Ravindra Jadeja and debutante Hanuma Vihari engineered a fine Indian fightback with gutsy knocks but England still remained in complete command in the fifth and final Test on Sunday.
With India staring down the barrel at 174/6 overnight, both Jadeja (86 not out, 156b, 11x4, 1x6) and Vihari (56, 124b, 7x4, 1x6) slammed measured fifties, showing qualities which many of the top-order batsmen have repeatedly failed to exhibit in this series — character, temperament, patience and courage.
The duo’s 77-run stand for the seventh wicket, followed by Jadeja’s late assault on James Anderson and Stuart Broad, helped India post 292 all out, a total that looked improbable at the start of the third morning at the Oval.
England, though, answered strongly in their second innings. Alastair Cook, playing the final innings of an accomplished career, stroked a typically patient 46 not out while skipper Joe Root was unbeaten on 29 as England took stumps at 114/2, a healthy lead of 154.
Although England are ahead of the eight-ball, the day belonged to Jadeja and Vihari, whose partnership bailed India out of deep trouble. Vihari, a box of nerves on Saturday evening when he uncharacteristically tried to hit almost every ball for a boundary, looked far more assured and accomplished on Sunday while Jadeja, no mug with the bat either, banked on his defence to jointly frustrate England.
The duo’s first goal was to see off the opening spells from Anderson and Broad without any damage, and it was achieved through sheer application. There were a few swings and misses that elicited some oohs and aahs but for the better part of their innings, they looked untroubled. Brick by brick they went about rebuilding the wreckage of the second day.
A strong feature of their stand was the running between the wickets. With bowling being quite good from both ends, they decided to keep the scoreboard ticking through quick singles. With Vihari being a right-hander and Jadeja a southpaw, England struggled to create constant pressure.
England skipper Root tried all his options to break the partnership but Vihari and Jadeja coasted along nicely. Vihari brought up his half-century with a tap and run and the confidence started to grow on him and Jadeja. Just then England struck against the run of play. Vihari prodded forward to a Moeen Ali delivery and to his dismay, he ended up edging to wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow.
Ishant Sharma and Mohammed Shami then didn’t last long with Jadeja, who celebrated his ninth Test half-century with the familiar sword dance. England immediately took the new ball and it seemed like the end was near but Jadeja had his own plans.
He sunk into both Anderson and Broad, treating them with utter disdain to draw a rousing applause from the packed crowd. The best shot was a lofted straight six off Anderson. The ease with which he executed the big hits left both Anderson and Broad dazed. Jadeja was also extremely smart in the way he went about his assault. He went for the big shots early on in the over before stealing a single off the last ball to protect Jasprit Bumrah, who defended well in his 14-ball stay.
Jadeja’s blitzkrieg narrowed the deficit below the 50-run mark and one wondered if he could do the unthinkable and get a maiden Test century. That didn’t happen as Bumrah was left stranded when Jadeja called him for a quick single. For the first time in the match, Jadeja, an extremely chirpy character, appeared sullen. But he had done his part in saving India from embarrassment.