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England strike first blood

ENGLAND were not to be denied. Before an ecstatic, raucous crowd on another Peoples’ Monday at Lord’s they took a crucial 1-0 lead in the Test series yesterday.

Needing nine wickets at the start of the final day to defeat India in the first of the four matches, they completed their task shortly before 5.30pm with 28.3 overs still at their disposal. It was a thoroughly-deserved victory, by 196 runs, secured by a magnificent exhibition of bowling which went some way to confirming that England have the best and most complete attack in the world.

There were five wickets for Jimmy Anderson, who was relentless around the off stump, but his co-stars shared the top billing. The other fast bowlers, Chris Tremlett, rangy and perpetually dangerous, and Stuart Broad, who nullified all arguments about his place in the side, were perpetually effective. In an admirable spell after lunch when he pinned Sachin Tendulkar to the crease, Graeme Swann was impeccable.

Things went wrong for India throughout the match with players injured, ill or ill-prepared. But that hardly dilutes the nature of England’s victory for which, at three points in the match, they had to display the resilience that marks out all successful teams. It was not a complete display of the Test match arts, being slightly marred by too many dropped catches, but this is a team who know where they are going.

Throughout the last riveting day, pockets of resistance were all gradually snuffed out and England finished the matter off quickly in the early evening. With Suresh Raina, part of India’s new batting brigade, supplying the only resistance, the final five wickets fell for 43 runs in 93 balls.

After five days of an endlessly absorbing contest - the 2,000th match in the official annals - this conclusion was perfect for the whole concept of Test cricket. It was the better for being watched by a passionately enthusiastic crowd, many of whom had queued from the small hours to gain entry.

Many of them, too, were attending Lord’s, the greatest ground on the planet, for the first time. MCC, in wisdom that is rapidly becoming infinite, charged (pounds sterling)20 a ticket with under 16s free. An hour before the start of play, with queues snaking all the way up to St John’s Wood underground station, the gates were effectively closed.

What a day those in the ground had. The set-up was beautifully straightforward: England needed nine wickets, India needed 378 runs, the draw was marginal favourite. In the fifth over, England missed their first opportunity when Rahul Dravid was put down by Ian Bell at short leg after an inside edge on to his pad from Chris Tremlett.

This might have been critical to their chances since Dravid did not get the nickname “The Wall” for nothing, and walls do not come tumbling down. But soon enough, Dravid, in an extremely-Dravidian fashion, pushed at one outside off and was caught behind by Matt Prior.

Before lunch VVS Laxman, who had batted sublimely, pulled the first ball of a new spell from Anderson to mid-wicket, and Gautam Gambhir, in at four instead of opening after being hit on an elbow while fielding, was leg before propping forward to Swann. There was still the little matter of the Little Master.

If Sachin Tendulkar batted to the end of the day, he would probably both save the match and have his 100th international hundred, his first in Tests at Lord’s. But he became becalmed as England’s quartet of bowlers put the squeeze on. He survived a legitimate shout for lbw from Broad - yet another case in favour of the Decision Review System - but that seemed to instil doubt rather than persuade him to benefit from his good fortune.

Tendulkar went 38 balls and 47 minutes without scoring and then he was dropped by Andrew Strauss as he attempted to leave a ball that bounced more than he would have hoped and took the toe of the bat. This was Strauss’s second drop of the match and, like the first, should have been taken.

It could have been vital, it was no such thing. Two balls later, Anderson seared one into Tendulkar’s pads and rightly won an lbw verdict. As Raina gained in confidence, joined by his captain, MS Dhoni, it became clear that the second new ball would be of extreme importance to England’s cause. So it proved.

In its sixth over, Dhoni could not resist a ball outside off from Tremlett and India were all but done. Harbhajan Singh was dropped at point off Broad by Eoin Morgan and umpire Billy Bowden denied Broad an lbw decision against Raina for reasons of which only he could be sure. He must have thought Raina clipped the ball into his pads. He did not.

Time was still on England’s side but it has a habit of running out. Four years ago in the first Test, they had India nine down at Lord’s but were denied the final wicket by a bad umpiring call and lost the series. They had to keep their nerve.

Harbhajan, one of several tourists to have a forgettable match, failed to keep his and pulled Anderson grotesquely to mid-on. Praveen Kumar was bowled by Broad, Anderson had his third quintet at Lord’s when he induced Raina to edge to Prior, and Broad finished it off by having Ishant Sharma lbw.

Had umpire Bowden denied the last call, many would have feared for the consequences. Broad had contained himself earlier but every man has his breaking point.

This conclusion was perfect for the whole idea of Test cricket. It was, in the official annals, the 2,000th match and from start, albeit belated, to finish it contained almost everything that is compelling and fascinating about the game.

Kevin Pietersen was man-of-the- match for his double hundred, the first half of which was played in atrocious batting conditions. It put England in control. If India are licking their wounds, they had better do so quickly and efficiently and put on plenty of dressing. The second Test begins in Nottingham on Friday and England are coming.

SCOREBOARD

ENGLAND

474-8dec & 269-6dec

INDIA

286 & 261

England win by 196 runs


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