How England's loss at Lord’s highlights the value of away wins
Cricket is one of those rare games where conditions matter more because of the simple fact that the ball must pitch before it reaches the batsman. A full toss is an error for all practical purposes.
The soil, the grass, the weather, the slope, the breeze etc. There are so many parameters. Then there is, of course, the skill of the bowlers who keep on inventing the reverse swing, the dursras and the teesras, the wrong ’uns etc.
Add to it the different type of balls and ironical unpredictability of UDRS, we find ourselves a plethora of parameters that can affect a match.
Although it was pretty obvious from the beginning, nobody seemed to be making conscious efforts to tailor the conditions so much in home favour as they do now. Teams are becoming unreasonably adamant and unafraid of being conspicuous in doing so. There are no hidden motives anymore. Everybody is doing it. Everybody knows it.
There are no legislations against it. The win at all cost attitude has become the norm to an extent that it is almost a foul if you do not do it. The reciprocation of the gesture has made the matter worse.
“The ball swings from the first over in England, what’s wrong if it spun from the first over in India?” Ashwin had asked rhetorically.
It should come as no surprise if England wanted to do so too. It should be even less surprising if they would want to do so at Lord’s, the mecca of cricket.
However, looking at the recent history they have been failing to win pretty consistently at Lord’s. In last three years, at this venue, England have Won 2 tests, Lost 3 and Drew 2, both to Srilanka – who are unbeaten at Lord’s for last 25 years. In fact, they are yet to beat a team from subcontinent at Lord’s for last three years.
17 July 2014 – a Test match started at Lord’s that gave India a win after 28 years at this venue.
17 July 2016 – a Test match ended at Lord’s that gave Pakistan a win after 20 years at this venue.
When India last played at Lord’s in July 2014, the ground was lush green, and so was the pitch. Many would have confused it for a football field at the first glance.
A move, that was made to expose the Indian batting in seaming conditions against Anderson and Broad, was promptly thwarted by the young Ajinkya Rahane who scored a high class 103 in tough conditions. With runs on board and the wicket conducive to swing bowling, Bhuvaneshwar Kumar got into action taking 6 wickets to restrict England to 319.
In the second innings, Vijay stepped up with a fluent 95. With lower order blitz from Ravindra Jadeja and Bhuvaneshwar Kumar India asked England to score exactly the same amount of runs the latter had scored in the first innings – 319.
By then, the English plan was completely foiled and to make the matter worse came the career best 7 for74 by Ishant Sharma who bounced out the Englishmen who hooked, pulled and nudged their way to defeat by a comprehensive 95 runs.
England were defeated at Lord’s, trying excessively to gain the home advantage.
In July 2016, the outfield was still green, the pitch not so much. The event was England Vs Pakistan.
In the absence of England’s prime bowler Jimmy Anderson, and to nullify, chiefly, Mohammed Amir who was making a return after 6 years, and the other two left armers - Wahab Riyaz and Rahat Ali, there was no reason for the pitch to be grassy.
Looking at the not so experienced and vulnerable Pakistan batting line-up and trusting their own at the home condition, on a placid pitch, England thought they would win it on their batting prowess.
It started as per the plan for them until Misbah intervened with masterly 114 to take Pakistan past 300. There was no reason to worry yet as England cruised to 117 for 1 with the Pakistani pacers looking very much incapable of producing wicket taking deliveries. And when they did, the Pakistani fielders seemed to be incapable of pouching the chances.
Then came the face-palm moment. In order to nullify Pakistan’s fast bowling, England curator unknowingly seemed to have left something in it for the spinners. The Lord’s slope and the breeze helped too. In the matter of about 20 overs, England were reduced to 193 for 6, thanks to a magnificent display of leg-spin bowling by Yasir Shah.
England were eventually 67 runs short in the first innings.
Pakistan did not do much in their second innings, handing 5 wickets to Chris Woakes in addition to 6 in the first innings. It was a herculean effort from Woakes to take 11 wickets given the conditions at Lord’s.
With 283 needed to win, England were still in with the chance. But their batting failed them, yet again. Yasir shah was the hero once more with 4 crucial wickets – making it his 1st 10 wicket haul outside Asia and making him the top-ranked test bowler.
Given the number of catches Pakistan put down and the innumerous ones that did not carry to the fielders, a loss by 75 runs does not give the measure of how comprehensive this win was.
England were defeated at Lord’s, trying desperately to not give away the advantage.
A couple of years before the famous Lord’s win, the fate was reversed on India when they tried to spin England out of the series in November 2012 on a dust bowl at Wankhede, Mumbai.
Harbhajan, Ashwin and Ojha were supposed to run through the England batting line-up. Instead, Swann and Panesar ran through India’s, in both innings. Kevin Petersen produced a cricketing masterclass of 186 supported excellently by an Alastair Cook century.
The impact of the win was such that England went on to beat India at Kolkata and drew at Nagpur to eventually take the series 2-1 – their first series win in India after 28 years.
India could not win the 2014 series in England. In fact lost it 4-1. We will have to see what does this Lord’s win do for Pakistan. Can they keep up the performance to go on to win the series or will England bounce back, especially, with the inclusion of Anderson and Ben Stokes in home conditions?
The fact is that in an era, where an away test win is a rarity and an away series win is a distant dream, the wins such as the one by Pakistan, breathes a fresh air into the whole mess.
Barring South Africa to some extent, everyone is underdog nowadays when playing away from home. And when underdogs win, the sport takes a leap ahead. The faith is reinstated.
All Test cricket fans crave for that. If such upsets keep happening, the fans are ready to go the distance through one-sided 3-day finishes or 5-day batting marathons. The wait is worth it and the drudgery until the next upset becomes acceptable.