India’s four big hopes survived 93, 113, 56 and 68 deliveries, which meant England had to work for wickets and also that they never let those batsmen feel they were in. James Anderson took out Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and Sachin Tendulkar, although it could be argued that he struck the knockout blows after Stuart Broad and Chris Tremlett had softened the batsmen up.
Although there were two dropped catches and two controversial not-out lbw decisions, it all went down in a manner suggesting England had scripted it thus. They wouldn’t have budgeted for the strongest resistance to come from Suresh Raina, who proved he belonged with a fighting 78, but by the final session Anderson was in red-hot form. He completed his 11th five-for by breaking through that final piece of Indian fight with a beautiful inswinger from round the stumps. Initially Anderson had fed off the immense pressure created by Tremlett and Broad, and Graeme Swann contributed by accounting for one of the best players of spin today, Gautam Gambhir.
It was just as well that England finished India off and avoided what would have become a major controversy had India hung on with one wicket in hand. The dreaded scenario of disagreement between Hawk-Eye and the umpire occurred twice in potentially crucial circumstances. Broad had comprehensive cases for lbw against Tendulkar and Raina, and would have successfully challenged the original not-out decisions had DRS been available for lbws. Those two decisions cost England a potentially decisive 15.4 overs.
Broad would have wondered what more he needed to do to get a wicket. He had two catches dropped off him in the first innings, and in today’s morning session, after Anderson had drawn Dravid into a rare loose shot outside off, he regularly beat Laxman’s bat in a five-over spell, often proving to be too good to take the edge.
While Andrew Strauss’s catching at slip and his defensive in-and-out fields in the first session could be argued against, his bowling changes worked like a charm. About 20 minutes before lunch he brought on Anderson, who began with a long hop that Laxman pulled straight to short midwicket.
Laxman’s dismissal brought together India’s walking wounded, Gambhir and Tendulkar. They hung in bravely, Gambhir for 56 balls with a painful elbow and Tendulkar for 68 with a viral infection. Whatever the debate around DRS be, the umpires had a great match, and it was evident in Gambhir’s lbw, in the over after Laxman’s dismissal. The Swann arm ball had hit the pad a microsecond before it hit the bat. Asad Rauf sent Gambhir on his way.
From the injured man the burden transferred to the ill man, Tendulkar, who began positively but went into a shell after lunch. That Raina looked more comfortable than Tendulkar during their 17.4-over partnership told a story. While Tendulkar was solid in defence, he let the bowlers bowl to a perfect rhythm, and the odd one was bound to be too good.
After surviving that Broad shout, Tendulkar played 40 balls for one run. Once again Anderson came back and struck immediately. He had Tendulkar dropped by Strauss, but produced an inswinger similar to Broad’s two balls later, and Tendulkar was plumb. This was the sixth time in the match that an Englishman had taken a wicket in the first over of a new spell.
In the lead-up to tea, with England easing the pressure as they built up to the new ball, Raina and MS Dhoni gave India hope. Raina showed character in how he avoided bouncers and reached a half-century that will only do him good. With the new ball, though, England were back on course. The ball started jagging around again, and a shaken-up Dhoni finally edged an outswinger from Tremlett.
A cold, ruthless demolition of the tail followed. Harbhajan Singh refused to back away, but England worked him over with precise short deliveries. Praveen Kumar didn’t stand much of a chance. Raina got a gem from Anderson, coming in from round the stumps, then leaving him, and taking the edge. Broad deservedly ended the match with a plumb lbw; the last four had fallen for 18 runs.
Scenes of elation followed for the home side and the biggest Monday crowd at Lord’s. England will feel relief too at having finished off the job, and not only because they righted what happened in 2007. Had India drawn this, they would have had positives to look at; now they have injured bodies and a series deficit.