When India Cooked its own Goose


In what was an outstandingly entertaining Test match, England won the final Test at the Kennington Oval by 118 runs in the last hour of play on Day 5. Every aspect of the game famed for its glorious uncertainties and its famous ebbs and flows were on display, as India lost the series but won the hearts of everyone present at the Oval on the 5th day. The final series tally of 4-1 will not do them justice nor convey the full story of the spirited cricket that India played. In truth, the difference between the two sides was marginal, but it counted when it mattered. In most crucial instances India came second best, and crucial moments win Test matches. That is the story of the series in a nutshell.

Rated as world’s No 1 and hyped up no end by their patriotic commentators and the team management themselves, India harboured expectations of demolishing England in England. When record books are examined a quarter of a century from now, the truth will never be told that India might even have won 3 of the first 4 Test matches, had they shown a bit more teeth when it mattered, in areas we have discussed in these columns before.

Ear splitting applause

Kennington Oval was freezing in the sunshine at 12 degrees Celcius on Friday the 7th of September, as Kohli for the 5th time, lost the toss and denied India the first lease. As the haunting refrains of ‘Jerusalem’ faded over the public address system, India added a nice touch when they gave Cook a guard of honour as he walked out to bat in his last Test match amidst ear splitting applause and the first of many standing ovations. Alistair Cook has been a faithful servant of England - a no fuss operator of little flourish, few words and given mostly to understatement. Waiting for an eternity for the applause to die down, Cook took guard and then took on a Bumrah delivery heading towards his pads. As everyone by now should know, anything on Cook’s hips or pads is mother’s milk to him. Putting the errant ball away, Cook was on his way tucking, stabbing, poking, nudging, nurdling, squeezing and occasionally caressing the ball in his inimitable style. Cook had got his last hurrah, comfortably off the ground.

Four days later when Cook signed off from an exemplary career with 147 in his 2nd essay, it was a repeat of his debut performance, wherein he scored 106 at Nagpur 12 years before. Only 4 others had done so in the history of the game. The applause Cook received from a packed house for both his hundred and his final exit in pads was monumental; possibly unprecedented. No one in living memory has received such thunderously sustained applause before, although admittedly, this writer wasn’t around to hear the Bradman send off in his final innings at the same venue when Eric Hollies sent him on his way for 0.

A masterclass in swing at pace

Batting at No 3, Moeen Ali lived a charmed life. He played and missed so often, one questioned his competence to bat at No 3 for England. If during the morning session they tended to be short of the ideal, after lunch, the Indian pacemen were like men transformed. They bowled some spitting deliveries which swung, ripped, nipped and fizzed menacingly off a fiendishly difficult length. Despite the acute discomfort, England limped to tea at 123 for 1 with Cook on 66 after having been palpably missed when on 37. During this passage of play, England played some forgettable cricket - poking, jabbing, swishing and flaying mostly at fresh air.

The chief architect of the Indian bowling resurgence was Mohamed Shami whose spell between lunch and tea on Day 1 was a masterclass in late swing at pace. It yielded 14 runs off 9 overs; 4 of which were maidens. In practically each of those nine overs, Shami beat the batsman at least twice, bowling deliveries that were far too good for the batsmen to even find an edge.

India bounced back within the space of 10 minutes after tea, capturing 3 wickets for 1 run and leaving England reeling on the ropes at 134 for 4. Cook was one of them, dragging on for 71. It was Ishant Shama’s turn now; delivering a peerless spell which brought England firmly to their knees. The day ended with England at 198 for 7.

Ignore at your own peril

Experience has shown that anyone discounting England’s bottom half does so at his own peril. Stuart Broad on the 2nd morning smeared a regal off drive off his back foot over mid off which brought him 4 runs down to third man. Then he played an equally regal looking cover drive which ended up at fine leg for runs again. It was that sort of a day for India, who began Day 2 harbouring high hopes of making short work of the English lower order. Yet, the effort was disjointed as England turned tables on the visitors, making more than half of what they made during the whole of the day before, now in just one session. India had no answer to the surging thrust of the English bottom order, and therein lay the beginnings of all their troubles in this match.

From 198 for 7 at stumps on Day 1, India allowed England to go their merry way to 332 all out. Jadeja got 4 scalps but was unconvincing. The fast men were a far cry from their displayed menace of the day before. They swung the ball in hoops and were gifting byes as if it were Christmas already. Pant was mostly panting from unproductive exertions, diving this way and that, valiantly clutching mostly at nothing. England’s last three wickets led by another Buttler charge yielded 134 runs, while Kohli procrastinated, accepting all of this as part of his karmic fate. It was a bizarre period as India watched the game slip away from them like a receding tide. By the end of Day 2, India finished on 174 for 6, still 158 behind. Barring a miracle, the game’s fate now seemed firmly sealed.

Jadeja, the unsung asset

That was discounting Ravindra Jadeja. Unwisely left out in preference to an unfit and slow moving Ashwin, Jadeja on Day 3 shepherded debutant Hanuma Vihari to his maiden 50 and then went on to remain unbeaten on 86 as India folded up 40 runs behind, somewhat saving face.

Given a rousing welcome for the umpteenth time, Cook remained unbeaten on 46 at the end of day 3, as England in their 2nd essay mustered an overall lead of 154 with 8 wickets standing. On the morrow, Cook continued his unfinished business, putting on 259 for the third wicket with Root as England ploughed through to 424, leaving India needing 465 to win. In what must remain a fairytale ending to his distinguished career, Cook established or lowered many a record as he wended his merry way to 147, during which he notably eclipsed Sangakkara as the 5th highest all - time run getter in Test cricket. This was his 159th Test appearance in a row from an overall 161. He had hit 11 sixes in all for England in 12 years. Sam Curran playing only in his 4th Test match, has already hit 6.

Cook’s Gods at their

benevolent best

India had its moments which they failed to seize. Had Rahane taken that waist high catch in the first innings when Cook was only 37, the course of this match might have been different. But cricket also allows luck to ride with the brave and the most deserving. Cook’s Gods were at their benevolent best, as he fluently eased to 147 in his last dig for England, allowing India to cook its own goose thereafter.

From a perilous 2 for 3 the day before, India slipped to 121 for 5 on Day 5, when Rahane senselessly dragged a sweep from outside his off, holing out to mid-wicket for 37 and Hanuma Vihari followed without troubling the scorers. Rishabh Pant now appeared on the scene as India’s last hope.

A near fairy tale ending

What followed in the next 267 minutes will go down as part of Rishab Pant’s family folklore. Fours and sixes rained off his bat while K.L. Rahul not to be outdone, stroked, caressed, slashed and glided the leather to all corners. It was a rare exhibition of total Indian dominance. The scoreboard rattled on, as milestones were reached and lowered with the flamboyant Pant reaching his hundred with a mighty six, deep into the stands. Suddenly from 121 for 5, India were 167 for 5 at lunch and 298 for 5 at tea, with both batsmen reaching three figures. The batting was uninhibited and exhilarating. They played with a freedom that comes with the knowledge that things could not get any worse. Together they had made 204 brilliant runs when another twist was added to the tale.

Fiendishly wicked

Adil Rashid so far utterly innocuous, pitched his well loaded leg spin a yard outside K.L. Rahul’s leg stump and on a bowler’s footmark. Thence it spun a full 90 degrees at break-neck speed and sped towards the slip cordon, taking with it, Rahul’s off bail. Rahul was aghast and stood in open mouthed amazement. That was too fiendishly wicked a delivery for any human on earth to negotiate. Crestfallen, Rahul departed for a magnificent 149.

That demise signaled the end of the Indian dream. Pant who provided a thrill a minute, perished while mistaking a Rashid googly for a leg break and spooning a skier deep into the country. He made a brilliant 114. The rest were purely academic, including the 564th Test wicket for Jimmy Anderson of which one never heard the end of, well into the English night.

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