Lord’s grass provides India happy grazing ground

Ishant Sharma celebrates with teammates after dismissing Joe Root on day five of the Lord's Test.   -  AP Photo

India has found a fresh core and just like how it happened after Kolkata 2001, when V. V. S. Laxman’s 281 humbled Australia and unearthed a new phase, Lord’s 2014 may well spark a new journey for Dhoni’s men, writes K. C. Vijaya Kumar.

A young Indian team couldn’t have selected a better venue than Lord’s to mount its first act of defiance that ended in a soul-uplifting triumph. M. S. Dhoni’s relatively raw bunch, when compared to the legends he had in his armour while touring England in 2011, turned a corner in its evolutionary path.

Ishant Sharma’s (seven for 74) last-day spells, especially the one after lunch at Lord’s (6-0-27-4) will rank among the finest that Indian fast bowlers have dished out sporadically ever since the time of Amar Singh and Mohammad Nissar. The spearhead’s fulfilment of his job profile lent an emphatic boost to India’s prospects.

In the last eight months, victory may have flickered into view before fading away in Johannesburg and Wellington, but signs of progress were evident in those draws. And when Ravindra Jadeja swooped on the ball and knocked down the stumps to leave James Anderson stranded on a warm Monday afternoon at cricket’s traditional home, India had won the second Test by 95 runs and led the five-match series 1-0.

Perhaps it was poetic that Anderson and Jadeja were locked together in that climactic phase. Ahead of the match, the two were in the news for the wrong reasons. India laid a charge against Anderson for a Level 3 violation of the ICC’s code of conduct. He was alleged to have pushed Jadeja during the first Test at Trent Bridge. England retaliated with its Level 2 version against Jadeja.

The lead-up to the game was soured, but when the match commenced, talk was all about the liberal coating of grass upon the pitch. Alastair Cook won the toss, rightly opted to field and watched in despair as his lead bowlers — Anderson and Stuart Broad — pitched it wide and short. Though Shikhar Dhawan did not capitalise much, the rest of the top-order lasted long enough to negate whatever initial purchase that Cook hoped to garner from the surface.

A Test is won on many factors coming together and heading towards one direction. It did for India when Anderson and company began to hit the right lengths past lunch on the opening day to partially hurt the visitor. Dhoni’s men found hope and longevity through the bats of Ajinkya Rahane and Bhuvneshwar Kumar. The two added 90-runs for the eighth-wicket and Rahane scored a sparkling hundred (103), his second in Tests, and India finished its first innings at 295.

Rahane and Bhuvneshwar have remarkable similarities. Both aren’t the leading stars in their respective units of batting and bowling, but they are fused together by their humility and above all they are united in their endeavour to give their best for the team.

When England commenced its first innings, Bhuvneshwar the bowler came into play. His six for 82, a figure earned through a teasing line on and around off-stump that tempted rivals to doom, helped India restrain England to 319 despite Gary Ballance’s 110.

India may have suffered a 24-run deficit, but in a contest that advanced by the inches and constantly turned on its head, Dhoni’s men kept their heads above the water. First-up, Murali Vijay (95) ground the England attack into submission and just when Cook felt he could reduce a probable fourth innings target, Jadeja stepped in and uncorked his warrior Rajput spirit.

Jadeja’s 68, a breezy stint high on the chip-and-charge and the merry-loft, deflated Anderson’s brigade. And could we leave Bhuvneshwar far behind? He too joined the fun, carving his third fifty of the series and India finished its second innings at 342, setting a 319 target for England to chase.

Look at the narrative so far. Do you see a mention of Cheteshwar Pujara or Virat Kohli? And isn’t it remarkable that in a match in which Indian cricket’s leading batsmen had middling returns by their exacting standards, Dhoni’s outfit still batted well. It is a pointer to another element that emboldened this squad. This isn’t exactly a two-horse carriage.

Vijay’s growth as a dependable opener eager to bat time and protect the rest, is praiseworthy and so too Jadeja’s instinct to rely on his natural urge to scatter the attack. But Jadeja isn’t just a sledge-hammer batsman. With three triple tons under his belt in first-class cricket, surely he has ability. Jadeja’s left-arm spin landing in the rough outside the left-hander’s off-stump came in handy too and the all-rounder scalped the right-handed Sam Robson on the penultimate day’s last session.

Then, Ishant and Mohammed Shami inflicted deep cuts, leaving England with the tricky task of getting 214 on the final day. Just like India’s new-order, England’s generation-next, as exemplified by Joe Root and Moeen Ali, resisted before a typhoon hailing from Delhi and answering to the name of ‘Ishant’ blew across Lord’s.

His questions came scrawled on neck-threatening bouncers and the batsmen answered with outlandish pulls and awkward blocks. It was just a matter of time before the Indian fans’ chorus of ‘jeetega, jeetega (we will win)’ became a reality. England was bowled out for 223.

Now, Dhoni seems to have a problem of plenty because currently warming the benches are two quality players — R. Ashwin and Rohit Sharma. It is a better headache to have than the migraine he suffered in 2011 after successive 0-4 drubbings in England and Australia.

India has found a fresh core and just like how it happened after Kolkata 2001, when V. V. S. Laxman’s 281 humbled Australia and unearthed a new phase, Lord’s 2014 may well spark a new journey for Dhoni’s men.