Only feeble embers from a once-sparkling batting line-up kept Team India’s home fires burning at the Oval on Thursday.
Once again, it was a pumped-up tail that shored up the total, specifically a belligerent Shardul Thakur, whose bold, lighting-fast half-century (57 off 36; 7×4, 3×6) mocked the diffidence of the top order, brought back the smiles and buoyed India’s spirits after a difficult first two sessions. Outside edges flew thick and fast as India eventually folded for 191 in their first innings after a dramatic last-gasp stretch, giving their bowlers something to bowl at.
A charged-up Jasprit Bumrah then took charge of the proceedings, getting rid of both openers to leave England reeling at 6/2 at the time of going to print.
Thakur tonked full ones over long off, pulled Woakes through midwicket, hauled Overton for six, even flicked in some style as he created some nuisance value for England’s disciplined bowlers. Thakur’s frenzied but valuable addition of runs and Virat Kohli‘s (50 off 96; 8×4) impressive presence at the crease were, however, the only highlights for India. Conditions were in favour of bowlers throughout, especially in the morning session after the toss was lost, and England’s attack, strengthened by the addition of Woakes (4/55), was relentless.
India’s top order, apart from the one exception in their captain, appeared unsure and tentative, perhaps an unpleasant residue of the collapse at Leeds. England’s bowlers adjusted their lengths superbly, got the ball to jag both ways and exploited the charitable Oval bounce.
India appeared a bit rattled from the start, evident not only in the way they batted but by the mystery promotion of Ravindra Jadeja ahead of Rahane. Under the circumstances, India needed a bit of luck and got it too, with Kohli being dropped on 22 by Root and Rahane getting a DRS reprieve. They simply couldn’t capitalize.
No Indian batsman could claim to ever be in, not even Kohli, who scored his second successive half-century, trusted his approach and footwork, unfurled some gorgeous cover drives, offered glimpses of returning to pre-2020 form but then fell suddenly against the run of play, undone again by the nagging Robinson (3/38).
The bowler, who has now got the Indian captain in the last three Tests, shaved back his length a bit and fired one into the batsman. The extra bounce resulted in the ball kissing Kohli‘s bat on its way to Bairstow. Three wickets fell in each of the first two sessions as India hung on by the skin of their teeth.
Kohli was the fulcrum of India’s innings but batsmen either side of him succumbed to the same mistakes and the same hesitancy. Only the first half hour offered relief, with the ball doing nothing in the air and the pitch appearing moist.
India raced to 28 for no loss from the first seven but the introduction of Woakes, who made the ball talk, completely altered their approach. By the next seven they had lost both openers without adding a run. When Jadeja came in at No. 5, India had scored only 11 runs of their last 14 overs, lost three wickets, and the familiar butterflies in the stomach would have been fluttering. Only Kohli’s presence saved them from embarrassment.
Woakes surprised Rohit with the effort ball. Robinson’s incoming delivery got KL Rahul, who averages just 4.66 against these types of deliveries aimed at his stumps. Pujara chased a beauty from Anderson which held its line before moving away at the last instance. Rahane lived on borrowed time and yet another unconvincing innings leaves his immediate future in doubt. Only Kohli didn’t appear to be the sort who would believe in luck or circumstance. For him, everything is cause and effect, action and reaction, and instead of taking a backward step and leaving as many balls as he did at Leeds, he decided to go for his drives to anything pitched fuller.
In contrast, the most shambolic batting effort came from Rishabh Pant, who simply refuses to alter his daredevil approach and do his talent some justice.