This post looks back at the match just concluded between England and India, officially the fifth of the 2021 series.
A LONG DELAYED FINALE
India won the the fourth test of the 2021 series comfortably, and then in the run up to the fifth test there was a Covid scare in the Indian camp. By the letter of the law the match should have been forfeited since England were able to play and India were refusing to put a team out, but because the BCCI pulls the ICCs strings a compromise was arranged, whereby the match would be played in 2022 instead. England after a miserable winter in Australia and then the West Indies had started 2022 in a blaze of glory, recording three successive spectacular victories over World Test Champions New Zealand (who won’t get to defend their title in consequence of this). India made some curious selecorial decisions (Pujara as makeshift opener when Mayank Agarwal was available, Thakur preferred to Ashwin, Vihari at three and Shreyas Iyer in the middle order all definitely questionable and the persistence with an aging, chronically out of form Kohli didn’t look right either), England had two obvious question marks, Crawley at the top of the order and the decision to drop Jamie Overton for the returning Anderson (Anderson’s return had to happen, but I would have had Broad make way for him).
INDIA IN CHARGE FOR THREE DAYS…
India had the better of all of the first three days, with only a century by Jonny Bairstow restricting England’s deficit on first innings to 132. India were then 126-3 in their second innings by the end of day three, leading by 258. James Anderson had underlined his enduring class in the Indian first innings by taking 5-60 while everyone else was was being thrashed. Rishabh Pant played a great innings for India, and was the centrepiece of their total of 416. At the end of day three (just under four playing sessions ago) you would have got generous odds on an England win, though probably not quite the 500-1 famously offered at Headingley in 1981.
In the first part of day four India failed to make the most of their advantage, rather frittering away their last seven wickets for the addition of a further 120. Pujara scored a gritty 66, Pant a more flamboyant 57, but overall India would have been disappointed with a total of 245 all out, and would have been aware that they had not completely killed the game when they might have done. Ben Stokes claimed four wickets for England.
Just for once England did not lose their first wicket ridiculously early. Crawley and Lees both batted well, but just before tea Crawley was out for 46, leaving one that bowled him. This meant that Pope had to begin his innings twice over, either side of the interval. He managed the first, but not the second. Then Root made a horrible misjudgement which caused Lees to be run out. That was 109-3, 269 more still needed for victory, and Bairstow joined Root. Not only were this pair still together at the close, they had done a lot to break the back of the chase, taking England to 259-3, 119 short of victory with the final day to come. The final morning began with India surely needing to break the stand quickly, and probably needing to have both players out within the first half hour to keep their hopes alive. India showed themselves mentally already beaten when they set fields that effectively said “help yourselves to singles but please don’t bash us”. Root and Bairstow accepted the singles but did not comply with the second part of India’s implied request – anything loose (and India provided a fair quantity of this) was ruthlessly punished. After just an hour and a half of the fifth day, including two ball replacements (a huge number of balls have needed to be replaced in this season’s tests) the job was completed, with a single off the fourth ball of the 77th over of the innings. England won by seven wickets, Root 142*, Bairstow 114*. Root’s hundred was his 28th in test cricket, obliterating the so-called ‘curse of 27’, a piece of nonsense that had arisen due to Steven Smith and Virat Kohli both being stuck on 27 test tons for some considerable time. The truth is that a total of 20 players have scored as many as 27 test centuries, and 16, including Root, have gone on to at least 28, while only four (Allan Border, Graeme Smith, Steven Smith, Virat Kohli) failing to do so. It was also Root’s fifth test hundred of 2022, to follow the six he scored in 2021. Bairstow’s century was his fourth in five test innings, his sixth of 2022 and his second of this match. The Root/ Bairstow stand of 269* was the fourth biggest ever in a fourth innings behind 301 by Arthur Morris and Don Bradman at Headingley in 1948 (Aus won by seven wickets), 287* by Gordon Greenidge and Larry Gomes at Lord’s in 1984 (WI won by nine wickets) and 280 by Bill Edrich and Paul Gibb at Durban in 1939 (a preposterous draw, with England 654-5 chasing 696 for victory when play had to be abandoned). This was also the fourth successive time England had chased 275 or over to win a test match, and England’s record successful run chase, beating the 362-9 at Headingley in 2019.
Bairstow was named Player of the Match for his twin tons, and Root Player of the Series for his 737 runs across the five matches. Virat Kohli’s only noteworthy contributions to this match were sledging Bairstow when that worthy was struggling in the first innings, since which moment Bairstow scored a further 207 runs for once out and a disgraceful display of aggression at the fall of an English wicket yesterday which involved charging straight across the pitch and earned him a ticking off from the umpires and may yet have further repercussions in the form of a fine or even a ban.
For England, as well as the two batting guns Root and Bairstow, Anderson maintained his high standing, Potts looked the real deal, Leach came back well from a hammering in the first innings (1-28 from 12 overs in the second). Broad, two second innings scalps not withstanding, looks to be a fading force at test level. Lees and Pope both deserve extended runs in the side (Pope has just been assigned a new role at number three and has done quite well there, and Lees has shown a lot of promise). Zak Crawley’s second innings 46 should not be enough to save him from the axe, and I fully expect Lees to have a new opening partner against South Africa in six weeks time. India’s carelessness with the bat on the fourth morning probably cost them 100 runs, but the way this England handle fourth innings run chases even that might not have been enough. A full scorecard of the match can be viewed here.
My usual sign off…