LONDON: The locals have a lot of belief in the London Met office. And it’s their forecast for the next two days – spells of heavy shower – that is the only bright spot for India after the third day’s action here at the Lord’s.
But for the weather intervening, it looks really difficult for India to even salvage a draw from a Test which was curtailed to a four-day affair after Day 1 was washed out. On Day 3, nothing went right for India and they ended up conceding a lead of 250 after having England at 131-5 at one stage. The hosts were only 24 runs ahead at that stage and a couple of wickets then would have brought India back into the game. It wasn’t to be and when the umpires called off play for bad light, England had reached 357-6, with Chris Woakes (batting 120) still at the crease.
Woakes and Jonny Bairstow (93) took the game away from India with a record 189-run sixth wicket partnership. Woakes, who might not have played this Test if Ben Stokes was available, smashed the first century of his career, following up on his 2-19 with the ball. Now it will be difficult for the English selectors to drop him when Stokes comes back, but that’s a happy headache to have.
Bairstow, on the other hand, showed why he is regarded by many, including former England captain Alec Stewart, as the best wicketkeeper-batsman in the world. Coming in at a time when the chips were down, Bairstow launched a counter-attack on the Indian bowlers that allowed the pressure to release. The fact that the two premier Indian pace bowlers Ishant Sharma (1-88) and Mohammad Shami (3-77) were tiring didn’t help India’s cause.
Kohli, who had only Hardik Pandya (2-66) to fall back upon as his third pace bowling option, made things extremely difficult for himself. On a pitch that had quite a bit of life for pacers, Pandya went for more than 4.5 in his spell and India simply didn’t have the teeth in their attack once Woakes and Bairstow looked to take over.
The two spinners – R Ashwin (0-68) and Kuldeep Yadav (0-44) – too couldn’t make an impact. Once the lead got bigger, the pressure became lesser and lesser and the occasional loose ball was severely dealt with by both Woakes and Bairstow. Shami and Ishant, though, had come up with an inspired show in the first session and there was suddenly a sense of hope in the Indian camp. The duo, after being a little erratic in the first half hour, found the right length.
While it was Shami’s pace and full-length deliveries that accounted for Keaton Jennings and Jos Buttler (after lunch), Root fell to one that came back sharply and him plumb in front. But it was the brilliance of Bairstow and Woakes, coupled with some insipid bowling in the second and third sessions, that helped England take complete control over the game.