Certain strokes, when hit by specific batsmen, come with promise, if not a guarantee. A Sachin Tendulkar straight punch, a Rahul Dravid front-foot square drive or an effortless Sourav Ganguly push through cover in the initial part of the innings would be an early signal of an authoritative innings ahead.
“It’s his day,” the fans would declare while applauding the signature hit by a stalwart. On most occasions, they would be right. The myth would spread and the stroke would get etched in memory.
On the opening day of the Lord’s Test, there were several of those “shots of promise” but only one went on to be the spark that turned into a blazing knock.
A number of Indian batsmen looked confident, got a measure of the conditions and seemed to be settling for a long stay at the crease till the bowler dug out a gem from the pitch that ended their day.
It was only Ajinkya Rahane who mastered the conditions and dominated the bowling on a kind of pitch that has given the Indians the tag of poor travellers. His 103, saw India finish at 290 for 9, a healthy score on the lively Lord’s pitch.
Earlier in the day, Murali Vijay (24), Cheteshwar Pujara (28) and Virat Kohli (25) looked set for much bigger scores than the one’s shown against their name on the scoreboard. This was thanks to the 22-yards on which bowlers were never out of the game and the batsmen never ‘in’.
On this track with green tinge, the end of an assured knock was just an effort-ball away. It was only when the ball got old, bowlers got tired and the pitch eased that the trend slightly changed.
In the first couple of sessions, Pujara’s eyes on the ball, ever-so studious cover drive or Kohli’s text book straight drive didn’t result in significant contribution to the team’s cause.
Later in the day Ajinkya Rahane and Bhuvneshwar Kumar restored the faith of the fans in the good old ‘well begun is half done assumption. Rahane’s ‘down the ground push’ off Broad early in his innings and Bhuvneshwar’s first ball off-the-pads flick to the square leg fence proved to be early indicator of things to follow.
Rahane and Bhuvneshwar (36) gave India’s score respectability as did their 90-run partnership off 148 balls. The Indian batting line-up played as a team as they countered some inspired spells bowled by English batsmen and the tough conditions.
While the top-order blunted the England attack, Rahane made the most when the conditions eased and the bowlers tired. Like a true Mumbai batsman, Rahane believed that the first two sessions belonged to the bowlers and the third to the batsmen.
The final 50 of his ton came from 50 balls and that helped India to score 150 runs after tea. As has been seen in his previous Test ton at South Africa, Ajinkya didn’t let the match situation affect his batting approach. He would start with driving Moeen Ali and Broad through covers. To counter his off-side domination and to plug the flow of runs, Cook would ask his bowlers to bang in short and place three fielders on the fine leg fence.
The ploy didn’t work as both Plunkett and Anderson went for runs in the region. Rahane was to show that Cook had got it wrong, his range also includes horizontal bat shots too.
It was only after the new ball was taken after 80 overs that England came back into the game. Once again the batsmen were on toes, bowlers interested and the match continued to be interesting.
The final 10 overs of the day saw the fall of a couple of wickets but it also saw Rahane complete his ton. On a pitch where the batsmen are never in, Rahane restored the faith of the fans.
A 90 in South Africa, a hundred in New Zealand and now this. It was a memorable day at Lord’s. It started with Rahul Dravid ringing the ceremonial bell before start of play and ended with Rahane’s name getting on the honour’s board.