Thursday 16 August 2018

Second Test Notes: In the Flesh

It was the first day of the second Test... Well it was the second day if you're being like that, but it was the first day on which there was any play, so that makes it the first day in most people's minds... In my mind, anyway.

So, it was the first day of the second Test, my first day at a Test since last year, first time seeing India for four years, and well... you forget don't you. The TV coverage is brilliant now (I saw a clip of Botham's Ashes the other day - the picture was almost square, the resolution like looking through a pair of someone else's glasses... Beefy's beard smeared across his face, the pitch-invading kids Lowry stick men...), it's brilliant but much of the depth and speed, all of the sensory joy, is lost among the pixels.

We were still on the stairs at the back of the stand when the first wicket went down, but everyone stuck outside knew what had happened. The noise was unmistakable. The wicket cheer. Slightly different to the wicket roar, which you only get occasionally at Lord's (it came later in the game though, when Broad got himself on another hat-trick), and to the DRS cheer (recent addition to the canon, but easy to distinguish). We pushed up to the top of the steps and could just see a thin line of the electronic scoreboard by the Pavilion: 'India 0-1', glowing quite orange-ly under heavy skies.

"What happened?"

"Jimmy bowled him..."

"Bowled who?"


Pujara was already out to the middle, radiating innocence in his usual way. He bears the look of someone whose dad still drives him to the game while the cool kids sit together on the coach (as someone whose dad used to drive him to games, I know it when I see it...).

"Who have they dropped then?"

The replay goes up on the big screen at that moment, Vijay, Bollywood hair falling from his helmet, trying to hit an outswinger through midwicket. A shame because on the last tour here, he was one of the few who batted well. Very solid. On the scoreboard I see 'KL Rahul', so poor Shikhar has gone the way of all flesh. Wouldn't have minded seeing the old moustache stroke a few of those glossy cover drives... Ah well...

The clouds banked up to the left of the Pavilion, unyeilding as tower blocks. Rahul drove Broad for four, and although Broad was 'only' bowling about 80mph, it happened quickly and with such precision, the small movement of the feet and hands, the batswing just a sweet little punch, like the ones that old boxers don't see coming. Rahul has a Kohli-esque beard, perhaps a subconscious act of hero worship, and his cover drive is like Kohli's too. He seemed to be compact and strong, a reaction to his terrible shots at Edgbaston, probably, and the likely Shastri bollocking that followed.

The groundsmen came on to the outfield behind the boundary rope with the hover cover. Rahul hit another four but then Jimmy Anderson nicked him off, and instead of signalling the grounsmen on with the cover, the umpires let Kohli walk out and face two deliveries. This was very poor, I thought. They knew they were going off, and within a minute it was raining and dark, the Pavilion looming like a mansion in a ghost story. How was that fair to Kohli, or to India, or to a lot of the people in the ground who'd paid out for their tickets in the hope of seeing Kohli have a go at the England bowling?

By 3pm, when the ground was essentially underwater, Kohli had comically run out Pujara, whose dad, if he was like mine, was probably sitting in the car quite annoyed. Kohli showed the self-preserving instincts of the superstar, and Pujara at least had the luxury of being able to graciously forgive his captain over lunch, and not have to worry about being out through his own error.

We'd sneaked into the Mound stand, and we sat and watched the standing water get funnelled off through little drains in the outfield until somehow the sun broke through and what had been a series of small lakes receded and Lord's became a jewel glowing in the luminous afternoon light.

From side-on it was easy to see why Kohli has a bad back. He likes to stand with his feet almost parallel to the stumps and then twist his torso so that his head is out in front of his body and looking squarely down the pitch. He managed to miss most of the miracle deliveries that England sent down by keeping his hands close to his chest, and then smiling phlegmatically at the slips as they moaned about him.

The slips were both brilliant and terrible. Root kept changing them around and joining in himself, which didn't help. The problem seemed obvious, especially when Anderson and Broad were on, in that they had to stand close enough to catch the soft-handed edges from balls bowled at eighty miles an hour, but then Anderson or Broad would occasionally send one down in the mid-eighties that bounced and then flew at Bairstow, threatening his chin.

Then when Woakes came on the slips didn't really seem to move back, even though he was noticably quicker. Buttler dropped a couple, one from Hardik Pandya that he went for like a wicketkeeper, hands cupped and trying to ride the bounce, and missed completely. Woakes didn't look too happy and gestured at Buttler to catch Australian style, with his fingers pointed up. Pandya nicked the next one too and this time Buttler did catch it, so, much like Pujara and Kohli, he and Woakes could be friends again.

It was that sort of day for India. They were on the wrong side of everything from the toss to the weather breaks. I suppose as a professional you get used to that happening occasionally. Everything seemed fated, and, like the rule that says work expands to fill the time allocated to it, so India's innings fitted perfectly inside the final session, with only the remarkable, redoubtable, spider-like Ashwin really resisting Woakes, with his bruiser's run-up and boxer's rhythm, and Anderson, who flitted around like Roger Federer and sent the ball swimming through the claggy air, its rough side resisting the path the smooth side wanted to cleave.

107 all out at nineteen minutes past seven. Cricket in England in the raw, in the flesh.



It was simply awesome swing bowling in overcast conditions.At the same time, batsmen lacked the temperament to hang on, soaking up the pressure.

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