A day that began with England and their supporters daring to dream ended at 4.38pm with India the side celebrating a stirring victory. The Oval witnessed their first series win on English soil 50 years ago and, now 2-1 up with one to play, Virat Kohli’s class of 2021 have taken a significant step towards their own slice of history.
The moment came in familiar fashion, Jimmy Anderson having trudged out to the middle with hopes of securing a record run chase of 368 long since evaporated. Umesh Yadav persuaded the second new ball to rear off the supposedly dead surface for a regulation caught behind, something swiftly confirmed by Snicko.
It meant England had been bowled out for 210 in 92.2 overs and India, roared on by a good number of their own among the sell-out crowd and bouncing in the huddle as the replay shared the news, had won by 157 runs.
Having been skittled for 191 on the opening day and then conceded a 99-run first-innings lead, the tourists had become only the second team to overcome such a sizable deficit in SE11.
That the first came back in 1902 – Jessop’s match – said plenty about a turnaround built on a host of players delivering for Kohli, be it Rohit Sharma’s first century outside India, a fine all-round game of two half-centuries and three wickets for Shardul Thakur or a game-breaking two-wicket burst by Jasprit Bumrah on the final afternoon that underlined this remarkable fast-bowler’s all-format excellence.
Along with the wicket of Anderson sealing the result there were a good few echoes, too, of the final day at Lord’s earlier in the series when Kohli had called on his players to unleash 60 overs of “hell” and was rewarded with the kind of surging, swarming performance that has long been the hallmark of the great sides.
Here, with England 77 for none at the start of play, needing 291 runs in 90 overs to break their own record run chase secured by Ben Stokes at Headingley two years ago, it was going to require Kohli’s seam attack to transcend a pitch that, after 20 wickets on the first two days, was now offering encouragement, it was thought, to only the left-arm spin of Ravindra Jadeja fired into the footmarks.
But along with the threat of Jadeja, who was operating with the overlooked Ravichandran Ashwin sitting up on the Indian balcony like Banquo’s ghost, Kohli had a genuine trump card in Bumrah and in a dizzying 30-minute spell after lunch the pair combined to devastating effect. England, echoing Monty Panesar in the Mastermind chair a couple of years ago, simply ran out of answers.
It was not as if the hosts had not carved out a half-decent position by this stage, resuming on 131 for two. Rory Burns had fallen to the golden arm of Thakur, nicking off to a beauty to become the fourth 50-and-out of the match, while Dawid Malan had been needlessly run out. But Haseeb Hammed was unbeaten on 62 and had the ever-busy Root for company. Hope of an English miracle still lingered, while the back-up position of a draw had become favourite on the WinViz gizmo.
How wrong this all proved. Hameed, slightly tied down in the morning and fortunate to survive a shabby drop by Mohammed Siraj at mid-on on 55, lasted just six balls after the resumption as Jadeja fizzed the ball into the crater outside the right-hander’s leg stump, beat the outside edge and crashed it into middle and off. Another cleft had been hacked out of England’s trunk and then up stepped Bumrah with the chainsaw to start the Indian cries of ‘timber’.
This was a masterful spell by a fast bowler like no other, Bumrah tip-toeing up to the crease before unleashing a succession of rubber-armed rockets. Ollie Pope, fresh from 81 in the first innings, was bowled by an inswinger playing down the wrong line, with Jonny Bairstow’s stay even briefer when a lasered, swinging yorker hit the base of his stumps. When Moeen Ali then fiddled Jadeja to short-leg – England’s 43rd duck this year – Root had witnessed a collapse of four for six in 36 balls.
The sight of the world’s No1 batsman being reduced to digging out Bumrah’s toe-crushers himself said plenty about the menace on show. And though Root and Chris Woakes doused the flames of 147 for six for an hour, Thakur again delivered for Kohli. As with his key removal of Pope in England’s first innings, this saw the seemingly innocuous right-armer induce a galling inside edge from Root on to his stumps for 36.
With this England were 182 for seven, miles from safety and in tatters. It then fell to Umesh to wipe out the final three wickets, Woakes chipping to mid-wicket for 18 on the stroke of tea to end an otherwise impressive return to the England team, Craig Overton bowled off his elbow with a fiery delivery and the latest appearance by Anderson at No11 terminated amid another bouncer barrage.
As England stewed on a match of six dropped catches, missed opportunities with the bat and worrying toothlessness when the pitch went flat, Kohli could afford himself a smile of vindication given the swirling debate about Ashwin’s omission. Umesh and Thakur were the players who had freshened up his attack after their innings defeat at Headingley, Jadeja had met his brief as the solitary spinner and, along with Siraj, Bumrah had also overcome the physical strains of four successive Tests.
The show now heads to Old Trafford for the fifth Test that starts on Friday and England, already troubled by the possibility that the 39-year-old Anderson and Ollie Robinson may be too cooked to take part, must win to prevent this becoming the first time in 35 years they have lost both home summer Test series.
India, the force back with them, have a far more enticing goal for which to aim.