Indian bowlers gave another exemplary exhibition of persistence and skill to blow apart England even on a benign surface in the fifth and final Test of the Pataudi Trophy.
The pace triumvirate of Jasprit Bumrah (2/41 ), Ishant Sharma (3/28) and Mohammed Shami extracted maximum help from a flat Oval pitch while left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja (2/57), playing his first match of the series, struck some crucial blows to leave England in a spot of bother at 198/7 at stumps.
Although wickets fell by a heap in the evening session — six of them — it was a day of hard toil for the Indian pacers. Only one wicket fell until tea, the rewards for patience, perseverance, and discipline all coming in a burst in the evening where England imploded under pressure — created partly by their own making too.
Lead pacers Ishant and Bumrah, sensing the Oval track offered no help for swing or seam, chose to keep their lines short for the fear of being driven. They felt defensive lines was a prudent option rather than going full and be driven on an easy-paced track where the bounce too was moderate. Their choice to keep it a tad short made lives easy for English openers Alastair Cook and Keaton Jennings.
Ishant and Bumrah, however, were different beasts altogether after lunch. They took the bait of bowling full in hope of creating chances rather than bowling back of a length and wait for things to happen.
That change in length immediately saw chances being created at either end, Ishant inducing an edge off Cook and Bumrah getting Moeen Ali to nick one in the very next over. But to their horror, Ajinkya Rahane dropped a sitter off Cook and Kohli spilled a tough chance off Ali.
Luck then completely eluded them for the entirety of the second session, especially Shami who should have had a wicket or two for the way he bowled. Bowling a marathon spell of nine overs, he had an obdurate Ali in all sorts of trouble. He beat the defences of the left-hander, a makeshift choice to bat No 3 so that Joe Root can bat at his favoured No 4 position, on a number of occasions.
The ball crashed through his defences time and again but the ball never disturb the timber. He beat the outside edge many times too but the edge never came.
It seemed like that sort of a day where there won’t be any fruits for hard labour. But sport is a funny customer and all that luck came in a torrent in an exciting post-tea session. Cook, whom a packed Oval crowd willed to go on and get a farewell century, was the first to depart after an innings of characteristic patience. Having played just one false shot all day, Cook dragged a Bumrah ball onto the stumps and he immediately berated himself. Three balls later, Bumrah sent back Joe Root with a brilliant in-swinger to bring an attritional day back to life.
From therein one England batsman after another came and went in a hurry. Jadeja trapped Ben Stokes LBW with a quicker one before Ishant got two wickets in the 83rd over, first breaking Ali’s marathon 170-ball stay with his classic ball for left-handers and then removing the dangerous Sam Curran for duck two balls later.
England have only themselves to blame for the hole they have dug themselves into. They allowed India to come at them and eventually ended up shooting themselves. Kudos to Indian bowlers though for another wonderful act.