India 174 for 6 (Kohli 49, Vihari 25*, Anderson 2-20) trail England 332 (Buttler 89, Cook 71, Moeen 50, Jadeja 4-79, Ishant 3-62, Bumrah 3-83) by 158 runs
For one last time, England’s lower order made a nuisance of themselves against India and turned the Test match all the way around. Oh wait, there’s one more innings left, isn’t there?
The last three wickets contributed 151 runs at the Oval, with Jos Buttler shepherding the tail with yet another innings of substance. He’ll finish the summer as England’s top-scorer; the gap between him and No. 2 is currently 199 runs. Not too bad for a left-field selection. India, meanwhile, limped to the close at 170 for 6, all of their specialist batsmen back in the pavilion barring the debutant Hanuma Vihari.
As eye-catching as Buttler’s 89 was, there was little that could compete with a fired-up James Anderson. His first spell was bizarrely kept to a mere two overs, but soon after tea, with Virat Kohli at the crease, India 94 for 2, and the Dukes ball 28 overs old, it was time. The first delivery zipped past the India captain’s outside edge. And the third nearly had him lbw, an inswinger that only decided to be one so very late. The wicket did come, but it wasn’t Kohli’s
Anderson coaxed an outside edge from Cheteshwar Pujara and in his next over had Ajinkya Rahane caught at first slip for 0. Three more strikes and he will be ahead of Glenn McGrath, as Test cricket’s most prolific fast bowler.
Anderson must be wishing for one of those next three to be Kohli, and perhaps No. 564 will be. This battle has gone on for 270 balls and produced 54 edges or plays and misses – that’s one false shot in five deliveries faced. All without getting his wicket once. Kohli is the highest run-getter of this series, and he padded his tally today with another 49 runs, before falling to a loose drive off Ben Stokes. He has made 593 in nine innings, but there is no denying that luck has played a part.
The next man on that list is Buttler, who made his fifth 50-plus score in 11 innings since his comeback against Pakistan earlier in the summer. India’s bowlers were rampant when he came out last evening and, barring a couple of extremely close lbw shouts and the 19 times he was beaten, he had their measure. He was 15 off 48 at one time – he’s made an ODI century facing two fewer deliveries – and finished with 89 off 133. That’s perfect for a batsman at No. 7. Take a little time to judge the conditions, then get on your bike and frustrate a bowling attack that thought more than half its job was done. England surged from 181 for 7 to 332.
Stuart Broad was equally important to that total ballooning beyond normal proportions. He was in control of only 61% of the balls he faced, but India could gain no solace from that. With his help, the ninth-wicket partnership added 98 runs in only 122 balls. That’s a run-rate of nearly five, when all through the first day of this Test, Ishant Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami had kept it down at 2.
As if that wasn’t enough, the first ball he bowled turned into a wicket. Coming round the stumps, Broad hooped an inswinger into Shikhar Dhawan’s pads – the left-hander lunging forward and across in an effort to reduce the chances of his nicking behind – and had him lbw to go past Sir Richard Hadlee’s tally of 431 Test wickets.
KL Rahul was the opener who survived the early exchanges this time and he did so by batting like a man who had been staring at his statistics for too long. He came in averaging 16 from six innings and started cutting inswingers that offered him very little room, launching Stokes’ first ball of the match to the cover boundary and chugging along a strike-rate of 100 or more until the ninth over. Eventually, he settled down and might well have been feeling good about himself at 39 off 52 when Sam Curran invoked the demons from this pitch.
The ball was full – HawkEye suggested somewhere in the 4 to 6m range – and for much of its trip behaved like an inswinger. Rahul covered that and was left open-mouthed as the ball seamed away and kissed the side of the off stump. The leg bail was still standing, while the rest of the world was thinking back to Wasim Akram v Rahul Dravid in 1999.
The Indian seamers didn’t concern themselves with that length often enough. There was plenty of help for them on this Oval pitch, regardless of the age of the ball, but batsmen can adjust to all the movement if the ball is even marginally short. Broad probably wouldn’t have got 38 or lasted 59 balls if Ishant, Bumrah and Shami had been more disciplined. Eventually it needed a phenomenal catch from Rahul, his 13th of the series, running backwards from mid-on, to get rid of the England No. 10.
Kohli, too, was responsible for the run-glut in the morning, setting the field back against Buttler and allowing him easy twos, let alone singles. At times the field stayed back even when it was time for the last two balls of the over, allowing the specialist batsman every opportunity to retain strike. India let England off the hook and are now staring at giving away a massive, match-defining lead.