Image Credits: Reuters/Paul Childs
My reaction was as simple as that when Mohammad Siraj knocked over Jimmy Anderson’s stumps to seal what was an emphatic win for India over the poms at Lord’s. This was Team India’s 3rd win at the famed “home of cricket”, and the second in the last 3 series. While it is true that any win at Lord’s is special, this one deserves to be right on top. The sheer resolve shown by the players over the course of this test match was satisfying to watch. I can proudly say that fans at home have been treated to three stellar test victories away from home .The fact that these victories have come in iconic venues like the MCG, The Gabba and Lord’s makes it even more special and memorable. Now surely, my generation has some amazing cricket memories to share with the next generation. The openers forged a century partnership and more, something that has eluded not just our openers, but even the English openers in recent years. Our middle order got runs across both innings and our bowlers, needless to say, were phenomenal. The tale of this test match deserves to be said rather unusually from the proceedings of the final day onwards, which started off with India leading by 154, with Rishabh Pant and Ishant Sharma at the crease.
The onus was on the swashbuckling youngster to weather some hostile seam bowling from Jimmy and Co. and take India to a safe score. However, that wasn’t to be as he nicked one off of Ollie Robinson, with India’s lead at 167. Against an unpredictable England side, this certainly was not a reliable lead and any target less than 200 would’ve given their opponents enough reason to have a serious crack at the score.
With Pant gone, things became increasingly onerous for India. The team would have probably been content with having to defend a target of 190 or 200 at that stage, however unsettling that might have been. Anyhow, Mohammad Shami and Jasprit Bumrah had other plans. The way the two of them absorbed the pressure, especially with the English seamers returning Bumrah’s favor from the close of the 3rd day’s play by bringing out the bouncers, displayed the never-say-die spirit of the team under Virat Kohli. What made the Shami-Bumrah partnership even more remarkable was the kind of shots which they played - these were proper cricketing shots which would have made any batsman from across eras proud.
As I write this article, I can still visualize the lofted shot over mid-wicket by Mohammad Shami off Moeen Ali’s bowling, into the Grand-Stand, to get to his second test match half-century. The feistiness in his shots was there to see. Jasprit Bumrah was hit on the head by one of the many bouncers. However, he responded with a splendid boundary through cover-point. The duo added 89 runs for the 9th wicket, thus surpassing the previous highest ninth-wicket partnership for India at Lord’s (between Kapil Dev (89) and Madan Lal (15)) in 1982. The rather hyperverbal spats on the field turned out to be a blessing in disguise for Team India - it fired them up. Team India declared with a lead of 272, with Shami and Bumrah remaining unbeaten on 56 and 32 respectively. They received a warm welcome on their way back to the dressing room and they thoroughly deserved it. The two had put India in a virtually unbeatable position with just 60 overs remaining in the day. Surely, England couldn’t have hoped to out-bat the team that has consistently held the edge over them, barring the exception of their captain, Joseph Edward Root.
With defeat now out of sight, Team India fired on all cylinders when England came out to bat. Openers Rory Burns and Dom Sibley were dismissed for ducks by Jasprit Bumrah and a peach from Mohammad Shami respectively. As has been the case for this England side in the last one or two seasons, the onus was on skipper Root to ensure that they did not suffer a humiliating defeat. Root, to his credit, has looked invincible since the series began. On the other end, Haseeb Hameed, who was making a comeback after 5 years, had a disastrous outing in the first innings after having been dismissed for a golden duck by Mohammad Siraj. He was unable to impress in the second innings either, making 9 before getting out LBW to an incoming delivery from Ishant Sharma. Joe Root, however, was once again looking good with a flurry of boundaries off of Jasprit Bumrah’s bowling.
A misfiring top order and a middle order hampered by the absence of Ben Stokes is not helping the team's cause, thus making the Englishmen almost entirely dependent on their skipper and Jonny Bairstow on the odd occasion. Even in the first innings, it was Root, who, almost single handedly, helped the team get past India’s first innings total of 364 with an unbeaten 180, his 22nd test match hundred. Root neither has left children nor right children in this team (leave me a message if you don’t get it). Eventually, Jasprit Bumrah got Root for 33, when he found his edge and the ball landed in Virat Kohli’s hands at first slip, just after the tea break. With their skipper gone, England were now staring down the barrel. To be very honest, I expected Jos Buttler and Moeen Ali to drop the anchor and save England’s blushes. Buttler did his best to see off a spew of venom by India’s pace battery. On the other end however, he was increasingly losing ground with Ali and the gutsy Sam Curran nicking behind off of Siraj’s bowling consecutively, with the latter suffering a “king pair” in the match. The last batter with any sort of a reputation, Ollie Robinson held India for almost 7 overs. But with merely 8 overs remaining, he was caught plumb-in-front by a tactfully executed slower delivery from Jasprit Bumrah. With less than 10 overs before stumps, Jos Buttler had to farm the strike from Mark Wood, who was batting with an injury, and ensure the match was drawn. Nerves got the better of him though, as he edged Mohammad Siraj to the keeper.
Soon afterwards, Siraj once again came back to knock Anderson over and one could see how much the win meant to Team India when the celebrations began. Siraj has been an amazing find for the Indian team and has always looked like picking up wickets whenever he has come on to bowl. One could only rue the missed opportunity of not playing him in the WTC final. With all due respect to the great seamers of the past, this is a new India, for playing four match-winning seamers overseas was a distant dream for teams of the bygone eras.
England’s batting is in dire straits and needless to say, needs an overhaul. They have replaced Dom Sibley and Zak Crawley with Ollie Pope and Dawid Malan to bolster their lineup. Mark Wood is in doubt for the Headingley test with an injured shoulder and Saqib Mohammad could be in line for a test debut. As a whole, the series is beginning to look more one-sided, with none of England’s batsmen, apart from Joe Root, rising to meet the occasion. Jimmy Anderson tirelessly continues to pick up wickets, which is thankfully a good sign for the poms going into the third match and the Ashes to be played Down Under. I do, however, see England resting him in the later stages of this series, irrespective of the outcomes. The reasoning is simple - England cannot risk an injury to their best bowler ahead of the Ashes tour, given that their list is already overflowing with match-winners like Stuart Broad, Jofra Archer, Chris Woakes and Olly Stone.
There has been a lot of criticism of senior pros Jonny Bairstow (a veteran of 78 tests) and vice captain Jos Buttler for not stepping up with the bat. While they aren’t expected to average above 45, what the team needs from them is to provide able support to skipper Root, both as batsmen and as senior players, especially with Ben Stokes not being available.
India have a lot of positives to take from this test match. KL Rahul has rediscovered himself and has looked really good so far in this series. There has been a visible change to his batting - playing close to the line of the ball has worked wonders for him. Rohit Sharma unleashed the other side to his batting with a well-composed 83 in the first innings. India’s middle order, which has been a cause for concern for quite some time, also came good with valuable contributions from Pujara, Virat and Rahane across both innings. It looks like India will continue with the 4-1 template which has so far worked the trick for them. That they have four match-winning seamers is a wonderful sign for Indian cricket, especially in overseas tests. It’s a feather in skipper Virat’s cap, as he overtakes former West Indian skipper Clive Lloyd to become the fourth most successful test-match captain of all time.
Now that the ICC has revised the points system for the second cycle of the World Test Championship, every match is now equally important. As an ardent fan of Indian cricket, I was delighted to see India get off to a clinical start. England, on the other hand, will be playing more test matches than any other team, and thus winning becomes all the more important as they cannot be playing catch up this time. The Ashes to be played Down Under poses a severe challenge to the Poms and if they are to stand a chance, they will have to sort out their batting sooner than later, or else, it is evident that they’re likely headed for another drubbing.