Prior and Broad pressurise India
Matt Prior and Stuart Broad combined to keep England in charge on day four of the first npower Test at Lord’s, although a late India fightback saw them reach 80 for one in pursuit of an unlikely target of 458.
Prior, who walked out to bat with the hosts 62 for five in their second innings, eschewed risk in the early stages of his innings before accelerating to a wonderful century, his sixth in Test cricket.
The wicketkeeper-batsman finished unbeaten on 103 from 120 deliveries and put on 162 for the seventh wicket with Broad, who compiled an aggressive 90-ball 74, as England declared on 269 for six in the evening session.
Broad, who picked up 4-37 in the first innings, then enjoyed further success with the ball, bowling India opener Abhinav Mukund via inside edge for the second time in the match.
Rahul Dravid, who made 103 not out on day three, and VVS Laxman, each promoted up the order after opener Gautam Gambhir suffered a blow to his elbow in the field, used all their vast experience to make it through to stumps on 34 and 32 respectively.
However, India still face a stiff test to save, or indeed win, the game on a surface that continues to offer occasional encouragement to the seamers.
The tourists also have concerns over the fitness of Sachin Tendulkar, who spent much of the day on the sidelines due to a viral infection and will not be able to bat until 12:41pm tomorrow, or the fall of the fifth wicket.
While England may have ended the fourth day in a position as strong as the one they occupied at the start of play, they were initially given cause for concern as Ishant Sharma tore through their top order prior to lunch.
The tall paceman struck thrice as four wickets fell for just eight runs in the morning session and also accounted for Eoin Morgan before Prior and Broad put England back in the box seat with a superb counter-attacking stand that represents a new record for England’s seventh wicket against India.
Andrew Strauss signalled his intentions this morning with back-to-back boundaries off Praveen Kumar, first guiding him down to fine-leg before launching into a full-blooded pull through midwicket.
Alastair Cook could only make one, however, before he nicked a beautiful outswinger from Praveen Kumar through to wicketkeeper Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
Jonathan Trott endured some hairy moments upon his arrival at the crease, but grabbed his first boundary in characteristic fashion, flicking a short delivery through midwicket authoritatively.
The contest entered a lull after drinks, with both batsmen seemingly struggling to score freely, and the pressure told as Strauss – attempting an ambitious slog-sweep – was trapped leg before by Harbhajan Singh for 32.
That brought Kevin Pietersen to the crease but he did not last long, Ishant accounting for him in the next over.
In truth, there was little the batsman could do about an excellent delivery that reared off a length and caught the glove, with Dhoni doing the rest.
Things got even better for Ishant a few balls later as another beautiful delivery caught Ian Bell’s edge to leave Dhoni with a simple catch.
Trott responded impressively, cutting Harbhajan to the cover boundary, but even he had no answer to the irresistible Ishant.
Getting a delivery to nip back against the slope, Trott was left powerless as the delivery went through bat and pad.
India continued to crank up the pressure after lunch and Morgan was fortuitous to survive when a leading edge off Harbhajan looped into a vacant area on the off side.
Runs started to come more easily thereafter, with Prior and Morgan showing positive intent.
The latter, in particular, appeared increasingly at ease with conditions as England moved past 100, but, with the partnership seemingly thriving, Ishant accounted for Morgan.
Having bowled a noticeably full length, it was the surprise bouncer which did the trick as the left-hander mis-cued a pull to midwicket, where Gambhir took a fine diving catch.
Morgan hung around for a while but third umpire Marais Erasmus confirmed the ball had been taken cleanly.
Prior continued to impress and took the lead past 300 with a glorious cover-driven four off Ishant, who finished with 4-59.
Broad, who registered a golden duck in the first innings, settled into his stride quickly, although he was lucky to see outside edges off Harbhajan and Praveen land safely.
India also had other worries, with Gambhir forced to leave the field after being struck on the elbow at short-leg by a powerful sweep from Prior, who brought up his own fifty from 78 balls soon after.
Tea was taken with the hosts on 174 for six and runs flowed freely thereafter, although Prior, on 62, was fortunate to survive after top-edging a slog-sweep off Harbhajan into a gap in the field.
Broad launched Harbhajan down the ground for four and hooked Ishant behind square for another boundary shortly before reaching his seventh Test fifty from 76 deliveries.
The century partnership was raised later in the same Harbhajan over and when England moved past 400 it was clear a declaration was imminent, with both batsmen throwing caution to the wind.
Dhoni brought himself into the attack, but was taken for 12 in his first over, and Prior moved serenely into the nineties with a tremendous six over square-leg off Suresh Raina.
Broad brought up the 150 partnership with a powerful strike through the covers for four and repeated the trick off Raina’s next delivery to move to 73.
When Prior spanked the same bowler to the point boundary to bring up a truly magnificent hundred, Strauss decided to unleash his attack on India’s weakened batting line-up.
A buoyant Broad wasted little time in making an impression, removing Abhinav with his third ball after replacing James Anderson at the Nursery End.
The Nottinghamshire all-rounder went on to beat Dravid’s outside and inside edge with consecutive deliveries during a testing spell, but England were unable to make a second breakthrough.
Dravid greeted the introducton of Graeme Swann in the 18th over with an elegant cut in front of square for four and the first ball of the spinner’s next over was swept to the midwicket fence by an increasingly assured Laxman, who also prospered off Chris Tremlett to the tune of three consecutive boundaries.
By the time stumps were drawn, the veteran India duo had put on 61 and, given their past history, England will be desperate to grab an early wicket on the final day.