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Historic Test is one to savour

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Tom Fordyce | 23:19 UK time, Monday, 25 July 2011

Lord's, London

Sometimes anniversaries can fall a bit flat. The card arrives late in the post, or the present goes down badly, or some hapless clown forgets the date altogether and ends up sleeping in the spare room.

Not at the 2,000th Test match. After four days of delightful ding-dong between the best two teams in the world came a denouement that was as perfect a commemorative gift as five-day cricket could hope to receive: thrills and spills from first delivery to last, a final-session triumph conjured from bowling excellence and an atmosphere that mixed febrile and fiesta to intoxicating effect.

If Test cricket is dead, as some would have you believe, this was a very strange kind of wake.

From 8am the queues were snaking away from the Grace Gates and up the Wellington Road; by 9.30am Tube drivers on the London Underground were telling passengers as far away as Waterloo that all 20,000 tickets had sold out.

Supporters queuing for tickets

Supporters queue for hours to get tickets - others will be disappointed (Getty)

The first customer had arrived at two in the morning, clutching a restorative can of lager, mindful that 20,000 seats at £20 a pop were never going to last long. Whether he was still awake when Stuart Broad had Ishant Sharma trapped lbw just after 5pm to seal England's 196-run victory is rather less certain.

Supporters sprinted to their seats. Those already in gave a standing, shouting ovation to an England team merely completing their pre-match warm-up jog round the boundary.
This just doesn't happen at Lord's. It only occasionally happens in India, and only then for big one-day matches.

But with Sachin Tendulkar making his final Test appearance at the home of cricket, Hyderabad had come to Headquarters.

There were gripping subplots everywhere you looked - Broad's return to form when on the point of being dropped, the battle between a Wall in Rahul Dravid and wrecking-ball in Chris Tremlett, the series-long series struggle for the world number one ranking - yet at the centre of it all stood Tendulkar, the highest run scorer in Test history, a star name who could have filled the stands twice over on his own.

By the time he trotted down the pavilion steps 20 minutes before lunch, his side were already in deep trouble, denied his stellar assistance by the viral infection that had left him laid up in bed for most of Sunday.

There was an enjoyable irony about it all: in front of thousands of people who were bunking off work on a sickie, here was someone who was genuinely ill but turning up for a long shift. Could he make that anniversary even more memorable by making his 100th international century in the 100th Test between the two sides?

The standing ovation was expected. The fact that he was almost bowled through the gate first ball by James Anderson was not.

On Saturday his arrival at the crease had been so keenly anticipated that half the crowd started mistakenly cheering for a random 12th man who happened to precede him onto the field. Even the sun had offered its own salute, popping out from behind a cloud to spotlight the hero's match to the crease.

On Monday the sun shone bright all day long. The Little Master did not.

Willed on even by some England fans in the crowd, he timed one elegant four away off Anderson but then retreated onto a metaphorical sick-bed, the raucous chants of "IN-DEE-AA! IN-DEE-AA!" failing to shake him from his torpor.

Broad had him trapped plumb lbw on 11, only for umpire Billy Bowden for somehow to reprieve him. Rather than serving as a tonic, it appeared to make him feel even worse.
Badgered incessantly by Graeme Swann's aggressive spin, tormented by Anderson's swing, he went 20 balls without a run, then 30, then 40. Three-quarters of an hour passed without a single scoring shot.

An edgy single finally took him to 12. Celebrations broke out among the Indian fans as if he had moved into the 90s, a Mexican wave breaking out and being cheered round the ground until it failed on the indestructible breakwater of the members' pavilion.

Four balls later he was dropped by Andrew Strauss at first slip. That, you felt, could be the turning-point, the Lazarus moment that would turn the Test on its head.

Cricket has its fairytales, but this would not be one of them. Two deliveries later even Bowden couldn't turn down the lbw. Once again Tendulkar would be denied.

Shane Warne, the best bowler of his generation, never took five wickets at Lord's. Now the best batsman of the era will also retire without his name on the honours board.
For England the day represented another significant hurdle surmounted on their way to the top of the world.

The bowlers were outstanding, complementing each other magnificently, each stepping forward when another flagged.

Broad, close to be being dropped before this match, bowled better than he has since The Oval 2009. Anderson rediscovered his magic at the death to take five second innings wickets. Swann strangled Sachin, and Tremlett has now taken a wicket in every innings he has bowled in for England.

England, let's remember, had been put in to bat by India skipper MS Dhoni. Despite that they scored so many runs that they could declare twice, and dismissed what we thought was the strongest batting line-up in the world twice for less than 300.

A shambles when the Andy Flower/Strauss partnership came together at the start of 2009, they are now unbeaten in a test series since that early defeat in the West Indies. They are also now forcing final day wins in the style of the great Australian teams we all used to fear so much.

The previous best final day crowd at Lord's was the 24,000 who roared Freddie Flintoff on as he demolished the Australian tail in 2009. By the time all the gate receipts on Monday had been counted, 25,227 happy punters had passed through the gates.
It was all rather wonderful to witness.

Former England captain Michael Vaughan talked about it as the best Test match he had seen since retirement. On Test Match Special, Phil Tufnell was wreathed in both smoke and smiles. "It was an unbelievable atmosphere," he marvelled. "I have never heard a forward defensive being met with oohs and aaahs before."

Vaughan also believes this is a bigger series for England than last winter's Ashes. "That was against the fifth best team in the world," he said, with some glee. "This is the number one."

The series is still young. India will come battling back. Whether any of it can top Lord's very own Magic Monday is quite another matter.

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