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England v India: first Test, day four report

First Test, day four report: England (474-8 & 174-6) lead India (286) by 362 runs.

Lord’s has hosted 123 of the 2,000 Tests ever played but it cannot have seen many with such an exciting denouement as this where all three results are still possible.

An England win or the draw, are the most likely conclusions, after Andrew Strauss declared for the second time in the match.

But India have secured miraculous victories before in the last decade which would turn this into the Mother of all Test Mondays should they prevail.

To do so, they need a further 378 runs from a minimum 98 overs after finishing the fourth day on 80 for one. The West Indies knocked off 344 runs on the fifth day here 27 years ago, for the loss of just one wicket, but that stands as an anomaly of fourth innings totals here in winning causes.

The freedom with which Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman were scoring yesterday evening will give the team and their legions of fans great hope though, while England supporters will be hoping for some cloud cover (but not rain) and a return of the swing that caused India so many problems in their first innings.

Some spin for Graeme Swann wouldn’t go amiss either, though there was precious sign of that during the five overs he bowled from the Pavilion End yesterday evening.

England have so far outplayed India comfortably and would feel robbed by anything but a win for them. The visitors have been battered and embattled, with both Sachin Tendulkar and Gautam Gambhir joining Zaheer Khan on the invalid list, the first with a virus, the second after being struck on the elbow – a blow painful enough to prevent him opening the innings.

Gambhir can bat at any time today, given the external nature of his injury, but Tendulkar, who spent 259 minutes off the field, will only be able to come into bat 20 minutes after lunch or when five wickets have fallen.

That would still leave the Little Master just about enough time to score the hundred that has eluded him at Lord’s, in what must surely be his last Test here, but he’ll have to play better than he has ever done here before.

As he had in India’s first innings, Stuart Broad drew first blood, when he forced Abhinav Mukund to play on. But for some brilliant batting by Dravid and Laxman he might have had more, while both James Anderson and Chris Tremlett beat the bat.

Opening in place of Gambhir, whose elbow was later revealed not to be broken, Dravid, who made an unbeaten hundred in the first innings, showed why he is a prize wicket. Beaten by Broad on the outside and then the inside edge from successive balls, he then dug out the third, which had kept low.

Had he played the ball early – like so many modern batsmen – instead of late, all three might have accounted for him.

Earlier in the day, Broad had played a supporting role with the bat in a 162-run partnership with Matt Prior, who made an unbeaten 103.

The last time Prior was at Lord’s they strengthened the dressing-room windows, after he accidentally smashed one of them, but not as much as he reinforces England’s batting line-up coming in at number seven.

Not for the first time in this match was his intervention both timely and valuable, though Sunday’s contribution had the added reward of being made in front of a full house at Lord’s, Prior is the epitome of selflessness in a game which doesn’t always encourage it.

This was his fourth Test hundred in the last year and while there are plenty of low scores as well, many of those have sacrifices made in the pursuit of quick runs. His current Test average, of 45.4, is the highest ever by an England wicketkeeper.

Just as Kevin Pietersen had done in the first innings, when he adjusted his technique and ambition to suit the conditions, Prior tempered his natural game, reigning himself in after England slumped to 62 for five following a spicy spell of three for one in 16 balls from Ishant Sharma before lunch.

Although not exactly slow, Prior’s 50 contained just two fours, atypical of a man who likes to strike the ball hard and often. Mahendra Singh Dhoni might have caught him off Harbhajan Singh early on, but it was down the leg-side and they are difficult to pouch when standing up.

Once the repair work was done, he and Broad were able to add runs at a merry rate after the confidence Broad had rediscovered here with his bowling transferred itself to his batting.

India may come to rue Dhoni’s decision not to bowl Sharma straight after lunch when England were listing heavily on 72 for five and the game was in the balance.

Prior and Eoin Morgan had made just five runs apiece when he opened up the afternoon session with Suresh Raina and Harbhajan, the first in order that Praveen Kumar could change ends. Ten overs passed before Sharma returned and while he did dismiss Morgan during his second over back, Prior had established himself by then while the pangs of panic, so evident during Sharma’s spell in the morning, had also been absorbed.

It was certainly a curious decision and one that had many speculating whether he’d done it to improve his team’s dilatory over rate.

Dhoni already has one warning for slow play, in the West Indies, and another here could bring him a one-match ban.

While Sharma’s post-prandial withdrawal from the fray didn’t help, neither did the geriatric fielding. In a tight and tense situation nothing releases the pressure on batsman like a fumble in the field and India were guilty of gifting at least a dozen runs to their opponents from basic errors.

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