England storm back from the brink after deluge

Après le déluge, a deluge of wickets. Given the apocalyptic nature of the morning rain, getting any play on Friday seemed unfeasible, but when it did begin it was spell-binding, as England threw away a commanding position, looked to be taking control again and ended the second day with the game in the balance.

At the close, India trailed by 153, with six first-innings wickets standing.

When the storm was at its heaviest, a few minutes before noon, about a quarter of the playing surface lay under water, the lake at the base of the slope lapped ankle deep and the umpires may as well have conducted their inspection by sending out a dove and hoping it might come back with an olive branch. Yet so good is the drainage at Lord’s that play was able to begin at 1.50pm, only a little over an hour after the rain had ended.

The image of things going rapidly down the drain turned out to be grimly apposite as far as the England innings went.

Conditions had changed and, after the docile surface of the first day, suddenly there was juice in the wicket as well as movement through the air, and England collapsed. Ryan Sidebottom, the nightwatchman, fell quickly and Kevin Pietersen soon followed. He seemed to have gone caught behind to Zaheer Khan, only to be recalled as it became apparent that Mahendra Singh Dhoni had taken the chance on the half-volley, but he was only two balls into his second life when he pushed at one that left him from Zaheer and nudged a catch to the wicketkeeper.

It was Sree Sreesanth, though, having been so disappointing on Thursday, who was the main beneficiary of the dampness, trapping Matt Prior, Chris Tremlett and Monty Panesar lbw in the space of 14 balls as England, resuming on 268-4, lost six wickets on Friday for 30 runs, meaning their last nine had gone down for just 80.

Lively as it was, the pitch was far from unplayable. For England to squander a platform of 218-1 in a series in which bat is likely to dominate ball was deeply disappointing, and it was not hard to wonder whether, seeing the weather in the morning, they had mentally attuned themselves to a day off.

To their credit, England rallied with the ball in their hands, with both Sidebottom and James Anderson producing probing opening spells.

Sidebottom had already had Wasim Jaffer dropped by Prior when he swung one late and had Dinesh Karthik lbw. Rahul Dravid nudged Anderson to Prior for 2 soon after, and England’s efforts suddenly didn’t seem quite so dreadful.

Enter Sachin Tendulkar, a player whose form has dominated most discussions of this series. Other than against Bangladesh, the Little Master has not made a century in Test cricket since December 2005, and the suggestion is that at 34 his gifts are on the wane.

Last week’s 171 against England Lions at Chelmsford suggested a return to form, but Friday’s evidence was inconclusive. There were two cuts and a flick off his legs that shimmered with the magic of old, but there were also a number of wild swishes, and two very tight lbw shouts before Anderson trapped him in front for 37.

Jaffer fell caught and bowled by Tremlett for 58, leaving Sourav Ganguly on 25 and RP Singh 5 as India reached 145-4 at the close.

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