Day four of this Test could scarcely have been scripted any better for England – Alastair Cook sailing off into the sunset with one last hundred, Joe Root rediscovering the route to three figures with a century of his own and then James Anderson and Stuart Broad blowing India’s top three to smithereens.
The tourists sufficiently demoralised, The Oval suitably cloudy, few who gathered on day five expected anything other than a quick resolution to this fascinating series, just seven wickets standing between England and 4-1.
However from lower order fightbacks to Cook’s final hurrah, this has not been a series for the expected and today India ensured that its final act provided a worthy conclusion.
KL Rahul had a series average of 16.66 going into this innings, while in his fledgling Test career, Rishabh Pant had conceded more byes than he had scored runs – if you were picking the two men most likely to lead a surprising Indian rearguard, they probably would not have been near the top of your list.
And yet that is exactly what happened, a partnership that started just under 10 overs before lunch lasting until just over five overs after tea, 239 balls spanned, 204 runs scored – starting as a gutsy resistance against ever-lengthening odds, finishing just as England might have been starting to get worried.
Rahul was imperious, never more so than when approaching his hundred, from 78 to three figures in just 11 balls, the highlight a flat-batted six off Ben Stokes that took him to 93. Five balls later he brought up a fifth Test century, the fourth overseas, a searing reminder of just why India persisted with him.
At the other end was Pant, making the most of a fairly dead pitch and a pressure-free license to play his natural game. First he ensured his runs tally for the series overhauled the byes he has conceded, then face-saved he proceeded to bluster his way towards a thrilling maiden Test ton.
An over before the tea break it came, fittingly achieved with a six, a slice of the IPL for south London to enjoy. Adil Rashid marmalised over the rope, India’s fans daring to dream of the most unlikely of comebacks.
That of course never came, Rashid producing his own moment of magic to remove Rahul and make the vital breach in India’s defences that began their eventual slide to defeat.
It was a fitting way too for Rashid to end his summer, thrust into the conversation for Test selection having dismissed Virat Kohli with an absolute ripper in the ODI series, it was another Twitter-styled ‘ball of the century’ that did for Rahul – though of course neither delivery came close to matching that delivered by Shane Warne all those years ago.
Eventually the end came much as everyone had predicted, it was to India’s credit that they had forestalled it so long, giving this fairly epic series the send off it deserved.
In a series of great moments there was one final one in the tank, India nine wickets down, Anderson one away from history, this match’s scriptwriter fully deserving of a pay rise.
Charging in from the Vauxhall End, urged on by a day five crowd who wanted only one thing, Anderson delivered, Shami’s middle stump uprooted – the series ended with a moment of history.
That wicket made Anderson the most prolific fast bowler in Test cricket’s history, Glenn McGrath overhauled, the dream ending to a thrilling summer.
England were flattered by the 4-1 final score, India hard done by. In a closely-fought series they had let only a few crucial moments slip but been punished for them heavily.
Kohli dubbed this series “the revival of Test cricket” and he wasn’t far off, that landmark overseas series win still evading him but not through want of trying – his final tally of 593 runs scarcely deserving to be made on the losing side.
For Cook this was a sign off beyond all his wildest dreams, man of the match in his final Test, a suitably epic end to a gargantuan career, and a fitting conclusion to a summer that will live long in the memory.
adil rashidalastair cookengland vs india 2018From the press boxFrom The PressboxGlenn McGrathIndia vs EnglandJames Andersonkl rahulOVaLRishabh PantThe Oval
First Published: September 12, 2018, 7:05 AM IST