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Coarse Strauss, suave Vaughan help England prosper

S. Ram Mahesh

India’s bowling distinctly sub-standard; Ganguly and Kumble pick the two wickets to fall

NOT SO CONSISTENT: Andrew Strauss huffed and puffed to reach 84 at tea on the first day of the opening Test, but the knock should give him ample confidence to go on.

London: England prospered from India’s tardiness at Lord’s, scoring 247 for two in 74.1 overs before bad light stopped play on the first day of the first Test.

India’s bowling on Thursday, barring patches of promise, was distinctly sub-standard — just the break an out-of-form Andrew Strauss was hoping to catch. And as if bowling largesse wasn’t enough, India gave him a reprieve.

The left-handed opener made a coarse 96 spanning nearly four and a half hours (186 balls, 16 fours), and put on 142 with his captain, Michael Vaughan, to give England command.

Excellent first hour

England had an excellent first hour. Having won an important toss under milky skies and given Chris Tremlett — not Stuart Broad — a Test debut, the host scored 115 for one before lunch. Forty of those came between overs two and five.

Much of England’s rapidity owed itself to India being poor with the new ball. Perhaps the occasion got to them, perhaps they were too tightly-wound to find the relaxed rhythm upon which bowling depends, perhaps having to run up and down the incline of the Lord’s slope took some adjusting — whatever the reason, Zaheer Khan and Sreesanth were nowhere near their best.

The readings on the speed gun indicated something was amiss. Both India’s opening bowlers were timed in the 70 mph range — Sreesanth once clocked 69.5mph — and only rarely was 83 mph breached. Both found swing in different degrees, but there was little cut off the Lord’s wicket. In any case, neither was consistent to pose a threat.

Sound principles

Moreover, they faced in Alastair Cook, a batsman who constantly questioned their choice of line. Cook’s batting is built on sound principles. Tall and left-handed, he is well placed to indulge his affection for the on-side.

Cook found the first ball he faced on his thigh and worked it to the square-leg boundary. His isn’t an eye-catching method, but it’s so effective, he raced to 24 (four fours) without exploring the off-side. Though the Indian bowlers fed him plenty on his legs, he was good enough to take a couple off middle and off.

Cook’s partner, Strauss, edged his first two fours, and looked capable of gifting India a wicket. The introduction of R.P. Singh’s left-arm swing gave India its first taste of control; but, it wasn’t till just after the first drinks break that India took a wicket. Sourav Ganguly did Cook in with one that went with the angle from over the wicket and nibbled off the seam. Cook’s bottom hand, his source of runs, for once pushed early. The stroke was beaten, the back leg hit.

Classic drives

Michael Vaughan ensured England didn’t let up, driving classically either side of the wicket, wristing felicitously, if a touch stiffly, off his legs, and pulling smartly. He was severe on R.P. Singh after lunch during a spell in which the left-armer lost his line trying to take the ball away from Vaughan.

Sreesanth was desperately unlucky: he bowled six maidens split by the lunch break and should have had Strauss. He forced a slice out of the left-hander before lunch, and all seemed well as Dinesh Karthik readied himself at point. But, the ball burst through Karthik’s fingers and knocked his cap off.

On 43 then, Strauss reached his half-century after lunch off 109 balls. The back-foot drive through cover emerged, as did the pull, and the signs pointed to a fourth Lord’s century.

No chances created

India, however, couldn’t turn the fall in rate to its advantage; not one chance was created.

Sreesanth troubled Vaughan briefly after tea, but it was Anil Kumble who struck. The leg-spinner had bowled noticeably slower — 53-57 mph — but a slider did the trick. Strauss danced down, realised in dismay that he was neither to the pitch nor in line, and reached at the ball. Dravid, at first slip, took his 150th catch.

268 for four

England was 268 for four when play was called off. Kevin Pietersen (34) and Ryan Sidebottom (0) were batting. Vaughan was out for 79 while Collingwood was out for a duck.

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