It was an anticlimax in a way. Not so much in the result, of a commanding India win by 157 runs. Or how it was achieved, with a relentless bowling display from the tourists. But certainly as England failed to make this final innings into the contest it promised to be.
England were 100 for no loss in pursuit of 368, then lost all 10 second innings wickets for 110. The English optimism that filled the streets coming in from Oval and Vauxhall stations on Monday morning was being trampled to the floor by 5pm as Virat Kohli addressed the thousands of Indian fans who stuck around in the stands for the post-match presentation.
A match that had ebbed and flowed over four days flowed one way on day five, with India sailing comfortably into a 2-1 series lead with one Test to play. Umesh Yadav (three for 60) had the best figures, but it was Jasprit Bumrah (two for 27) who took England out of the game and Ravi Jadeja (two for 50) whose 30 overs offered a constant point of difference to the rest from the Vauxhall End. Shardul Thakur (two for 22) backed up his 57 and 60 with the bat and one for 54 in England’s first innings to get the ball rolling in the second with the wicket of Rory Burns and, then, the prized scalp of skipper Joe Root.
Headingley 2019 against Australia. Emirates Old Trafford against Pakistan. Unlikely chases and this England team, they said – how about a third in as many years? Instead, this was another to add to the previous 114 occasions England have been rolled in their final innings.
For the first time since 2001, England will finish a home summer without a Test series win. However, the real takeaway should be about the resilience of this version of India. It is not for nothing that this is the first time the country has won a Test after losing the toss, being asked to bat in tough conditions and then being bowled out for under 200.
It was 191 to be exact, a position they were able to turn around to an extent on the morning of day two when reducing England to 62 for five. The hosts rallied, eventually building a first innings lead of 99, before Rohit Sharma’s 127 provided the bedrock for 466 all out that established a lead of 368.
When Burns and Haseeb Hameed knocked off 77 on Sunday evening, the 291 left to get across Monday’s scheduled 90 overs felt like a far more manageable task with all 10 wickets remaining.
Such climaxes, with all results in play going right to the end, rely so much more on the whim of the cricket rather than the cricketers. Genuine sporting fate.
But this India side aren’t where they are today, or in the pantheon of great Indian sides, by simply letting cricket take place. At their very best, they fashion it into a weapon to bash or pierce through any resistance. And just after a lunch on a flat pitch by day five standards, they decided to use a weapon they had stored away for such an occasion.
In the space of six overs, Bumrah gouged out England’s middle order with a remarkable spell of old ball reverse swing focused almost entirely on the stumps for his 100th and 101st Test wicket. First-innings top-scorer Ollie Pope was blitzed through the gate. Jonny Bairstow almost had his toes blown off. And it speaks of just how sharp Bumrah was that Root, averaging 68 in 2021, had to summon all the skill and belligerence that garnered him six Test hundreds this year simply to keep out straight deliveries.
The spell was out of the ordinary, but perhaps it was to be expected. Burns and Hameed were able to make it safely to 100 – a second century stand in a partnership just three innings old – before Burns was the first to fall. The ball after registering 50 (a 14th score of fifty or more), Thakur wobbled one off the straight from around the wicket and Burns edged behind to Rishabh Pant.
Hameed registered a fifty of his own and then suffered a momentary lapse when trying to strike Jadeja over mid-on. Mohammed Siraj failed to take a simple catch to his left, suffering a blow amidships. At 112 for one, the injury felt like it might be a slapstick turning point. Alas, it was England’s batters that ballsed it up from then.
Quite why Hameed saw the need to drop and run to cover was a far greater error than the stutter that eventually found Dawid Malan short of his ground at the keeper’s end for just five. When the opener was bowled from over the wicket by Jadeja, Bumrah did his thing, and Moeen Ali propped forward to give substitute fielder Surayakumar Yadav a simple catch at short leg for Jadeja’s second, four batters had come and gone in the space of 35 balls for just six runs.
The win, of course, had long gone. But a draw, even as unlikely as that was at 147 for six and the best part of 55 overs remaining, rested squarely on Root, as all English cricket seems to these days, and Chris Woakes.
For 12.5 overs, there were relatively at ease. Bumrah was recharging in the field, all the magic of reverse squeezed out of a ball in desperate need of changing. And yet, with a second new one available, Kohli handed the old one to Thakur, who floated a loosener outside off stump that Root guided onto his own stumps rather than to third man for 123 balls (32 runs).
Woakes’s chip to mid-wicket off Yadav — the first of the quick’s three – took England to tea on 193 for eight. Craig Overton had the ignominy of being bowled off his own elbow as Yadav found a bit of extra bounce with the new ball – eventually taken after one delivery of the 89th over – before James Anderson managed to avoid a barrage before tickling one through to Pant.
His immediate review – UltraEdge confirming contact with the bat – gave India’s players in the middle and punters in the stands two hits to celebrate what had been an incredibly hard-fought win. The first was for the immediacy of this win, the second, lasting a lot longer, carrying a mild therapy: that not only will India not lose this series, but the innings and 76 run defeat at Headingley last week was very much the outlier.
The final Test of the summer gets underway on Friday, which feels like nowhere enough time to celebrate or console after a match where all 22 competitors were invested right until the final session. India, though, can ride the wave of their joy up to Manchester.
There will be a temptation to lament the straightforward end to an undulating match as an indication of the gulf between these sides. And while that is no doubt the case, it is more that an exceptionally good India made their opponents looked really quite bad. That is certainly what that England dressing room need to believe if they are to salvage a draw from this series.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies