London: Irishman Padraig Harrington could pull it off at Carnoustie, but the Indians couldn’t at Lord’s. The draw — with England requiring just one wicket to go 1-0 up — came courtesy the weather.
Play was first halted by poor light (not that it was great at any point on Monday) and, then, spells of rain. Yet another great escape for India, but questions remain.
That a second-string pace attack almost clinched it for the hosts is as revealing as it’s worrying. No Andrew Flintoff, no Steve Harmison and no Matthew Hoggard either, but the visitors were less than an inch away from grief.
“It was a stressful day... It’s like coming out of jail,” admitted captain Rahul Dravid. He added: “We stayed in touch, but England had us running throughout... We’ve been lucky to get away...”
The England captain, Michael Vaughan, said: “It was a tremendous Test and we played positively... We’re disappointed at not getting the last wicket, but we’ve taken a lot of positives... They won’t count for anything if we don’t repeat this cricket in Trent Bridge (second Test, beginning Friday)...”
Vaughan, however, did make the point that he expected Dravid and Co. to be more formidable in the last two Tests. “As the tour gets longer, the Indians will come back stronger.”
India began the last day requiring 243 with seven wickets in hand. Hopes of forcing a win largely disappeared when overnighters Sourav Ganguly and Dinesh Karthik fell early and in quick succession.
Sourav was the first to depart (lbw to Ryan Sidebottom for 40), while Karthik undid all the good work of 210 minutes (which fetched 60 runs) by driving at one from James Anderson which should’ve been left alone.
“Batting is about management... You’ve got to study the situation and work out what the bowler wants you to do... If he has a strong slips cordon, then he wants you to drive the swinging ball... Don’t oblige him, like Karthik did,” one-time England captain and champion opener Graham Gooch told The Telegraph.
Only briefly, during the V.V.S. Laxman-Mahendra Singh Dhoni partnership was hope rekindled, but the former’s dismissal (231 for six) again pushed England right in the front.
Dhoni was, of course, outstanding. He was tentative early on, but settled down for an innings of absolute character. It earned praise from, among others, former India captain and cricket manager Ravi Shastri.
“He may not have been at his best to begin with, but produced a knock which actually reminded me of some of the fighting old-fashioned Test innings... Full marks to him...”
As for Dhoni, he described the very unDhoni-like effort as a “new chapter” in his career. “I’ve not had such a low strike-rate, but my cricket is determined by the team’s needs... I’m satisfied I could do my bit.”
Somewhat lucky not to have become a Monty Panesar victim, Dhoni remained unbeaten on 76 (202 minutes, 159 balls, 10x4) in India’s 282 for nine.
Dhoni played in a higher gear as did Sreesanth (first innings) and Rudra Pratap Singh (second), but the middle-order’s failure is going to worry the team management. Ironically, two of those who failed — Dravid and vice-captain Sachin Tendulkar — are part of that.
It’s a pity that somebody as gifted as Yuvraj Singh has to cool his heels in the dressing room.
Footnote: Hoggard, who developed back spasms in the lead-up to the opener, has been dropped from the squad for the second Test. There’s no other change.