There was a period of five overs after lunch on day one of the fifth and final Test between India and England at the Oval in London on Friday when Jasprit Bumrah and Ishant Sharma did not concede a single run to Alastair Cook and Moeen Ali. Five overs of disciplined seam bowling, getting the ball to land much fuller than in the first session and letting it move laterally. Five overs that saw them create at least three wicket-taking opportunities – two of those dropped by their captain and vice-captain and one falling where a gully fielder would have been in a normal Test match fielding set-up.
It was the phase of play that summed up the series for India perfectly. Not for the first time in this series, India’s bowlers must be feeling pretty let down by the rest of their teammates – mostly by the other batsmen, often by the fielders. This was the latter.
It would happen again later in the day, but more on that in a bit.
A fascinating second session
After winning the toss for the fifth time in the series, Joe Root opted to bat on what looked like the best pitch yet this summer for his batsmen to have a go. What followed was a steady first session where Cook and Keaton Jennings put together a 50-plus opening stand – that was the first time it had happened in this series for the hosts.
There would be another first soon enough as Cook went past 50 himself, becoming the first opening batsman in this series (from either side) to get to that milestone.
All the indications were that the Friday crowd at the Oval was going to witness a day filled with runs and a possible farewell ton for Cook.
What followed after the lunch break was a fascinating two-hour period of play. As detailed earlier, Bumrah and Ishant turned it up early on and were unlucky to have a go at the middle order. Then, along came Mohammed Shami, who made Moeen Ali look like the decent batsman who has been pushed up the order to accommodate the captain’s needs rather than a long-term solution for England at the most critical spot in the batting line-up. As the tweet below indicates, Ali’s outside edge was beaten more times than, say, Rahul Dravid would have middled in a session of play on the easiest of pitches. It was at times painful to watch, at times mystifying – as if a force field existed around Ali’s outside edge when Shami was bowling.
At one point all Shami could do was put his arms up in the air in frustration (and semi-appeals) when Ali was beaten by five out of six balls in one over.
Ultimately, the numbers from the second session read: 31 overs. 55 runs. Zero wickets.
Kohli must have been wondering how India finished that session without a wicket. It was another case of his seam bowlers stepping it up when it looked unlikely, but the slip catching came back to haunt India.
If the second session was proof that Indian seamers’ brilliant efforts went unrewarded due to a combination of their teammates’ faults and sheer bad luck, the third session was a reminder of how brilliant they have been through the series despite all that.
From 4.21 pm to 4.31 pm (local time), England went from 133/1 to 133/4. And for those three wickets, slip fielders were taken out of the equation. Bumrah got Cook to play on and then caught Root on the crease with a ripping in-swinger. Ishant dismissed Jonny Bairstow with one that straightened from the angle.
That was the danger of Cook and Ali’s approach in the second session. After grinding it out, they had to capitalise. They failed to do that and England did not have enough runs on the board to back their efforts for two-thirds of the day.
After a brief recovery from Ali and Ben Stokes, England then went through another 14-minute period later in the day (aided by Kohli’s decision to not take the new ball) where they lost three wickets – including that of Sam Curran, for a duck, believe it or not. But for Jos Buttler surviving two close calls thanks to technology, England might well have been all-out before stumps on day one.
Undoubtedly, it was a day that belonged to India.
But much like that five-over spell in the second session, it came with a caveat. It once again proved that this Indian team had the bowlers to pull them back into the matches from any situation. It once again proved that the England batting line-up has been average for most of the series and dug their own holes, just like they did on Friday. It once again proved, as Ajinkya Rahane had said before the match, that the series scoreline reads 3-1 in favour of England because the Indian batsmen have, at various points, let the team down.
Kohli can only hope it doesn’t happen again at the Oval.