India suffer heart-breaking loss

THAT'S IT: England's Ben Stokes (centre) celebrates with team-mates after dismissing Hardik Pandya, the last Indian batsman to fall in the opening Test on Saturday. Reuters

Ben Stokes, the premier all-rounder in the world at the moment, had the final say in a wildly fluctuating opening Test as India suffered a heart-breaking defeat against England here on Saturday.

Even when India lost Dinesh Karthik — the sixth wicket — in the very first over of the fourth morning and still 82 runs adrift of the target at Edgbaston, the visitors entertained hopes of posting their highest ever chase on English soil because they still had their talismanic skipper Virat Kohli in the middle.

The captain, during the warm-up sessions in the morning, was seen having a long chat with Hardik Pandya, knowing at some stage he had to bat with the Baroda all-rounder. And it seemed like Pandya, who had an atrocious second innings average of just under four runs before this game, was following his commander’s advice seriously. Not blessed with the greatest of techniques, the attack-minded Pandya imitated his skipper’s method by batting outside the crease to negate the swing. He also watched the ball closely and left the teasers outside the off-stump alone as India, step by step, kept closing in on a potentially famous win.

But big-match players always announce themselves in big moments. Stokes (4/40), who is due in a Bristol court on Monday to stand trial for charges of affray and is set to miss the second Test at Lord’s, swung the game England’s way with a magical over right upon introduction, bagging the key wicket of Kohli.

The right-hander delivered an in-swinger and Kohli, leaning and trying to flick it, missed it completely. England players went up in arms instantly, umpire Aleem Dar having no hesitation in raising his finger. A shell-shocked Kohli instantly asked for a review but he knew he was gone and the game out of India’s reach.

The moment replays came up on the large screen and the crucial three red lights of DRS flashed, the rowdy Eric Hollies stand erupted. Kohli trudged back at having seen another great chance of winning on foreign soil in his captaincy slip away.

Like how the pattern has been during the course of the match, that wicket led to another as Mohammed Shami departed three balls later for a duck. India needed 53 runs more but just two wickets in hand and a fired-up Stokes coming hard at them.

Ishant Sharma, who can bat a bit under such circumstances, couldn’t do much and departed to Adil Rashid’s googly with 40 runs needed. England skipper Joe Root persisted with the gamble of bowling Rashid, asking Pandya to have a go at him with seven players manning the boundary.

But Pandya, whose performances with either the bat or the ball haven’t been encouraging since the second Test in South Africa, refused to fall for the bait. He played out the leggie but he didn’t have any response for another fine delivery from Stokes. The Durham giant just kept it at the channel and Pandya poked at it, offering Alastair Cook a simple catch at first. In a game where several individual performances have stood out, Stokes’ spell of 4.2-1-15-3 proved to be the clincher.

India have only themselves to blame for the 31-run defeat. Their bowlers captured 20 wickets for just 467 runs. But their batsmen foundered yet again, their poor technique exposed ruthlessly by seasoned practitioners. If they don’t get their act together at Lord’s, they could be staring at a painfully long English summer.

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India suffer heart-breaking loss

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