London: India was on the brink of defeat at lunch on the final day of the first Test against England at Lord's on Monday. At the interval India was 353 for nine, still 215 runs short of its mammoth victory target of 568 with just one wicket remaining.
Ajit Agarkar, who once made five successive ducks against Australia, was a Test best 80 not out off 147 balls including 12 fours. Last man Ashish Nehra was six not out. For England, fast bowler Matthew Hoggard was leading the attack with four for 80. India started the day on 232 for six, still 336 short of victory. No team in history has made more to win a Test batting last than the 406 for four India posted against West Indies at Port-of-Spain back in 1975-76.
India's hopes of salvaging a result rested on the shoulders of Venkat Sai Laxman (38 not out) and all-rounder Agarkar (28 not out), India's last recognised batsman, with just the tail to come. Early on neither batsman was unduly troubled, Laxman pulling a long-hop from left- arm spinner Ashley Giles to the boundary to bring up his fifty off 89 balls including five fours. And there was more encouraging news for India when Agarkar surpassed his previous Test best score of 41 not out, made against South Africa at Mumbai.
His maiden Test fifty came from 108 balls including nine fours. England skipper Nasser Hussain gave the new ball to Hoggard as soon as it was available, after 80 overs, with India 274 for six. And in its sixth over the new ball gave England the key wicket of Laxman. He had just driven Jones, son of former Test quick Jeff, for a straight boundary. But next ball Laxman, on 74, failed to get over the top of a flashing square drive and was well caught by Michael Vaughan at point. He faced 120 balls including nine boundaries, sharing a seventh wicket stand of 126 with Agarkar.
However, India was now 296 for seven, just three dismissals away from defeat. And that became 320 for eight when Anil Kumble (15) gave Hoggard a simple caught and bowled chance. Then wicket-keeper Alec Stewart, in an England record 119th Test, caught Zaheer Khan (7) off recalled all-rounder Craig White to leave India teetering at 334 for nine.