London: Only 49.2 overs were possible on the first day of the 2000th Test, but Zaheer Khan found time enough to strike two big blows for India and one against them. He hobbled off with what looked like a hamstring trouble, after having bowled 13.3 exquisite overs for 18 runs and the wickets of the dangerous England openers. He should have had the big wicket of Jonathan Trott to his credit minutes before he pulled up sore, but England's No. 3 was reprieved behind the wicket for a second time. Those chances shouldn't take much away from how well Trott batted, whipping and cutting gloriously in his unbeaten 58, while all others kept playing and missing.
India made a much better start than they are used to on first days of big series, but they will still feel disappointed with just two wickets after nearly two sessions of bowling under overcast skies with the ball nipping around appreciably on a track freshened up by early showers. Most of the blame would have to be apportioned to their fielding.
Three chances went unclaimed. Ishant Sharma missed Andrew Strauss's run-out when he was on 2. Rahul Dravid dropped Trott on 8 off Harbhajan Singh's first ball, 10 minutes before lunch. Twenty-four Trott runs later, Zaheer bowled him a beauty from round the stumps, leaving him against the angle, taking the edge, but also swinging after passing the stumps. MS Dhoni went for the catch but pulled out once he saw the swing, Dravid - not completely blind-sighted - failed to go for it, and Zaheer was left agonising. Those were the first runs conceded by him in 34 deliveries.
Zaheer's agony increased in his next over when he walked off with England at 107 for 2 in the 42nd over. Andrew Flintoff, no stranger to injuries himself, tweeted immediately, "If Zaheer doesn't come back on there goes the number 1 spot!"
It wasn't all about Zaheer, though. To start off with, after the half-hour delay, MS Dhoni began a second straight away series with success at the toss. Answering their captain's call to bowl first, both Zaheer and Praveen Kumar ask persistent questions with each-way movement.
The start lived up to the hype. The England openers - a prolific combination - played out three maidens at the start, taking time to get used to the tricks up the Indians' sleeves. The ball swung big, and Strauss and Alastair Cook played as late as possible. There were regular plays and misses, especially when Praveen bowled to Strauss. In a first spell that read 9-4-18-0, he beat Strauss's edge six times, and thrice the edges didn't go to hand.
It was an interesting choice of ends for Zaheer and Praveen: Zaheer took the Nursery End, which could hamper his swing, and the Pavilion End helped Praveen's inswingers, not his more comfortable suit. That England open with two left-hand batsmen might have had a part to play in the decision, and it worked too. Zaheer got Cook with movement in, the first time Cook was dismissed for less than 55 since last December. it reduced England to 19 for 1 after 11 overs.
Having survived the run-out opportunity early, Strauss defended grimly, but fell to a left-arm quick for the 12th time since December 2009. It was only the second short ball tried by Zaheer in 8.4 overs. The first took a bottom edge, and this one a top edge to long leg. Zaheer to Strauss: 11 innings, six wickets.
Trott, though, had put behind him the reprieve from Dravid, and looked comfortable. He played into the on side from in front of stumps, whipped off his hips for fours, and when Dhoni employed a defensive on-side field, cut through the off side. His alertness showed in how he handled Praveen's swing in the afternoon session. In the 39th over of the innings, after a spell full of outswingers from the Nursery End, Praveen bowled a big inswinger. Lesser batsmen have fallen to that, but Trott's bat came down just in time, and also placed it wide of mid-on. That shot said a lot more about his effort than the eight boundaries.
Kevin Pietersen batted like he had ants in his pants, moving around in his crease trying to counter the swing, edging and missing in all ways possible. Once he came down the track and lofted Harbhajan over mid-on, though, it seemed he had turned a corner, and so had India. Pietersen didn't face Harbhajan with the mid-on up after that, and kept picking easy singles.
Zaheer had walked off by then, and things looked bright for England as the partnership flourished to an unbeaten 65 off 24.4 overs. Lord's, though, turned gloomy and wet. One would venture that India were the happier side when rain meant there was no play after 3.50pm.