London: At the end, it looked far too easy. James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Chris Woakes and Sam Curran seemed to be just dawdling in, putting the ball on a dime and bisecting the defences of the Indian batsmen. With each delivery, there was the threat of a wicket, but it did take 212 balls for England to bowl India out for a paltry total of 107.
It was a crucial toss to win, the ball did zip off the seam and the stop and start in play prevented the batsmen to get set, but at the same time each of the England pace bowlers had ensured there was enough subtlety with the precision to muddle the Indian minds.
Before the start of the Test, Firstpost had highlighted the challenges of batting on the slope at Lords. One of the biggest sins right-hand batsmen can commit at the Pavilion end is to work the ball against the slope and swing through the leg-side. It was this error that led to the downfall of Virat Kohli. Chris Woakes had beaten the Indian skipper with his beautiful hooping outswingers on more than half a dozen times. In fact, the ball had deviated so much that it kept beating the front prod of Kohli. After watching Kohli shoulder arms to three balls of the 21st over, Woakes went slightly wider on the crease, changed the line to middle-stump and bowled it a yard closer to the batsmen. Kohli took the bait. It was the fullest ball he had faced from Woakes, the English seamer had orchestrated the plan perfectly and in an intricate manner. Kohli did the cardinal sin of trying to work a swinging ball up the slope through mid-wicket and to get a leading edge to the slips.
In the first over, James Anderson had shown similar nuance to outthought Murali Vijay. After four balls, Anderson realised so prominent is the movement on offer that he could afford to try the magic ball that swings into middle and hits off-stump. He had set up Vijay by luring him in a false sense of security of trying to whip a half-volley through the on-side. It was a poor shot, but also a perfect setup.
England bowler's job was made easier by the fact that all the Indian batsmen have identical ways of negating the moving ball. The Indian theory is simple, bat outside the crease, push forward on the front foot and cut down the angle of the swing. It is extremely predictable and each batsman is applying the same methods. It is unsurprising and as the seam bowlers showed today, it only takes minor alterations to catch the Indian batsmen out of their comfort zone.
Four years ago against India, Anderson and Broad had the luxury of a similar pitch, but they persisted bowling a length that saw the ball sail over the stumps. Today with the Indian batsmen coming at the ball and looking to cut the angle, each one of the bowlers adjusted their length in tiny margins. Such was the assistance on offer that it only required minor adjustments to kiss the bat.
Hardik Pandya's dismissal was a classic example of how a slight variation in length had undone the Indian all-rounder. Woakes had him coming forward with five full balls around the 5m length and then suddenly slipped one slightly shorter. Pandya went back, but his hands went to the ball as if he was playing on the front foot. The ball found the outer edge and it was pounced in the slips. There was no rocket science involved all it took was a touch of awareness that Woakes provided.
Kuldeep Yadav is by no means a top-order batsman, but he was worked out with three balls angled across him and then the booming inswinger. One by one all the Indian batsman succumbs to slightest of disparity, but that is all one required on a pitch with so much aid.
Joe Root also ensured the seamers bowled from the correct ends. Woakes with his pre-dominantly outward movement came on from the Nursery end to ensure the slope assisted with his stock delivery. In contrast, Curran was introduced form the Pavilion end, so the angle in the pitch could aid his movement back into the right-hander.
On a pitch that already provides the bowlers a distinct advantage it often needs only a minor tweak to deceive batsmen. Patience is the virtue to success, but it also requires the slightest twig to capture that edge.
As James Anderson rightly said at the conclusion of play, "The biggest thing is not trying to do too much, too many different things, just keep focus, try and bowl good balls and keep hoping they nick them eventually."
It did ultimately take 212 balls, but along the way were faintest variations that in due course decimated the Indian batting.