India’s decision to go in with four fast bowlers, risking uncomplimentary memes of having the longest possible tail, proved right in the end as their seamers hunted in a pack to clinch a famous Test win at Lord’s.
Historically, India do not get many opportunities to win Tests with four fast bowlers. But it would almost be unfair to the current crop, with the variety and venom they possess, if they didn’t have a win registered for their collective exploits. Despite the role they have played in making India a Test team that’s feared, it seemed at the start of this English summer that it may not happen for lack of batting depth. The seamers responded with the ball, getting all 20 wickets, and also weighing in with the bat in this Test.
It is never easy to leave out Ravichandran Ashwin with all his wickets and recent form. But playing to the conditions is that one big lesson India took from the World Test Championship final. At various stages in the Test one may have felt India would miss Ashwin. One was when Joe Root and Jonny Baistow were stitching together the fourth wicket century partnership in the first innings, threatening to take a significant lead. Also when Moeen Ali was giving the ball a rip late on the fourth day, it may have crossed India’s mind of the damage Ashwin could do on the final day. A touch of nervousness as well, on whether their long tail would show up if Rishabh Pant got out early on the final day.
Playing eleven choices in five-day cricket have never been an exact science and those left to make calls have to account for the vagaries of the pitch through two innings and overhead conditions in England. The selection debate would have been around the 102-Test veteran Ishant Sharma once Shardul Thakur was ruled out. He responded with a five-wicket haul in the match, no mean feat considering Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami are in commanding form. Also, the new kid on the block Mohammed Siraj has taken to Test cricket in style.
As India defended 271 on Monday, Sharma was introduced late, after Bumrah and Shami, high on adrenaline from their batting heroics, had sent England’s openers back. India had even tried a few overs of Ravindra Jadeja’s spin and the old pro was clearly the fifth bowler. Hurt pride? When he came on to bowl in the 15th over of the innings, young Haseeb Hameed had survived a king pair but had also been dropped once. Sharma decided it was a good time for an in-ducker, which he is most adapt at. It took him three deliveries to rap Hameed on the knee roll, just as his County coach at Sussex Jason Gillespie had advised him. Sharma had helped India stay in the hunt.
In the fourth over of his spell with India battling time as well as familiar resistance from Root and Bairstow, he hatched a plan. After some full-length deliveries to Bairstow – some liberal banter flowing from his captain – he pegged the batsmen back with a bouncer. The final ball of the over was another sharp, incoming delivery. Umpire Michael Gough ruled it not out, but Virat Kohli knew Sharma is not someone to ask for a review when unsure. He was right while Gough who rarely gets it wrong, had erred.
Sharma had already justified his selection in the first innings with a match turning spell late on Day 3. England went down to 341-7 from 283-4 thanks to a relentless probing spell from Sharma.
In the final session of reckoning, Siraj was the one who first sent Buttler and Curran back off consecutive deliveries. He was also the one who signalled England’s end, knocking down James Anderson’s off-stump to finish with 4-32.
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