The Lord’s Titanic sinks in Southampton

Moeen Ali... six wickets out of the blue in the second innings and two crucial ones in the first!-

Fate smiled fondly on Alastair Cook. Bereft of runs and positive results and with an Ashes thrashing still rankling, the host captain was under intense scrutiny. It all changed as he called right at the toss and without an inkling of doubt, opted to bat. By K. C. Vijaya Kumar.

India’s sunshine streak at Lord’s vanished once the team reached the port city of Southampton. The rumbles of fortune were felt minutes before the commencement of the third Test, as at exactly 10.20 a.m. on a warm Sunday, M. S. Dhoni and the rest of the team-management realised that their talisman at Lord’s — Ishant Sharma — was unfit due to an ankle strain.

The spearhead’s ‘sore legs’ (Dhoni’s definition of Ishant’s niggle) meant that the domestic workhorse — Rajasthan’s Pankaj Singh — was handed his India cap. Luck’s darker shade would afflict him soon, but before that fate smiled fondly on Alastair Cook. Bereft of runs and positive results and with an Ashes thrashing still rankling, the host captain was under intense scrutiny.

It all changed as he called right at the toss and without an inkling of doubt, opted to bat. It was a brave move considering his poor form, but he willed himself and the rest to make a mountain of runs and exert the resultant scoreboard pressure on the Indians.

The cricketing gods were with him because when on 15, he edged Pankaj and Ravindra Jadeja dropped the chance at third slip. Pankaj smiled wryly, but when his confident shout for an lbw against Ian Bell was turned down, he would have felt destiny’s cold hands freezing his maiden Test appearance.

The tide had turned and from the moment Cook escaped, England dominated every session, advancing its chances of winning the Test, which it did in grand style by 266 runs and with an entire afternoon to spare on the final day at the Ageas Bowl. The series stood level at 1-1, but with two matches still remaining, Cook might well believe that the driver’s seat is his, such was India’s plunge.

Everyone chipped in for England. The seniors and juniors formed an impregnable force and even debutant Jos Buttler reflected joy, both from his bat and his wicket-keeping gloves so much that none whispered about his predecessor Matt Prior, who had stepped down for the rest of the summer.

Cook’s 95 set up England first innings and though he fell short of his hundred, belief brimmed in his heart. It was a knock that rested on patience and a few shots, while the tentativeness was shed gradually until it resurfaced when he sighted a ton.

There were no such qualms for fellow-southpaw Gary Ballance (156, 288b, 24x4) and an old mate Bell (167, 256b, 19x4, 3x6). The former is in the midst of a purple patch and the latter found his spark at last.

England’s batting had a touch of grandeur and with Dhoni hamstrung by an attack that looked tired after its exertions in the first two Tests, Cook’s men prospered. The host declared its first innings at 569 for seven after Buttler helped himself to an 85 that was whipped up like an ODI knock.

In contrast, India’s batting was littered with cameos. A kitchen garden was built when the need of the hour was a strong building that withstood the gale which James Anderson (five for 53) and Stuart Broad unleashed.

For once, Murali Vijay could not go beyond his start and when Ajinkya Rahane, the other prolific batsman in the visitor’s line-up, went past a fifty and then holed out to Moeen Ali, India became vulnerable.

Shikhar Dhawan’s middling show atop the order and the inability of Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli to live up to their credentials, were the other stumbling blocks.

Dhoni’s plans of seeking batting-insurance through Rohit Sharma, also drew a blank as the Mumbaikar lashed Ali down mid-off’s throat. India was bowled out for 330 and though the skipper scored a 50, the lower-order struggled.

Leading by 239 runs, Cook refused to enforce the follow-on and galloped away, by his standards (70 n.o.) and along with the rest like Joe Root, ensured that England posted a quick 205 for four in its second innings. The declaration was effected and set a target of 445, India floundered, first against Anderson and then while taking guard to Ali.

Vijay got run-out and while Dhawan and Kohli and later Rahane and Jadeja resisted a bit, the host found its mark through Anderson’s spells and Ali’s leap of faith. The off-spinner, who drew attention for his wristbands that condemned the violence in Gaza, put the spotlight back on cricket with a six-wicket haul (six for 67).

If pace and swing were to nip India, ironically it was spin that choked Dhoni’s men. In the first innings, the visiting batsmen tried hostilities against Ali and fell. In the second innings, they swung the other way, offered excessive respect and still perished. What remained unchanged though was Ali’s accuracy. India was bowled out for 178 and Cook’s men gained a Test victory after a gap of 353 days.

The good news continued for England when a day later, ICC’s judicial commissioner Gordon Lewis adjudged that Anderson wasn’t guilty of breaching the code of conduct, a charge raised by India following his alleged push against Jadeja during the first Test at Trent Bridge.