It looked to be going so horribly
awry for England as Ishant Sharma suddenly saw through his vision-obscuring
fringe and claimed four quick wickets to leave England reeling, but once again
there was a man in their way.
Matt Prior 'The Brave' - as he
should now be known - simply refused to be dictated to by the floppy-haired
India seamer and his accomplices, wielding the bat without fear, playing his
shots undeterred, and ending with a sensational century.
England lost three wickets for
the cost of just one run from 10 balls in a period of staggering drama as the
Sharma police nicked the hosts for a touch of complacency and left the match
firmly in the balance.
Indeed, England were toiling at
62 for five when Prior came to the crease, full of swagger, purpose, energy and
urgency: characteristics utterly devoid up until that point.
The Sussex wicket-keeper is, as
Cowers has noted on numerous occasions in the past, England's most selfless
player; a man who thinks only of the match situation and of his side's
You can tell these are happy times in the England Test team - we've not had to have a discussion about who should have the wicketkeeper's gloves for the first sustained spell since Alec Stewart retired from Tests in 2003.
In fact, so effective has Prior been of late that an entirely new and unfamiliar debate has sprung up - is he the best wicketkeeper-batsman since Adam Gilchrist?
But it's a less and less fanciful comparison. With 174 more runs and just one dismissal to his name in this Test, Prior has bumped up his Test average to 2452 runs at 45.41. The indisputably great Gilchrist retired with 5570 Test runs at an average of 47.61.
Cow Corner's not arguing that Prior's the better player - yet - simply that the numbers are starting to speak for themselves, and Prior deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as the left-hander.
Today's ton was one of his finest efforts - an unbeaten 103 from 120 balls with just five fours and a six. He arrived with Sharma enjoying a Broad-esque renaissance and England teetering on 62 for five. By the time the innings was over, he'd sucked the spirit out of the India team so clinically that he was being fed long-hops from Suresh Raina and MS Dhoni to help him towards a century.
The spectacle was so enthralling that Andrew Strauss appeared to have forgotten all about the state of the match, and allowed England to accumulate a needlessly large first-innings lead. With Sachin Tendulkar laid low by a virus - and then kicked when down by Tony Greig's barbed comments (see below) - and Gautam Gambhir forced off for an X-Ray after Prior crashed a sweep into his elbow, England probably didn't require a 457-run advantage going into the fourth innings.
Prior whipped off the batting pads and 10 minutes after walking abck unbeaten he bounced out onto the field ready to keep. Even Stuart Broad, whose 'were we really thinking of dropping him?' Test continued in extraordinary style with free-flowing innings of 74, needed a few minutes back in the pavilion to regain his energy first. Not bad when you're outdoing the star of muscle-building supplement ads.
But that's the power of Prior at the moment. He's been an overlooked part of the England resurgence for two main reasons - firstly the outrageous form of some of England's top order which somehow makes averaging 61.77 with three centuries since the Ashes 'not all that impressive' (and it would be higher still if he didn't slog his wicket away in the name of the team on occasions) - and secondly because when keepers are doing their job well that's precisely when they aren't discussed. He's taken 36 catches and a stumping in that time as well.
The man who rubbed salt in India's wounds in the first innings has now rescued England from a hole the top order and Ishant were digging together in the second, and the value of Prior has shone through.
To mark the 2,000th Test match, each day
Cowers will pose a question to take you back in time - today's is: 'Like with this
match at Lord's, which Tests can you remember which pitted the best bowling
side in the world against the best batting side?' Post your answers and
USER COMMENT OF THE DAY: "Ishan't
will have to change his name to Ishall if he keeps this up..." (The Yeoman loves his wordplay as much
as he loves the long-haired India seamer's name.)
TWEET OF THE DAY: "Let me ask a question...
Does your boss expect you to go to work with a cold or a virus? Of course he
would... This is a Test, not twiddle winks!" (The ever tactful Tony Greig (@greigtalks) unleashes a
surprising tirade on Sachin Tendulkar after the Little Master's viral infection
caused him to be absent from the field on day four.)
later from Greig: "No sleep tonight this is just so good... Test
cricket is so much better than ODI's and T20s... Do people agree?"
STAT OF THE DAY: Matt
Prior has the third best average for a Test wicket-keeper (45.41), behind only
Adam Gilchrist (47.61) and his England coach Andy Flower (53.71).
TALKING POINT OF THE DAY: "Should substitutes be
allowed to be employed in cricket as they are in other sports to compensate for
losses through injuries or illness?" Post your views below...
DELICIOUS IRONY OF THE DAY: Following the India Cricket Board's stout and stubborn refusal to accept the DRS being used to judge dubious lbw calls, one could only stifle a chuckle as Harbhajan Singh trapped Stuart Broad plumb in front of middle stump with the 'not out' judgement unable to be challenged.
SNAP OF THE DAY: Now this is a sight which has every fast bowler purring... Jonathan Trott plays all round a delivery from Sharma which demolishes the woodwork in emphatic fashion!
- Ishant Sharma