SEPTEMBER 10, 2018
Brief Scorecard: England 332 and 114 for 2 (Cook 46*, Root 29*) lead India 292 (Jadeja 86*, Vihari 56, Moeen 2-50, Anderson 2-54, Stokes 2-56) by 154 runs
LONDON, ENGLAND – Alastair Cook has a lovely smile. There’s a kind of mischief to it, as if he knows something you don’t and he’s utterly pleased with himself for it. He flashed one after he absolutely middled the final ball before tea at The Oval and walked off. England finished the day 154 runs ahead. More importantly, if only for this Test, he was 46 not out.
Playing his 291st and final innings, he’d got off the mark with a trademark flick off the pads and the crowd came to its feet once again. A good portion of them had been hanging out by the stairs leading up to the England dressing room after India had been bowled out for 292 in their first innings, thanks to Ravindra Jadeja’s unbeaten 86.
Cameras were out. Goosebumps were visible. And applause rang out. A wave of it, rising ever higher and bathing the former England captain with an energy that only a live performer can understand. It’s magic. Truly. And if you’re skeptical, watch the three deliveries that preceded Cook blunting Shami to end the session. Pitched up, angled in and seaming away, they demanded a shot from the batsman. They deserved an edge each time. But it didn’t happen.
It couldn’t happen. Not today. Not to Cook.
So Shami smiled as well and settled for the wicket of Keaton Jennings, bowled playing no shot. The opener’s series ends with seven of his nine innings yielding less than 25, and while there are genuine issues – he’s been dismissed leaving the ball twice in two Tests, so a lot of them must be in the mind – it is also important to note that he’s been dealing with some extremely good bowlers. They are accurate. And unlike previously, there are precious few opportunities for easy runs. In fact, two of India’s 10 best economy-rates since the turn of the century, while touring, have come in 2018.
They could afford to focus all of their attention of picking up wickets thanks to their own efforts during a tail-end fightback. England began the day with a lead of 158 but Jadeja whittled that figure down to a mere 40 and took great pleasure doing so. When he reached his half-century, he dusted off his bat – it had been a while since he’s played international cricket – and whirled it around like a sword. England must be uncomfortably used to that celebration by now. After all, it was unveiled for the very first time about 10 miles from The Oval, back in 2014.
Jadeja’s innings then was thrill-a-minute, in a match situation where he and his team had all to gain and nothing to lose. Here, they had to show fight – and an aptitude for defence – with the Test going against them. And he was more than up for it. The man faced 133 deliveries – 83 of were left alone or fell harmlessly by his feet.
But, as will be custom with a player of his charisma – the Bharat Army sang “oooh Raavi Jadeeeeeja” the moment he strode out to the middle – it is the attacking shots that stand out. The six he hit straight back over James Anderson’s head or the cut off Moeen Ali, when he read the length so early and moved into position so quickly. There was also one gorgeous moment when he was at the non-strikers’ end and Jasprit Bumrah kept out a barrage of inswingers from Stuart Broad. Jadeja lifted his bat up and banged his fist into it, appreciating his team-mate’s determination. India’s last wicket added 32 runs off 55 balls. The No. 11 faced only 14 of them and scored 0.
Jadeja looks more comfortable as a batsman now. He has more trust in his technique, which is allowing him to spend more time at the crease, which in turn means he is giving himself the best chance to score runs. The debutant Hanuma Vihari figured that out in the morning. He started allowing the ball to come to him, letting it swing before committing to a shot, and looked far removed from the batsman who had originally made his way out to the middle and promptly fallen over his front foot to be trapped plumb in front for 0. But umpire Joel Wilson, and England, offered him a lifeline. He made the most of it to score a 56 off 124 balls.
There was one foul moment for India though: the captain Virat Kohli burned both reviews within 12 overs and may well come to rue his desperation as England keep building.
It’s been hard work for batsmen in these five Tests. There have been 53 sessions – only four of them have been wicket-less. In the second innings here, England were not in control of 20 of the first 54 balls they faced. The odds are piled high and the expectation is palpable. After 161 Tests, Cook has all of England waiting with bated breath. There couldn’t be a better time for century number 33.