“True Warriors don’t think like that, of course, and batsmen like Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane and Virat Kohli are warriors. But they were made to struggle mightily, largely in vain, as every batsman in the history of the game likely would have done against bowling that good”
On the second day of the Lord’s Test, rain having washed out the first, the Dukes ball was made to dance, this way and that, and India’s batsmen could not keep time with the beat. Not even Virat Kohli, century-maker of the first test and widely regarded as the best batsman in the game could cope. The main choreographer, unsurprisingly, was James Anderson. Chris Woakes, Sam Curran and Stuart Broad all took turns in the main role, but it is Anderson who was the unmistakable troupe leader.
As a swing bowler, Anderson is a conjurer, capable of orchestrating swing in a fashion most other bowlers can only dream of giving the impression, sometimes, of having control of the delivery even after it has left his touch. There is magic in them their wrists, and if Dale Steyn, at his best, produces an outswinger that is more likely to dismiss a batsman by virtue of its line, length, pace and lateness of swing, Anderson is the more skilful practitioner, the master more adept at the nuances of the art.
With all the playing and missing that occurred, with the number of edges falling just short of slip fieldsmen, with all the dropped catches, batting must have seemed a rather pointless exercise. So difficult was getting the ball to connect with the middle of bat that you’d have forgiven the odd batsman if he sometimes felt, in the words of John Keats in his famous Ode To The Nightingale, “half in love with easeful Death.” It would be so much easier sitting and watching in the pavilion instead of being made to look like a fool and a novice, desperately fighting to preserve your wicket.
True Warriors don’t think like that, of course, and batsmen like Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane and Virat Kohli are warriors. But they were made to struggle mightily, largely in vain, as every batsman in the history of the game likely would have done against bowling that good.
Which player in history, for example, could have confidently negotiated Anderson’s ball that rattled Murali Vijay’s stumps? It was heading for middle stump when it changed direction late in its flight to plot a path to the stumps. Yes, he did attempt a flick through the onside and so if you are intent on being a hard taskmaster you could say he should have presented a straight bat. But the shot wasn’t unreasonable given the original line of the ball, and a straight bat might simply have resulted in it finding the edge rather than the stumps.
The delivery that got KL Rahul was only slightly less auspicious. The ball was fairly full, on or around offstump, the batsman pushed forward, only for the ball to veer away late and graze the edge of his bat. “You know, he didn’t do a lot wrong there,” said Michael Atherton on commentary. “KL Rahul just pushed forward, played the line but got a good one from Anderson. That can happen.” Unfortunately for the visitors, it happened a number of times during the rain-curtailed second day.
And what about the delivery from Curran that bowled Dinesh Karthik? Delivered from over the wicket by the lefthander the ball seemed destined to end up some way outside off before curving back wickedly. The batsman could not have reasonably expected that ball to have snaked back so sharply. So improbable was the amount of swing elicited by the bowler that commentators thought the batsman had played-on. How does one comfortably play that?
According to an article on CricViz by Ben Jones, the ball swung an average of 1.71 degrees at Lords. The average in England is 1.17 degrees; the global average is 0.99 degrees. No wonder then that the visitors, no slouches with the bat, found the going much too difficult and succumbed for a paltry total of 107.
“I think if we bowled like that we would bowl most teams in the world out – we were that good,” said Anderson, speaking at the end of what must have been a satisfying day. “We hardly bowled any bad balls, we didn’t give them much to hit at all – and when you build pressure like that all day, no matter who you are around the world, it is difficult.” Anderson finished with 5/20 off 13.2 overs, his 26th five-wicket haul.
For sure, not every batsman was faultless. Pujara’s run-out was careless, especially under such trying circumstances. His was a most important wicket that should not have been gifted to the opposition. Rahane might have pushed his hands out too far ahead of his body, and Hardik Pandya’s technique might not have been conducive to longevity in the conditions. But the real reason for India’s poor showing was the English seam attack. No line-up of batsmen, no matter how accomplished, would have thrived against them in that mood and under those conditions.
The Indian team are no doubt disappointed in the way the day turned out. But they and their fans should resist being too condemnatory of the way they played on this rain-hit second day of the 2018 Lords Test. England’s bowlers were just too good. Sadly, for India, the bowler most capable of replying in kind, Bhuvneshwar Kumara, is currently in India recuperating from injury.