Late in the final session on day three of the final Test between England and India, the camera focussed on two men in the stands, wearing pink training bibs and coolers, watching the game and engaged in some deep conversation. No, they were not fans. These two men were supposed to be an integral part of the team under Virat Kohli in the longer format. It was Hardik Pandya and R Ashwin — the two players who made way for Hanuma Vihari and Ravindra Jadeja in this final Test.

And their replacement grabbed the opportunity with both hands to still keep India’s hopes of an unlikely win at The Oval alive.

Coming out to bat at the start of day three, with India facing a 156-run deficit and a near-certain defeat should either of them get dismissed early and the tail folds, Vihari and Jadeja went about their task admirably. The duo stitched together a 169-ball partnership, adding 77 runs — but more importantly, did not let England seize the momentum and bring this Test to an early end.

And it was no easy task, either. They faced James Anderson and Stuart Broad first up in the morning, bowling long spells where they both got the ball to swing and seam both says. This was as tough as it could possibly get.

An eventful debut

Not since Virender Sehwag in 2001 has an Indian batsman scored 50-plus while making his debut in S-E-N-A countries (South Africa, England, New Zealand and Australia is S-E-N-A, in case your cricket lexicon needs to be updated). Not since Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid on that famous day at Lord’s, has an Indian batsman scored 50-plus while playing his debut innings in England.

Whichever way you look at it, Vihari’s 56 at The Oval was as priceless as it was unique.

It almost was a debut half century that wasn’t. He was trapped in front of the wickets when on zero and Broad, of all people, decided not to review it when replays showed he was a goner. He was then given out on zero, again to Broad, but this time technology came to his rescue. Vihari’s debut innings could have ended on zero (twice) but he put that behind him and went about constructing a patient partnership with Jadeja after Virat Kohli’s dismissal on day two.

While the first part of his innings was characterised by chaos and awkward shot-making – like a top-edged pull over fine leg for six to score his first boundary in international cricket – the second half was all about playing the ball late, and showing defensive solidity. Overcoming his initial nerves, Vihari showed why, perhaps, he was selected ahead of the flamboyant Karun Nair. Vihari’s defensive technique was reminiscent of Aakash Chopra’s — seeing the ball till the very end, playing with soft hands and the bat remaining dead still on impact with the ball. He did show his ability to drive and cut with typical Hyderabadi flair later on when the spinners came on, but more than that, his defiance of Anderson and Broad early on day three showed promise. That here is a batsmen who could put his head down and survive against the best of the best.

Unique knock from Jadeja

At the other end, Jadeja showed that he can also do the same.

Let’s rewind back a couple of years. Mohali, 2016. India are playing England in the crucial third Test, and visitors – in their quest to level the series 1-1 – were actually on top with India struggling at 204/6 in response to England’s 283. Out came Ravindra Jadeja to bat alongside the in-form Ashwin. And instead of throwing his bat around like he usually does, Jadeja showed oodles of patience in letting the ball go early on his innings.

At one point during Jadeja’s innings, when Ravi Shastri was on air as the commentator (ah, those good old days), he couldn’t stop gushing about Jadeja’s batting talent, on how he can be a genuine all-rounder — of course his triple century record in first class cricket was mentioned. While Shastri’s hyperbolic marketing pitch felt exaggerated, Jadeja — for the first time in his career — faced more than 100 balls in a Test innings, scoring 90 crucial runs that put England out of the game, and the series.

While the context is vastly different, two years later at The Oval, Jadeja once again showed he can be a genuine all-rounder if he decides to apply himself and value his wicket. And for the second time in his Test career, faced more than 100 balls in an innings.

The moment that would make every highlight package of the match (and maybe even the series) was his brutal six against Anderson, when he cleared his front leg, picked up a full ball that actually swung a fair deal back into him, and deposited it straight down the ground. This was when Jadeja was upping the ante with only the tail-enders left to give him company.

But the real highlight of his innings was in the first session, when Anderson bowled a peach of a good length delivery that swung back into Jadeja from around the wicket, after setting him up with the away swinger for a while. Jadeja, confident where his off-stump was, did not leave his bat hanging and shouldered arms, while the ball whistled inches over the stumps. He would go on to do that repeatedly in the session to both Broad and Anderson, showing impeccable judgement of when to leave the ball.

Of course, his Rajputan bat-twirl and subsequent counterattack against Anderson were the aspects that made his unbeaten 86 the brilliant innings that it was, but his defiance in the first session alongside Vihari was as important, if not more.

Ultimately, India are still in with an outside chance in this final Test because of two incredibly rare situations in cricket: Broad not taking a review for a close LBW decision and Jadeja deciding to show patience and application instead of hitting his way out of trouble.