The scene was set for another great chase by India on the final day of the series opener in Chennai. But it was not to be. Chennai 2008 or Brisbane 2021 were not to be repeated. The two Js for England – Jack Leach and James Anderson ripped through the famed Indian batting order routing the home team for 192 wrapping a massive 227-run victory for England with an entire session to spare.
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India began Day 5 with Cheteshwar Pujara and Shubman Gill taking the score to 58 before the New Wall of India got an absolute jaffer from Jack Leach – the ball turning and bouncing to take the shoulder of the bat to Ben Stokes at first slip. It was a massive breakthrough for England. India had lost their Mr Dependable for just 15. Gill was joined by his captain, Virat Kohli in the middle. The stylish Indian opener used his feet beautifully and attacked the off-spin of Dom Bess hammering him for a couple of boundaries and a six.
Gill was at his elegant and classy best and soon registered another Test fifty – his third in his first four matches before Root gave the ball to the most successful fast bowler in the history of Test cricket. James Anderson gave a glimpse of his greatness in his very first over of the innings. On an abrasive Chennai wicket he got a fuller one to reverse uprooting the off stump of the Indian opener – Anderson had struck off his second delivery of the day. He was just getting started.
Anderson was steaming in. He was on fire. He almost had Ajinkya Rahane trapped leg before with the fourth delivery of the over – the ball again reversing to hit the batsman on his pads. The England bowler had his man off the very next delivery as he went just wide of the crease and burst through the defences of Rahane with another reverse-swinging shooter. Anderson had changed the course of the match in the space of four deliveries. India were reeling at 92 for 4.
He made it worse for them when he got rid of the dangerous Rishabh Pant who was caught at short cover. India were staring down the barrel at 110 for 5. Another hero from the first innings, Washington Sundar could not repeat his heroics and was done in by a peach of a delivery by Bess to edge one to the keeper, Jos Buttler. He exited for a duck. India were losing wickets like ninepins. At 117 for 6, they were staring at a big defeat.
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Kohli and R Ashwin put up a fight and defied the England attack for close to 18 overs adding 54 – the highest partnership of the innings both in terms of number of balls faced and runs scored. But their resistance was broken by Leach when Ashwin edged one to Buttler. India lost their seventh wicket at the score of 171. Kohli was the standout batsman for India in the innings but it was only batting practice out there for him on Day 5. He top-scored with 72 off 104 balls which included nine delightful boundaries before being castled by another reverse swinging snorter – this time by Stokes.
Leach picked up his fourth when he got rid of Nadeem and Archer dismissed Bumrah to clean up India for 192 in just under 59 overs.
England had pulled off a sensational 227-run win over India. The victory was built on the massive first innings score posted by England – their second highest first innings total in India – courtesy the double hundred by the captain, Joe Root. Winning the toss and batting first did help but credit must go to Root and Stokes and their partnership.
India has some serious questions to answer. Kuldeep Yadav needs to be drafted in place of Shahbaz Nadeem and as good a batting prospect Washington Sundar is, India may as well play a proper batsman at number 6 if their fifth bowler will bowl just one over in the second innings. But all hope is not lost yet for the home team. They were hammered by Australia in the series opener in Pune in 2017 but came back to win the series 2-1.
Meanwhile it was only the second time since February, 2013 that India had lost a Test match at home. The fortress had been breached and for the first time in many years a visiting team had dared to threaten and end India’s home domination.
With a foot in will England be able to conquer India’s home fortress or will the home team fight back and be up to the challenge.
A fascinating series awaits.
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