A few days ago, I mentioned that England were 127 for 2 at the end of the first day of the first (five day) test match (I’m talking cricket – again) between England and India (numbers two and one respectively in the test match rankings), at Lord’s, the world’s most famous cricket ground. Now we approach lunch on the final day, and it has become a truly fantastic occasion. Even the weather has obliged. Earlier in the game, the weather was threatening to spoil the end of the game, but on Saturday the forecasts turned good for the duration, and so it has proved.
The reason I keep going on about how important it is that India and England are numbers one and two in the test match rankings is that, well, it is important. In the matter of the test match ranking system, here is one of those delicious times when I can confidently say: I told you so. Nobody else in the world will remember this, but I do. The test ranking system gives this series a whole extra dimension. This is especially the case now that Australia are past their McGrath/Warne peak (McGrath was a great bowler and Warne was a transcendentally great bowler), which meant that the recent Ashes series in Australia had the feel of something that Australia had lost by getting worse rather than that England had won by getting better.
India are now trying to save the game on the final day, but lost two important top order wickets just before lunch, and at lunch are now 142 for 4. If and when they lose ten wickets, that’s it, England win, which they will be desperate to do, having got into this winning position. The Indians will get better as the series goes on and as they get used to English conditions, because they always do. They have got better during this game. In the first England innings, the top Indian bowler Zaheer Khan picked up an injury and is probably out of the series, and the other bowlers were poor. But in the second innings, the other Indian bowlers found their form and had England struggling to add to their huge first innings lead. But Zaheer’s absence told in the end, because well as they had bowled in the morning, the also-rans got tired, and England built a big stand and were able to declare, setting India an impossible target. Last night, India made a determined start, but did lose one wicket.
The great Sachin Tendulkar is now at the crease, and everyone wants him to get a hundred, because that would be his hundredth hundred in international (i.e. test and one day together) cricket. What a day that would make it. England supporters want Tendulkar to get a hundred but England to win despite that. Indian supporters, lots of whom are present at the ground, want Tendulkar to get a hundred and for India to save the game, and if India do save the game it will feel like a win for them.
One of the frustrating things about cricket is how great finishes often attract such small crowds. This is because fans like to plan their attendance at cricket matches and you just cannot rely on the end of a test match being very interesting. It might end in a tame draw. Worse, what with the one-day-cricket-influenced attacking habits of modern batsmen, the game is all too likely to have ended on day four or even day three. So it is that the final day of a test match, if the game lasts that long, can either be a horrible anti-climax watched by almost nobody, or a great opportunity for non-regular cricket fans to turn up on the final morning and get in for a knock down price, to watch a great day of cricket. This game is a fine example of the second sort of game, although those who got in this way today had to queue very early. If you turned up a mere half an hour before the start of play, you would have had no chance. I toyed with the notion of doing exactly that, and just as well I didn’t bother.
The most bizarre kind of last day happens when it looks certain to be a draw, everybody buggers off home, nobody else local gives the game the time of day, and then it suddenly springs to life when the batting side that thought they were relaxedly batting out time suddenly loses a huge clatter of wickets and loses. This was exactly what happened when England, much to everyone’s amazement, beat Sri Lanka earlier this year in Cardiff, watched by, approximately speaking, two Welshmen and a Welsh sheepdog. I had a bath that afternoon. When I got into the bath, Sri Lanka had one wicket down. By the time I got out of my bath they were about eight down. Something like that. Like I say, bizarre. What the hell kind of game stages a great finish like that, which nobody is there to see? It’s circumstances like that, perhaps even more than the boring draws, that have people saying that test cricket is doomed.
But test cricket has been doomed for as long as I can remember. During great five day cricketing contests like this one between England and India (or during a great series like the one here against Australia in 2005), you find yourself saying: every game should be this doomed. They’re now back playing. I just had an incoming phone call and missed it, but apparently Tendulkar has just had an LBW escape, LBW being, minus all the refinements, when it hits your padded legs and would have hit the stumps, which would mean you are out. The umpire gave him not out. LBW machines, which the Indians have vetoed for this series, would have given him out. Tense. Very tense. Tendulkar stuck on eleven, but still there.
I suspect that the illness which had him off the field yesterday may still be affecting him. I suspect he’s not quite himself. All over the world, people like me are listening in on the radio, and they’re reading out emails from such people, the latest one being from a lady in Switzerland saying she hopes (reprise) that Tendulkar gets a hundred but England win. Michael J tells me that Australians aren’t so fond of Tendulkar, because of his habit of skipping the more irksome foreign tours, like the one the Indians did in the West Indies, just before coming here.
But … Tendulkar out!!! LBW (see above) to James Anderson, who has now taken three wickets. Glad I don’t now have to explain that. I promise you I put in that bit about Tendulkar not being at his best before he got out.
Later: India still resisting hard, past 200, still only for 5. India’s captain, the redoubtable Mahendra Singh Dhoni is now batting. The second new ball (new balls do more in the air and are more threatening to batsmen) will probably decide this thing. It’s due in four overs (i.e. twenty four more deliveries). If England don’t then get wickets …
What a game. Am I talking about cricket itself, or merely this game? Both.
LATER: No Tendulkar century, but England win by 196 runs.