England Finally Get a Green Wicket, But Bowlers Blow Their Chance vs. India

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England Finally Get a Green Wicket, But Bowlers Blow Their Chance vs. India
Rui Vieira/Associated Press

If Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad could dream up a perfect pitch to bowl on, the chances are that it would look something like the one on offer against India at Lord's.

With a dark green tinge, the second Test surface was more akin to a snooker table at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield than the usual pale offering served up at headquarters. While a snooker table is perfectly flat, the pitch at Lord's was anything but, offering lavish movement through the air and off the seam.

In another era, such a green top would have had the likes of Terry Alderman, Glenn McGrath, Angus Fraser, even Neil Mallender, licking their chops. So how on earth did England get it so wrong and let India close the opening day on 290 for nine?

The morning session was a disappointing one for England, summed up perfectly in a tweet by Michael Vaughan who echoed what much of the capacity crowd must have been thinking.

Their 73 for two marked a good effort from India in what were extremely testing conditions.

The England brains trust obviously got their heads together during the interval and a much-improved performance followed post-lunch.

Bowling fuller and straighter, England were rewarded with four wickets while giving up just 67 runs. Moeen Ali tied up an end as well as dismissing Ravi Jadeja, and Alastair Cook's men looked to have wrested back control of the game.

The mantra of pitch it up, let the ball do the work and the wickets will follow worked well enough during the second session, but England failed to follow it after tea. At 145 for seven, India were rocking, but the home side once again failed to deliver a knockout blow.

Centurion Ajinka Rahane, ably abetted by tail-enders Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma, smashed England for 150 runs during the final session. On a pitch that still offered plenty of movement, the home side resorted to Liam Plunkett's leg theory and closed the day with a spread field to a No. 10 batsman.

What should have been a great day for England turned into a good one for India. So why did things go so awry for the hosts?

 

Control

The England pace attack lacked control in the first session. After bowling on a succession of extremely placid surfaces, it took until the afternoon for them to adjust to bowling a straighter line and fuller length.

As Ed Smith said on Test Match Special, bowlers aren't automatons and making adjustments to line and length isn't just a question of flicking a switch. By the middle of the afternoon, the seamers had found their range and were reaping the rewards. How then to explain the meltdown after tea?

 

Fatigue

Tiredness is certainly one factor. By the evening session, the 50-plus overs the seamers put in at Trent Bridge started to show. Broad looked tired and Plunkett's much-vaunted 90mph speed was nowhere to be seen.

There has been much talk about England rotating their bowlers throughout this packed series. With hindsight, if ever there was a game for Chris Woakes to play, it was on this type of pitch. The Warwickshire man may lack the pace of Plunkett, Stokes and Chris Jordan, but he bowls a consistent line and length.

As a classic English county seamer, Woakes' "kiss the deck" style would have been ideal on such a juicy surface.

 

Muddled Thinking

It wasn't just in body that England looked weary. There was some tired thinking on show, too. The home side have a real problem dismissing lower-order batsmen. In the first two Tests, India's last five wickets have added 538 runs, only 62 runs fewer than the first five.

There is certainly a time and a place for short-pitched, round-the-wicket bowling from Plunkett. A green-top at Lord's with the plenty of movement on offer isn't one of them.

Alastair Cook gave his critics more ammunition with some unusual field placings. The lack of a fourth slip early on would have had Ian Botham frothing, the deep square leg seemed redundant for much of the day and more runs leaked through the third man region.

 

Day Two

With the forecast set fair tomorrow, the pitch may flatten out and England may yet build a healthy first-innings lead.

Even if they do, they missed a trick on Thursday when gifted a perfect opportunity to seize control of the match and the series. Alastair Cook and Peter Moores must hope they don't come to regret it.

 

All stats courtesy of ESPNCricinfo.com

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