Welcome to all-rounder season. Sam Curran and Chris Woakes got the party started at Edgbaston and Lord’s, now Hardik Pandya has arrived to put India in command at Trent Bridge.
While this has not been a vintage series for batsmen of either side – England demonstrating once again on Sunday an ineptitude against the moving ball that has plagued both teams – it has been a happy hunting ground for all-rounders, Pandya’s 5/28 the latest addition to a run of star turns in this series from the men with more than one string to their bow.
For Pandya this was also a spell to vindicate his selection in this side, something that many have been questioning throughout this series – the all-rounder coming in for nearly as much criticism as some of India’s top order batsmen, but without anywhere near the same level of justification.
After the defeat at Edgbaston, Michael Holding was particularly scathing, saying:
“It seems as if he’s the golden boy in this team. Everyone thinks he’s going to be the next Kapil Dev. He hasn’t shown that yet. Why not pick a batsman? Pandya got a few runs in the second innings but is he a better batsman than Pujara? I don’t think so, and you don’t need him as a bowler in my eyes.”
In six superb overs, Pandya went a long way to answering that criticism, cutting down England’s batsmen where they stood, in an afternoon session that quickly turned into a rout.
As statements of intent go, Pandya’s first ball was pretty emphatic, Joe Root out edging to second slip – a quibble over the cleanness of the catch delaying proceedings, but ultimately only prolonging the agony rather than offering a reprieve.
The next over he nearly had Ben Stokes, his tattooed opposite number only saved by the margin of umpire’s call when India asked for a review – Pandya was getting into a groove and England would soon be in trouble.
Four overs later that trouble well and truly arrived, Pandya struck twice in the same over, with the first ball and the last, Jonny Bairstow and Woakes the men trudging back to the pavilion – England holed below the waterline and sinking fast at 118/7.
Adil Rashid joined the procession of doomed men with the first ball of his next over, Pandya was on a hat trick, England tediously collapsing in the style that by now almost everyone has become accustomed to.
Stuart Broad survived that ball, but not the over, trapped LBW four balls into his innings to hand Pandya a maiden five-wicket haul and leave England perilously close to not even avoiding the follow-on.
Pandya’s critics had called for him to do much more and at Trent Bridge he answered, gutting England’s batting card and putting India so firmly ahead in this Test that it seems almost unthinkable that they will not travel to the next match in Southampton on the back of a resounding win.
It was a spell of the highest quality, and one in which Pandya was at his best – his average speed was the fastest it has ever been in a Test, while the amount of swing he got has also never been greater.
For two Tests India have been on the receiving end of a masterclass in swing bowling, Pandya it seems was taking notes, adjusting his approach here and reaping the rewards. On Sunday, to maximise the swing he bowled much fuller than he had previously in the series – more than a metre fuller than in the first two Tests in fact – the result was brutally efficient, Pandya’s spell the best ever by an Indian bowler in Tests at the ground.
All in all it was a good day for Indian youngsters proving their critics wrong, Rishabh Pant for now putting to bed any concerns about the standard of his wicketkeeping by snaffling five catches behind the stumps – the pick of them the sprawling effort to remove Woakes – becoming the youngest wicketkeeper to do so in the process. His five catches also the most by any Indian wicketkeeper on debut.
Ultimately though the day belonged to Pandya, another day in the series where the all-rounder has ruled supreme, and the day that India showed they are far from finished in this series.