Broad, Kumar play as India bowl first on overcast morning
This is the moment. This is England’s chance to gain the upper hand on and off the field.
On it, they can take advantage of an Indian side recently thrown together via the Caribbean and Taunton. Off the field, this is their window, domestically and globally, to raise the profile of the team and the game.
This is the only international match around the world, a rarity in these days of manically bloated schedules. And in the UK this is the major sporting occasion of the day. Football is cranking back into life but thankfully still fighting its tedious phoney wars of summer. The Open golf is done, Wimbledon and Ascot are over so Test cricket has a fortnight or so to delight the dilettantes, to curry favour with the casuals.
Which is why it was so depressing to feel the spots of rain turn into steady drizzle as I walked up Lisson Grove from Marylebone station. The rain stopped around 10.15 but then started again a few minutes so the main hover cover went back on. The Lord’s outfield resembled a school sports day with pockets of people everywhere, some standing and chatting, others besporting themselves in a variety of ways. Fielding, catching and hitting mostly and thankfully no winter sports which, on a slippery outfield, would surely end in tears … of hamstrings, calf muscles etc.
The top dogs are here, prowling menacingly close to the sacred 22 yards. The ECB’s David Collier and Giles Clarke are schmoozing their Indian counterparts, N Srinivasan and Shashank Manohar, and the ICC’s top men Sharad Pawar and Haroon Lorgat are loitering too, preparing to celebrate the 100th Test between England and India and, according to the ICC at least, the 2000th Test of all.
Nasser Hussain and Sourav Ganguly shook hands and exchanged what one hopes were pleasantries on the outfield. They were never friends when they opposed each other as captains of their respective countries.
The media centre is packed, as busy as it was for the 2005 Ashes. In cricket terms, this series is as eagerly anticipated without quite the casual interest from the British public that an Anglo-Australian contest engenders. Hopefully by the end of a compelling four-match series that will have changed.
India do not start series well away from home, a trait shared by England under Duncan Fletcher whose lack of belief in pre-series match practice is not shared by his successor as coach Andy Flower.
But England have not beaten India in a Test series since 1996 and the prospect of them winning by two clear Tests to become the No.1 side in the world seems far-fetched at this point.
India, though, are crossing their fingers that class and experience will compensate for lack of acclimatisation through the early part of the series. So much will depend on the openers on both sides. India are without Virender Sehwag for at least two Tests which places substantial pressure on his replacement Abhinav Mukund, a 21-year-old left-hander from Chennai who will play his fourth Test.
England’s left-handed openers must contend with the best left-arm bowler around. Zaheer Khan has dismissed Andrew Strauss five times in Tests. In all the England captain has been out 23 times to left-arm seamers.
The toss was delayed until 11 o’clock and even though Strauss was out there five minutes early MS Dhoni, the Indian captain, used the Ganguly trick of keeping the opposition skipper waiting, surely the first of many intriguing elements of psychological warfare through the series.
Dhoni knows which side his paratha is buttered and before he joined Strauss for the toss he made sure he shook hands with the Indian officials.
It was no surprise that Dhoni, having won the toss, opted to bowl nor that Indian picked Praveen Kumar, the swing bowler. England went for Stuart Broad, again no surprise. Now, lets’s get on with it.
John Stern is a former editor of The Cricketer
Follow him on Twitter @Cricketer_John