Twice in two days, the Indian pace contingent got together during the practice sessions leading up to the match. On the first day, Ravi Shastri and Virat Kohli were doing all the talking. On the second, the pacers all met by themselves. If the talk was how to skittle out England’s brittle batting line-up quickly, it was right on the money. But maybe, they missed out one little detail – how to counter Sam Curran.
On day one of the fourth Test, the Indian bowlers turned up and hunted as a pack, and England, as a result, succumbed to yet another collapse, finishing with 246. It could’ve been far worse for England if it wasn’t for Curran slamming a stunning 78, in the face of an onslaught from the Indian bowlers.
India’s was the kind of sustained attack that could overcome even the best in the business. They hit their straps almost immediately. Ishant Sharma and Jasprit Bumrah bowled much fuller and got the ball to swing and seam wickedly. Mohammed Shami came on, shrugged off an average couple of overs, and bowled with vigour, beating the bat consistently and threatening to break through. Hardik Pandya bowled little but gave India a big wicket of Alastair Cook. R Ashwin did the containing job to perfection when England finally managed to hold their own, and his continuous pressure gave India a wicket they had waited for long. But once Curran arrived, however, England’s plans went on the backburner. It allowed England to recover from a desperate situation and end with one of decent promise.
Only a few days ago had Ravi Shastri, the Indian head coach, underlined this pace attack’s potential greatness. Is it the best pace attack ever for India? Easily. Easily. BY. A. MILE. And early on in the next game, the attack proved it.
India lost the toss for the fourth straight time this series, and on a pitch that Kohli termed the best of the series, they were asked to bowl first. It didn’t take long for Kohli to perhaps be overjoyed that he had lost the toss.
Bumrah and Ishant knew almost immediately what length was best on the pitch and drew the batsmen into playing more. Keaton Jennings, struggling for runs, was bamboozled by a Bumrah inswinger and offered no shot to a ball that was hitting the middle and leg stumps. The left-hander had been set up superbly by the pacer, with all his deliveries leaving Keaton thus far. When the fuller incoming ball arrived, Jennings had no idea how to react. Bumrah was off on a celebratory run even before the umpire had ruled Jennings out.
Joe Root should have followed soon after, but Bumrah overstepping meant the DRS call for LBW didn’t go India’s way. With the way they were bowling, however, they didn’t really need to bother. Ishant covered up for Bumrah by getting a mighty inswinger to trap Root LBW and leave England at 15/2.
Bairstow, up at number four, fell soon after the first drinks interval, feathering an edge off Bumrah. Cook, at the other end, had until then showcased great discipline and experience in facing the Indian pacers, and even found a way through Ishant’s consistently threatening round-the-wicket line. For the first time this series, he batted more than 50 deliveries. However, his discipline deserted him for one brief moment and brought about his downfall. Chasing a wide Pandya delivery, the opener edged behind to Kohli, who took a sharp low catch, to depart on 17.
England went into Lunch in all sorts of trouble at 57/4, but the depth in their batting helped them claw back a bit. Jos Buttler went chasing a wide delivery off Shami and was caught by Kohli, while Ben Stokes was out LBW to one that held its line. England had slumped to 86/6 and looked in danger of being skittled out for less than 100.
Their two changes, however, came to the rescue. Moeen Ali and Sam Curran put on 81 runs for the seventh wicket, not only saving the home side some embarrassment but also giving England more runs to bowl with. Moeen finally departed when on 40, top-edging a sweep off Ashwin. But it gave Curran more licence to swing his arms. England were also helped by the number of extras India gave away, with the bowlers constantly bowling down leg and giving away four freebies. India, by the end, had conceded 22 byes and almost none of it were the fault of the ‘keeper.
Curran slapped Ishant through covers, before smashing Ashwin for a six to bring up his fifty. Soon, England were past the 200-run mark.
Broad chipped in too, showing signs of the batsman in him that’s been missing, by sharing a quick-fire 50-run stand with Curran. The young left-hander, however, stole most of the limelight. He was fearless in his attack and showed England that they can get on top of India’s bowlers. He adeptly picked the bowlers and their plans, and soon left them going into damage control.
Bumrah finally helped India heave a sigh of relief by getting rid of Broad for 17, but from 86/6, England had leaped ahead to 240/9. Ashwin finally wrapped up the innings – 246 – and Curran’s superb knock – 78 – by getting the youngster out bowled.
It left India needing to bat out twenty minutes before stumps. Rahul and Dhawan survived the session, helping India finish the day on a high.