Behind the Compton stand, the Metropolitan water fountain — a functional heritage specimen from the 17th century — with its serpentine queue, looked like a municipal tap below a Mumbai chawl.
The crowd in front of the stall selling icy Pimms had the urgency and desperation of the bustling mass that gathers at a Delhi theka on eve of a dry day. On a day when the mercury touched 30 degrees, the Indian summer truly came to Lord’s.
The heat had turned the opening day’s greenish track into a Kotla-like brown and dusty pitch. The swing and seam movement had faded through the day and towards the end of the final session, India seemed to be playing at home. Left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja bowling a longish spell from one-end, pacers at the other end attempting reverse swing and the game dragging into a slow crawl. But for the understated crowd and their regimented applause, this could have been Eden, Motera or even Green Park.
Interestingly, the conditions may have changed dramatically from Day 1 to Day 2, but the pattern of play remained similar. Openers getting out early, pacers enjoying success in the first session before an enterprising knock by a second-stringer bringing the team back in the game.
Explaining the game mathematically brings out the similarity more prominently. James Anderson (4/60) = Bhuvneshwar Kumar (4/46), Gary Ballance (110) = Ajinkya Rahane (103). England, at stumps on Day 2, were 219/6 in 86 overs. India, after 86 overs, were 271/8. With Ballance falling to the second new ball, like Ajinkya in the last 10 overs of the day on Thursday, there was hardly anything that separated the two teams.
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Though, in the second session, India had a chance to take a giant stride and leave England in the lurch. But Indian skipper MS Dhoni, or Shikhar Dhawan standing in first slip, didn’t take the leap.
At the sweaty day’s end as the Indian fans walked out drained and dehydrated, they would have thought about the edge that Stuart Binny induced from the bat of the day’s centurion, the one that went flying between two open-mouthed reluctant Indians, when he was on 32. England were 91/3 at that stage.
Before his only blemish of the day, Ballance had played a tight off-stump game. He didn’t reach for the ball or throw his bat at delivers at driving length. He would push the ball to square keeping the bat close to his body or score singles by nudging the ball off his leg. Ballance didn’t hit a single boundary off his first 58 balls.
He was cutting down risks and was showing surprising restraint, a trait difficult to associate with someone who appeared drunk and topless on pages of tabloids before this Test. Conventionally, players sign autograph for fans on free days when they venture out of their hotels between Tests. Ballance, if reports are to be believed, ordered large shots of vodkas for them at the bar.
Runs can change opinions. So, while Ballance relished his first Lord’s hundred by doing a full-circle bat-waving salutation to the stands, the English fans, by now high on Pimms, saw the 24-year-old Yorkshire as a throwback to the good old ‘play hard, party hard’ days. The ‘old bloke’ was part of a breed, they said in their drunken and happy stupor, that was on the brink of extinction in this professional world.
Eventually, Ballance fell to a nondescript Bhuvneshwar ball that seemed to be drifting down the leg-side. It took a feather touch from the bat and landed in Dhoni’s hands. The new English hero would have liked to end the day unbeaten, but India’s man of the moment in this series had spoiled his plans.
Ballance’s hundred seemed negated by a fine show of swing bowling by Bhuvneshwar. Before the series, former India pacer and Bhuvneshwar’s city mate, Praveen Kumar, had spoken about the importance of making the batsmen play in England. The Meerut boy’s first ball of the day was an in-coming delivery to the left-handed opener Alastair Cook, who barely managed to keep it away from stumps.
All through the day he wouldn’t give the English batsmen the luxury of leaving the ball. Bhuvneshwar was also thinking on his feet. When Ian Bell stood out of the crease to cut his swing, he bowled a short in-coming ball. Cramped for space, Bell was tied up and all he could do was glove the ball into the hands of slip. Praveen had said “Bhuvi will do well, wo chalaak hai”. At Lord’s on Friday, they were calling him a ‘sly’ bowler.
In the days to follow, it remains to be seen which team will be able to outfox the other. As for the conditions, they remain unpredictable. The roughs on the dry and dusty track will grow, but chances are the weekend might bring cloudy sky and overcast conditions. Once again, the first hour on Saturday will be crucial. You never know what can happen on an English morning of an Indian summer.