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Flat track bullies: Taunt that undermined India’s home wins is turned on its head

This was the crowning glory for Indian fast bowlers. They have helped their team win matches everywhere, from Johannesburg to Melbourne to Lord’s. But on a fifth-day Oval pitch – flat and slow in nature, and conditions batting-friendly – what Jasprit Bumrah and company produced would be remembered for a long time.

About 40 minutes into the final session, it was all over. With a twinkle in his eye, James Anderson asked for a review after nicking Umesh Yadav behind the wicket, momentarily delaying India’s celebration. Ultra-edge showed a spike, and Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma went into an embrace. The 157-run victory to go 2-1 up in the series would be listed among one of India’s most memorable triumphs. They fought back from an innings defeat at Headingley. They bounced back after getting out for a sub-200 total in the first innings at The Oval.

This was the crowning glory for Indian fast bowlers. They have helped their team win matches everywhere, from Johannesburg to Melbourne to Lord’s. But on a fifth-day Oval pitch – flat and slow in nature, and conditions batting-friendly – what Jasprit Bumrah and company produced would be remembered for a long time. “This is among the top three bowling performances I have witnessed as India captain,” Virat Kohli said at the post-match presentation.

Resuming in the morning at 77 for no loss, England folded up for 210 in their second innings. Bumrah bowled the spell of the series yet after lunch, conceding just six runs in as many overs and cleaning up Ollie Pope and Jonny Bairstow to make the Test winnable for the tourists. His second innings figures read: 22-9-27-2. He was the jewel in the crown, but even more heartening was the way Shardul Thakur and Yadav responded to the challenge. On an unresponsive surface, bowling full was the requirement. The fast bowlers were right on the money.

Going into the final day of the fourth Test, Ravindra Jadeja was expected to be England’s tormentor-in-chief from the rough. The left-arm spinner contributed immensely to the win, but in the future, this will be remembered as Shardul’s Test. Without his half-century in the first innings, India didn’t have a chance. Another fifty in the second changed the game. Finally, when it mattered most, the medium pacer raised his bowling to account for a well-set Rory Burns and the seemingly impenetrable Joe Root.

Umesh, too, deserves special mention, returning with a six-wicket match haul in his first Test in nine months.

Keeping it tight

The game started to change in the first session through India’s run-choke. Jadeja’s accuracy and use of the rough made the England openers uncomfortable. Burns reached his half-century, but Shardul’s peach of a delivery got the better of him, the ball angling in before seaming away.

India turned the screw and England became edgy. Haseeb Hameed attempted an uncharacteristic slog against Jadeja, but Mohammed Siraj at mid-on dropped a dolly. The hosts returned the favour through a needless run-out of Dawid Malan, a dismissal that had the hastiness of T20 cricket. In any case, the final day wasn’t going to be the left-handers’ day out, for they barely had a chance against Jadeja.

Hameed’s strokeless stubbornness was a concern. But India’s planning shone through. Jadeja, from over the wicket, targeted the rough outside the batsman’s leg stump with precision and Hameed eventually made the mistake of opening the bat face. The off stump was knocked back. Then, Bumrah took over.

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As Pope came to the crease, Kohli was loud and clear that only one result was possible. Every word was spoken within Pope’s earshot. Bumrah got the ball to reverse at pace and England stumbled. Later, at the presentation, Kohli revealed that the pacer demanded the ball from his skipper.

A big nip-backer castled Pope; Bumrah’s 100th Test wicket. Bairstow got the ball of the match, a reverse-swinging yorker that went straight through. A similar delivery almost had Root’s scalp, but the toe end of the bat saved the England skipper.

Meanwhile, Jadeja worked over Moeen Ali, another ball turning from the rough into the left-hander. From 141/2 at one stage, the hosts slumped to 147/6. But Root was still there and it felt like India would wait for the second new ball for a final push. But Kohli didn’t take the second new ball after 80 overs, bringing on Thakur instead. And off the first ball, Lord Shardul, as his fans call him, all but secured India’s victory. Root played on, undone by the slowness of the pitch and the softness of the old ball.

Kohli’s captaincy was superb. From his game-reading – his comment at the toss about Jadeja’s role in this Test – to his bowling changes and field placements, the skipper didn’t put a foot wrong. He set a leg-trap and asked his bowlers to attack the stumps, knowing that without lateral movement, off-side dismissals would be at a premium.

When Chris Woakes fell into the leg-trap, trying to clip Yadav off his toes, Kohli’s smile oozed satisfaction. He had copped criticism for not playing Ravichandran Ashwin and until Day Four, it looked a wrong decision. But Kohli had the last laugh, through a tactical masterclass.

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