James Anderson at the top of his run-up and a green pitch in front of him; It’s a sight that can make a batsmen edgy but, inversely, the spectators excited. And since both the prospects suited England, Alastair Cook opted to bowl after winning the toss. With the scoreboard reading 73 for 2 after 27 overs, India seemed to have done well on a pitch they rarely get to see at home.
Anderson’s first session spell read 8-6-11-1, impressive on any pitch around the world but not at Lord’s on Thursday. The pace spearhead knew that and that in a way explained the reason why he wore his famous scowl while walking off the field for lunch.
The morning had seen conditions that were almost factory-made for the ball to fly around. The humidity in the air helped the gleaming red cherry swing and the grass on the track made it to bounce and dart around after pitching. So the stock Anderson ball would swing in the shape of a kidney bean, pitch just in front of the batsman and fly towards the slips.
The exaggerated movement would draw ‘ohhs, ahhs’ from the stands. But these were balls the batsmen could afford to comfortably leave and those that beat the bat too didn’t get the wicket since they sailed several inches away from the willow. Anderson was ‘pretty’ but not ‘penetrative’. As bowling coaches around the world say, he wasn’t hitting the right areas often enough.
Against Shikhar Dhawan he did and was rewarded. It was an old Anderson trick that got the left-handed opener. After bowling three away-going balls, that Dhawan left for the keeper to collect, the pacer got one to spear back at him. The batsman could do nothing about it but play.
So from ‘leaving’, Anderson had got Dhawan in the ‘playing’ mode. Next came the sucker ball. It landed outside leg-stump and moved towards the slips. Dhawan squared up, the ball on its way kissed the shoulder of the bat. England was celebrating and Cook was smiling. The captain had hoped for pace and nicks to carry, Dhawan c Ballance b Anderson gave him both.
The first Indian wicket was the kind that makes the fans in tri-colour dread the worse. Away Test, swing, seam movement and catch in the slips . batting collapse is what follows next. It’s a sequence straight out of those many nightmarish Indian outings abroad.
However, this was a period of play when India pulled it back. At least for some time. Cheteshwar Pujara and Murali Vijay would make a series of outstanding leaves that would make the England pacer ineffective.
With the batsmen not reaching for the ball pitched up, almost involuntarily, the bowlers started bowling short. That suited the Indians just well. They were not forced to play many balls and thus survived on the very tough track. Stuart Broad, Liam Plunkett and Ben Stokes didn’t bowl on a driving length that would have seen the batsmen reach out for the balls.
Expecting wickets, Cook gave Anderson an extended spell and it was only after he conceded 7 runs in his 8th over that he replaced him. Before that over Anderson’s figures were 7-6-4-1. Finally, getting a pitch to their liking, the English bowlers were excited but they got carried away. For the Indian bowlers this was a lesson to be learnt.