Embattled opener KL Rahul signed off a personally poor series on a high while young Rishabh Pant gave a wonderful account of his adventurous batting as India threatened to do the impossible before going down fighting against England in the fifth and final Test on Tuesday.
Joining forces with India in deep trouble at 121/5 and England smelling blood just one hour into the day’s play, Rahul (149, 224b, 20x4, 1x6) and Pant (114, 146b, 15x4, 4x6) plundered breathtaking centuries to raise hopes of a miraculous draw with an electrifying 204-run partnership at the Oval. Such was the fearlessness with which they batted, they seriously threatened to pull off the unthinkable.
Despite the wicket being flat and lifeless and the England attack lacking the same verve and zing, one knew the challenge staring at Rahul and Pant was more than herculean. England just needed one moment of magic while Rahul and Pant had to keep reproducing the big shots ball after ball. They also had to defend hard.
Completely ordinary with the ball for most of the series, leg-spinner Adil Rashid (2/63) delivered that magic ball to dismiss Rahul and with it India’s hopes. The ball, first one of the 82nd over, pitched way outside the leg-stump before turning viciously and knocking the top of the off-stump. A befuddled Rahul could do nothing about it, an exceptional backs-to-the-wall innings lasting over five and a half hours brought to end by a ripper.
Rashid then swung the game England’s way. After being carted around to various parts of the ground, Rashid suddenly became unreadable for Pant. He kept troubling him with the googlies which Pant failed to pick. Deciding to hit his way out of trouble, Pant stepped down the ground and tried to clobber him down the ground. Sadly though, Pant failed to time it, offering Moeen Ali at long-off a simple catch. Chasing leather for most of the day, England once again resumed their hunt on India.
They took the new ball in the 91st over and the sensational Sam Curran instantly delivered, bagging two wickets in as many overs. James Anderson then savoured the icing on the cake, sending Mohammed Shami’s middle stump cartwheeling to grab his 564th Test wicket and surpass Glen McGrath as the most successful pacer in Test cricket. His personal celebratory moment was also a team’s one as England wrapped up a 118-run win and seized the Pataudi Trophy 4-1.
While the defeat was predicted considering India had been 58/3 overnight, both Rahul and Pant deserve praise for ensuring India lost with pride rather than disgrace. Not for once during their double century stand did they flinch, tearing into all England bowlers that left skipper Joe Root scratching his head.
Rahul and Pant figured the best way to counter England from speeding away to tea-time party would be to take them head-on. They trusted their instincts and knowing the pitch had nothing venomous in it, they kept on playing the big shots without worrying about the outcome. Their double assault though had a method to it. While Rahul was more classical, except when he galloped from 87 to 101 through a couple of outrageous shots, Pant was daring throughout his stay where he became the first Indian wicketkeeper to score a Test century in England. They kept going great guns for the entire post-lunch session to show England they had to earn their win. England eventually did it in the final session.