahead, when stumps were finally drawn at 7.30 pm to end the third day’s play.

Batting with the threat of rain hanging over your head is a tough task; India must, thus, regret losing their last six wickets in heat and sunshine, in less than two hours in the morning.

Saturday was Friday all over again —in reverse. It was a brilliant day but, as the Indians lost wickets, the clouds gathered. Thirty minutes into lunch, it was pouring. The weather gods then put up another astonishing performance — it was bright. But in an hour, it was raining again. Suffice it to say that the vagaries of weather continued throughout the day.

When England batted a second time, having secured a priceless lead of 97, Lord’s was abuzz with anticipation; after the bowling performances put up hitherto, anything seemed possible. Zaheer Khan was making the ball curl in the shape of a bow, pitching it up and inviting Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook into dangerous drives. England got the runs, some through streaky strokes past the slips, some through handsome drives and cuts through the covers.

Cook survived a huge shout for LBW off Zaheer in the seventh over, a very close chance indeed. The ball was thudding into the pads or beating the bat, there was tension in the air, there was suppressed excitement — something had to give.

And it did. After England got to 40, in the 10th over of the innings bowled by Zaheer, Strauss left one that came in a very long way. Next ball held its line and moved away a bit, took the bat’s edge as Strauss pushed at it. One down. In his next over, Zaheer got the other opener — the ball swung in and struck Cook’s front pad and the umpire raised his finger. It was again a close call, the ball just might have hit Cook outside off, but India got the decision they wanted.

Zaheer walked back to the top of his run-up, looking at the turf, intense and roused. The conditions were helpful, the batsmen were in trouble.

He and RP Singh gave Michael Vaughan and Kevin Pietersen a torrid time, beating their bats and hitting their pads, before — surprise, surprise! — rain started falling again. They did come back around 6.55 in the evening and survived a tense 8.2 overs of play.

In the morning, at a sun-kissed Lord’s, it was darkness at noon for India — the batsmen lost their way in self-contrived gloom and threw their wickets.

Mirroring England’s collapse, India lost their last six wickets in 100 minutes of play, adding just 56 runs. With the exception of Sourav Ganguly and Anil Kumble, India lost wickets to deliveries that were innocuous. The Indian lower order displayed an instinct of attack rather than grit and self-preservation.

James Anderson caused India the greatest misery, finishing with five.

Rather than sell his wicket dear, RP Singh attempted to flay the ball right from the start, and it was only good fortune that prolonged his innings. After counselling him, ironically, it was Ganguly who became the first man out, falling on perhaps the first ball that targeted the wicket on the day. Anderson got one to straighten into the left-hander after pitching and Ganguly’s prod connected nothing and his stumps fell.

In his first over of the day, Ryan Sidebottom troubled Laxman with balls that angled in after pitching, but RP Singh was fearless, foolishly so — he tried to slog the fifth ball to midwicket and ballooned it just behind the umpire.

MS Dhoni, apparently attempting to pierce the slip cordon with his angled bat, survived once when the ball fell short of Bell in the slips; the next ball was played right into Bell’s hands and Dhoni walked.

Kumble was beaten by one that straightened after pitching and missed his defensive stab, Laxman weakly drove Sidebottom and edged the ball to Matt Prior behind the stumps, Zaheer hooked the ball (off bat’s edge) into the slips, and India’s sorry morning was over.

England never resorted to Monty Panesar, there was no need to; in the fourth innings, his encounter with India’s greats, playing their last Lord’s Test, would be interesting.

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