Day four in Mohali was never going to be a surprise. Sure, there have been many instances in Test cricket history wherein a single partnership has changed the course of a match. Teams have come back from the brink and stunned the opposition.
This Indian team, however, is not among those easily caught unaware. Not on day four, on a slow-turning pitch with variable bounce, not when they have the opposition on the mat with three spinners operating together.
Additionally, England had lost this Test precisely 24 hours ago, when they had endured a listless morning session on day three. At 78/4 overnight, they knew the writing was on the wall, and all that remained to be seen was how long Joe Root could grind out in the middle.
Take a bow, Hameed
On any other day, Root would have been hailed as the hero the rest of the English batsmen ought to have looked up to in their second innings. His knock would have served as the template for a proper first innings, for all their batsmen, including Root himself. On this day however, it was Haseeb Hameed who once again showcased why he is one of the most exciting young talents in modern day cricket at the moment.
He did not take the field on day three, in search of different ways to bat through the pain barrier. Hit on the little finger of his left hand twice – once by Mohammed Shami in Vizag and then in the first innings here by Umesh Yadav – and now needing surgery, Hameed is no longer part of the England squad for the remainder of this series. But, he left an indelible mark on it.
It is easy to use words such as defiant, resilient, spirited, gritty and bold to describe his knock. Instead, it is in his numbers that the real marvel of his knock comes through. When he came to the crease, Root was there, and he understood the value of batting time. He blocked, and blocked, and then blocked some more, scoring only 17 runs off the first 110 balls he faced. There were no boundaries hit – they were not needed.
He scored 33 runs off the next 37 balls to get to his second half-century of the series. It included a six off Ravichandran Ashwin – with a broken finger, fighting for grip on his bat, and smacking the world’s best spinner over the boundary – the word audacity comes to mind.
It was down to this determination that England were able to save themselves from complete embarrassment. The fact that he was so easily able to change gears was testament to the mature head on his shoulders, one that will be missed when the fourth Test begins in Mumbai on December 8.
It’s not getting better for England...
In one word – nothing. Their promising opener, the one bright spark, is now flying home. It means more changes to a batting line-up that is already unable to sustain itself after shuffling around players in the first half of this Test series. The experiment to promote Moeen Ali up the order failed to a large extent, as did the ploy to bat Jos Buttler at number seven.
But England’s twin batting failures cannot be pinned on these two. It was a collective failure, highlighted more by the simple fact that they had won the toss and opted to bat. Then they handed the advantage back to India on a platter. “They were not magical deliveries,” said Alastair Cook after the match, and there is no better way to tell the English batsmen to do some thinking before the fourth Test.
That the spinners also failed to trouble the Indian batsmen can be a worrisome point too. Then again, they simply did not have the cushion of enough runs.
...and it’s all coming together for India
In one word, again – plenty. Obviously, it begins with the Indian spin troika, but the spotlight is what they achieved with the bat. Together, Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Jayant Yadav added 200-plus runs to put India ahead. At 150-odd for five down, the struggle was on. When Kohli got out, they were still behind by some 70 runs.
That they contributed with the bat is not really a surprise, because India have been working hard to get their lower order in prime form ever since the five-bowler theory has come into prominence. This is the fruition of a long process, with Jayant Yadav’s growing reliability in only two Tests a sign of things to come.
The other key factor herein is the form of India’s pacers. After Rajkot, there was talk of how the English spinners have outbowled Indian spinners. Let it be said here that Shami-Umesh have outbowled James Anderson, Chris Woakes and Stuart Broad. Two of those latter three are far more illustrious bowlers.
For the Indian pacers to trouble English batsmen with pace, swing, and reverse swing has been heartening to see. As Virat Kohli put it then, they still have Ishant Sharma and Bhuvneshwar Kumar waiting their chance. When was the last time Indian cricket was so flush with fit, raring-to-go fast bowlers?
The cherry on the top of this winning cake is a certain 31-year-old. Drafted in as keeper, he was shafted up the order to open the innings without much notice. And he has held his own – doing well enough behind the stumps despite a couple of misses (Wriddhiman Saha missed a few in the last two Tests too) and then making a point with the bat, especially in the second innings.
His second coming on the international scene is a handsome gift for the captain, who has fielded 20 different playing elevens in 20 successive Tests. And now he has someone who can keep and open, allowing a six-man batting line-up, plus five bowlers in the same eleven.
Parthiv Patel is Kohli’s dream come true.