England collapse allows India back into thrilling Test
Lunch: First Test, day four, Lord’s
Match score: England 72-5 (Morgan 5*, Prior 5*, Strauss 32; Sharma 13-6-15-3) and 474-8 dec (Pietersen 202*, Prior 71, Trott 70; Kumar 5-106) lead India 286 (Dravid 103*; Broad 4-37) by 260 runs Full scorecard
Session score: England 67-5 India win
The expectation that today’s play would simply be a jockeying for position with India defending deep while England steamed towards a declaration was shattered by an inspired spell of pace bowling from Ishant Sharma.
From the moment that Andrew Strauss was lbw sweeping Harbhajan Singh, England lost four wickets for eight runs in 32 balls.
When Sharma, fielding in the gully, made a lame and fruitless attempt to stop an Andrew Strauss square cut off Praveen Kumar in the 14th over or the morning, the prospect of him steaming in from the nursery end and blowing away England’s top order seemed remote.
But then in the same over Suresh Raina almost ran out Jonathan Trott with a deft direct hit where he had picked the ball up in his left hand and thrown with his right. It was not entirely clear which Indian team had turned up: the side that thinks it’s No.1 or that the one that actually is.
England were in positive mood. Strauss swept Harbhajan Singh, which led to his downfall, and all the batsmen were advancing down the pitch to the medium pace of Praveen Kumar.
But Sharma is a different beast: lanky, shaggy-haired and in this mood menacing. He got Kevin Pietersen with extra bounce from a good length and lured Ian Bell into a tame edge after pinning him back in the crease with some straighter stuff.
We probably should not have been surprised. Sharma’s blank first innings performance was his first wicketless innings in 15 and he took 22 wickets in the three recent Tests in West Indies.
It might not be what England fans wanted but it’s what this utterly compelling Test match needed. And it’s certainly what India’s threadbare bowling attack needed, confirmation that they still have a variety of wicket-takers at their disposal.
The problem that India find themselves with is that every good thing they do is also a fillip for England. If it turns for Harbhajan, Graeme Swann won’t mind. Sharma gets some bounce off a length and Messrs Broad and Tremlett will exchange a knowing glance.
At the start of play, Strauss would have been thinking about declarations and the absence of Virender Sehwag removes one headache from those calculations. Had he been fit, his presence would surely have added 50 to 100 runs to the total with which Strauss would have felt safe.
But at lunch the luxury of declaring was a distant possibility for England. When India to get to bat, they may have to do so without Sachin Tendulkar for a while. He was absent from the field, as he had been for a while on Saturday, with a “viral infection” and because that is not an external injury should not be allowed to come in until the fall of the fifth wicket.
John Stern is a former editor of The Cricketer
Follow him on Twitter @Cricketer_John