In the fourth Test at The Oval, India were in deep trouble early on. They had lost four wickets for just 69 runs in the first innings. Things were looking bleak for the touring side until Shardul Thakur’s quickfire half-century restored a sense of respectability to their total. In response, England stuttered early but crucial knocks by Ollie Pope, Jonny Bairstow, Moeen Ali and Chris Woakes helped them take a lead of 99 runs.
It was a huge mountain to climb for the Indian batting order in the second innings. Still, they conquered it with style by posting a total of 466 courtesy a special century by Rohit Sharma. On the fifth day, things were evenly poised as England needed 291 runs to win with all 10 wickets intact.
India needed an inspired bowling performance and they delivered that. Apart from the opening partnership between Hasib Hameed and Rory Burns, England’s batsman were never allowed to settle.
A talking point when the match started was Ravichandran Ashwin’s non-selection in the playing XI. Ashwin had played County Cricket for some time this year and he must have been raring to go at The Oval. In fact, he had taken six wickets for Surrey against Somerset at the same ground. Fortunately for Virat Kohli, both Shardul Thakur and Ravindra Jadeja (not with the bat) took crucial wickets and vindicated the team management’s decision.
The emphatic victory must have healed some of the wounds suffered in their last couple of tours to England. Some may say that this is a weaker England team with key players like Stuart Broad, Ben Stokes and Jofra Archer not playing in the series. Even so, beating them at home wouldn’t have been a walk in the park.
To give the team management credit, the Indian team had arrived in England a month before the series to get used to the conditions. They were also exempted from playing matches against Sri Lanka (a second string XI was sent there). Preparation is key to success on away tours and we hope that this model gets followed later as well. “It's important to embrace the challenge, back in Durham we had time off to look at our training and technique, after WTC we had 20-25 days and that was a game-changer,” Rohit Sharma said at the post-match interview.
All eyes will now be on the fifth and final Test at Old Trafford. Ajinkya Rahane’s form will be a matter of concern and a lot of fans want him to be dropped or given some rest. Maybe Surya Kumar Yadav could be given a chance. He has performed well whenever he has had an opportunity in white ball cricket.
Will the team management make that leap of faith? Can Joe Root’s men bounce back from the setback? Will we see another tightly-contested affair?
For all the answers, we’ll have to wait till 10th September when the battle will resume.