India were humiliated at Lord’s, both of their innings amounting to just 82.2 overs combined, on Monday at Trent Bridge they exacted a slow and deliberate retribution.
On Sunday, with shovels provided by England’s batsmen, India’s bowlers dug their opposition into a big hole that they were never likely to climb out of. On the third day their batsmen slowly and gleefully filled it with concrete, just to make sure.
The tourists started the day with a lead of 292, probably already enough to win given the way England have batted so far, but this was never about just winning on the pitch – on Monday India launched a fightback in the psychological war.
Beaten from a position of dominance at Edgbaston, ruthlessly exposed at Lord’s, India have won few mental battles so far this series – something England perhaps hoped to exploit when choosing to bowl on the first morning of this Test – but on Monday they landed a few blows of their own, tormenting the hosts with 79 more overs in the field.
This was not a brutal onslaught from India, more a relentless crushing of the opposition that left England with only the comparably unlikely escape routes of needing 521 runs to win or more than two days to survive – the hold their bowlers once had over India’s batsmen at least temporarily dispelled.
Hammered on the scoreboard, psychologically cowed – by the time India declared England were physically broken as well, the 110 overs in the field wreaking its own revenge on the beleaguered hosts.
Jonny Bairstow left the field before lunch – a finger fractured, his ongoing participation in the series in serious doubt – and by the time Kohli called his batsmen in, Alastair Cook was off the field as well, and Ben Stokes was feeling his left knee and limping. If the wheels had come off when England batted, this was all four doors following suit.
This was not a cavalry charge from India, rather a steamroller flattening England’s hopes into the Trent Bridge turf, with Kohli once again unshakeably behind the wheel.
Three runs short of a hundred in the first innings, there was no mistake second time around – Kohli wanted England ground down and he wanted to do it himself – a 23rd Test century, his second of the tour, brought up after tea.
Kohli was in a resolutely patient mood – he attacked just 14% of his deliveries, only once has he made a Test hundred attacking less – the desire to drag England’s torture out for as long as possible outweighing any petty concerns about flair or ego.
In Cheteshwar Pujara and then Ajinkya Rahane he found more than willing companions to extend England’s pain, a slow and steady creeping death that left much of a sold out Trent Bridge crowd with little to cheer.
Where Kohli led, vice-captain Rahane obediently followed, his total of only 11% attacking shots the lowest he’s ever played in an innings that has lasted more than 70 balls – by the time he was dismissed India’s run rate for the day stood at just 2.7 per over.
But with two whole days of this match still to play, this was a exactly what India needed to do, a near risk-free tactic that leaves them not only in a seemingly impregnable position in this match but also psychologically back on level terms with England – their bowlers not only finally tested but thoroughly beaten up too. Even with a week’s gap before the next Test it would be a surprise if all of the same four make it.
For England there was at least the tiny fillip of surviving a tricky nine overs before the close unbroken, but after the events of the day and the challenge ahead, it was a victory so slight that even Pyrrhus of Epirus would probably feel embarrassed claiming it.
India now seem more than certain to grab a Test back – the series 2-1 after three – and if third day's proceedings are anything to go by, then it looks like their revenge mission is just getting started.
First Published: August 21, 2018, 9:05 AM IST