The twist in the plot was neither subtle nor unexpected: if India got their Wall back on Saturday, they found their backs against the wall by Sunday afternoon. By the evening, in fact, they were flat on their back, with only hope for company.
On a picture-perfect day for cricket, with the sun out in all its splendour and all Test-lovers in their colourful best, India were left chasing shadows. There was a brief glimmer of a turnaround but Matt Prior (103; 120b, 5×4, 1×6) and Stuart Broad (74; 90b, 9×4) squashed it with a numbing counter-attack. By stumps, India were 80/1, with Dravid and Laxman holding fort. Worse, they still have to scale many mountains if they want to reach the 458-run peak; even worse, they may well have to traverse the journey without Gautam Gambhir (elbow injury), and for the most part without Sachin Tendulkar (viral infection).
Only rain can save India. Or maybe another Hitchcockian twist.
Earlier, though, the historic Test did take a dramatic turn, raising an alarm in the England camp and waves of euphoria among the Indians. But wait, the story is jumping ahead of itself. England resumed the penultimate day on five for no loss, or 193 ahead, as per the script: openers Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook countered the early bounce of Ishant Sharma and marginal swing of Praveen Kumar with ease.
There were no pangs despite the loss of Cook as they inched past 50. That is when Ishant, who seemed lost to the occasion in the first innings, found his way back. In an inspired spell of pace bowling, he blew the England batting to bits, if not the Test away.
He was clearly fast and furious and the ball danced to his tune; he got it to bounce, to swing and even do the damage as he fell into a rhythm. A piping hot short one reared at Kevin Pietersen’s throat; the double centurion could barely save himself but could not save his glove. Next, he enticed an edge off Ian Bell with a curving outswinger; he topped it up by smashing Jonathan Trott’s stumps with a lethal inswinger. England had suddenly crashed to 62 for 5, with only the tail to maneuver them out of trouble. Ishant’s figures, at that stage, read 5-3-4-3.
He would take another wicket post-lunch; but that would also be the last twist in the tale… at least for the day. Prior and Broad stepped in to take charge of the match, if not the script. The stocky wicketkeeper kept the scorer and scorecard engaged, picking up gaps and running feverishly.
Dhoni helped him somewhat by keeping Ishant off the attack after lunch, though. With Praveen and Harbhajan Singh struggling to exploit the conditions, the Indian attack suddenly looked hospitable, rather than hostile. Prior settled down and was ready by the time Ishant was refreshed to bowl again.
Prior expectedly upped the tempo, adding 95 runs with Broad in just 12 overs to top his fightback with a century.