SEPTEMBER 9, 2018
Brief Scorecard: England 332 & 114/2 (Alastair Cook 46*, Joe Root 29*; Mohammed Shami 1-32) lead India 292 (Ravindra Jadeja 86*, Hanuma Vihari 56; Moeen Ali 2-50) by 154 runs
Cook remained unbeaten on 46 at stumps on day three. – Getty
LONDON – A fairy-tale ending to Alastair Cook’s Test career is still on the cards. He reached the close on day three at The Oval unbeaten on 46 and with the prospect of a long day of batting tomorrow. Could he possibly make his 33rd Test hundred in his final Test innings? There will be plenty who hope so and not many who would begrudge this brilliant cricketer that dream send-off.
Whatever happens on the fourth day, Cook had helped put his side in a strong position by the close of the third day, with England leading by 154 runs with eight wickets remaining. Although batting is by no means impossible on this surface, there is some assistance for the bowlers and barring a collapse of almighty proportions from England, India are going to be faced with a tough target to ensure they do not lose this series 4-1.
The day’s best moment was the spine-tingling reception given to Cook as he walked out for his 291st and final Test match innings. As he trotted down The Oval steps, everyone in the ground rose to applaud one of England’s finest ever cricketers. The ovation was sustained and was still going on as Cook took guard. It was a special moment for a special player.
India’s bowlers were in no mood to give Cook an easy time, however, and they hit their straps immediately. Jasprit Bumrah beat Cook in the first over and England scored just one run from their first 29 deliveries. Carrying on where he left off in the first innings, Mohammad Shami beat the edge of both Cook and Keaton Jennings countless times. On another day, the visitors could have picked up two or three wickets in the opening ten overs.
Fresh from his four-for in the first innings, Ravindra Jadeja was introduced into the attack early and caused problems immediately. Two huge LBW appeals, one in his second over against Jennings and one in his third against Cook, were turned down but the bowler convinced Virat Kohli to review each time. Both were shown to be hitting the batsmen well outside off-stump and India had burned their two reviews within the opening twelve overs. It was incredibly poor from Kohli and Jadeja.
The breakthrough finally came soon after when Jennings misjudged the line of a delivery from Shami and was bowled offering no shot. Delivered from round the wicket, the ball nipped back but it was a misjudgement from the left-hander, the same error he had made in the previous Test in Southampton. Jennings finishes the series with an average of 18 which must surely call into question his place on the winter tour to Sri Lanka.
Moeen, who was dropped by KL Rahul at slip off Ishant Sharma when on 14, and Cook moved England past 50 but it was hard going against India’s high-class attack on a surface which is turning more and more. That turn finally did for Moeen when he attempted a drive to a ball which spun sharply between bat and pad to bowl him. It was a fine piece of bowling and one that England might not be too unhappy with given India have to bat last and they have two spinners.
Root, who looked busy and fluent from his first ball, and Cook saw England safely to the close and both will hope to go big tomorrow. England’s captain has not scored a Test century for more than a year and he looked in determined mood, striking five boundaries including a delightful straight drive off Shami for four which suggested his form is returning. Tomorrow is an important day for Root, as well as Cook.
Earlier in the day, Jadeja, scored a fine, counter-attacking unbeaten 86 to help eek out 132 runs for the visitors’ last four wickets. Debutant Hanuma Vihari also made a half-century as India reduced England’s first innings lead from 158 when play started to just 40 when they were finally dismissed midway through the middle session.
After a shaky start the previous evening, Vihari played watchfully against James Anderson and Stuart Broad during the opening hour today before becoming increasingly confident as the morning wore on. He drove Broad to the cover boundary after an hour and then later swept Moeen Ali sweetly for four. Compact and disciplined outside off-stump, it is not hard to see why the right-hander averages more than 60 in first-class cricket.
He was finally dismissed just before lunch when he edged Moeen behind from a ball which curved in the air and then spun fractionally less than the deliveries which preceded it. The batsman reviewed, more out of hope than expectation, but a clear spike was seen on Ultra Edge. Vihari had added 77 for the seventh wicket with Jadeja.
Broad and Anderson bowled well with the new ball, drawing eight edges or play and misses from the opening 18 deliveries, but Vihari and Jadeja were largely watchful outside off-stump, playing the line of the ball rather than pushing out at it. When Jadeja did finally fence at the ball, he edged Anderson through the slips for four.
Shortly after lunch, Moeen removed Ishant Sharma in much the same fashion as he had Vihari and three overs later, leg-spinner Adil Rashid removed Shami who unwisely hit him straight down long-on’s throat when batting time with Jadeja was surely the better option. Jadeja, who by that time had reached his ninth Test fifty, threw his head back in frustration and turned his back as Shami trudged off.
Two balls after Shami was dismissed, Keaton Jennings dropped Bumrah at silly mid-off, which would have given England a lead of 72. Recognising that Bumrah might not be around for long, Jadeja decided to open his shoulders and he marshalled the situation expertly for the next nine overs, farming most of the strike. At one stage, Bumrah only faced one ball in five overs, much to the frustration of England who were desperate to bowl at the number eleven.
In between keeping the strike, Jadeja attacked, hitting Anderson for a straight six and pulling both Broad and Rashid for boundaries. India added 32 for the last wicket without Bumrah scoring. He was run out soon enough though as Jadeja called him through for a single off the last ball of a Moeen over in an attempt the keep the strike. Broad, at square leg, picked the ball up cleanly and threw to Bairstow who broke the stumps with the batsman well short.
That gave England a lead of 40, less than they would have hoped for at the start of play, but still a handy advantage on a pitch already showing signs of spin and which is expected to deteriorate further over the next two days. A chase of anything more than 250 will be a tough ask. For now though, the fourth innings of this match can wait. Tomorrow, all eyes will be on Cook.
Courtesy/Source: TOI / Cricbuzz / ESPNCricinfo