Thrilling finale in store as England claw their way back from the brink
While Kohli remains, India have a good chance of securing the required 84 runs
India’s captain Virat Kohli walks off the pitch at the end of play during the third day of the First Test against England at Edgbaston in Birmingham. Photograph: Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty
Fasten your seatbelts for a thrilling finale. Forget the flaws that are all too evident on both sides and savour a delicious equation.
On Saturday India require 84 runs, England five wickets for victory in a captivating Test match in which Virat Kohli has been the dominant figure. He remains on 43 and while he is there India have a good chance.
Earlier in the day there had been moments when an India victory looked a formality as England faltered badly in the first session. Off the field there was just what the home side were yearning for, a full and boisterous house; on it just what they dreaded, a tepid batting display that quickly punctured the hopes of the spine-tingling contest that had tantalised the minds of the 20-odd thousand who made their way to Edgbaston.
Just after lunch England had slumped to 87 for seven, a lead of 100. All the batsmen had gone, so too any credible expectation of a decent game.
Then along came Sam Curran and his icy, schoolboy eyes, a young man who is still in the foothills of his Test match experience. England in the mire again, a Test team in crisis and the pressure mounting? Not for Sam.
This was just a wonderful challenge, an opportunity to have some fun or, as they say today, “to showcase his skill”. He cracked two sixes and nine fours in a run-a-ball 63. Suddenly India had to make 194 to win and they had never successfully achieved such a large victory target in England. At last the supporters had something to shout about in the Hollies stand.
Yet in the first half of the day England had made a mess again and one could start predicting the “you can lose a Test match in just one bad session” and “you can’t afford to do that against the No 1 ranked side in the world” explanations, not to mention the “they have been catching well in practice”.
In fact England have endured several poor sessions in this match, squandering a solid base on the first day as well as those catches on the second, while on the third morning Ravi Ashwin and Ishant Sharma, two familiar old foes, expertly worked their way through a powder-puff line-up that was technically and temperamentally ill-equipped to cope.
England went 1-0 down to India four years ago when Sharma was instrumental in victory on the last afternoon at Lord’s after taking seven for 74, mostly with bouncers. He might have conjured another famous win here.
Ashwin had purveyed two overs on this tour before the Test yet he has still bowled impeccably and made the early incisions. There is no better bowler at left-handers and soon he found significant turn to Keaton Jennings, whose outside edge presented a straightforward catch to KL Rahul in the gully.
Ashwin’s next wicket was more significant; it was that of Joe Root, who, as ever, had acclimatised with few alarms. Yet here he was snapped up at leg slip from the face of the bat. It was a careless dismissal, which led to a stunned silence from the crowd and Root depositing his hand on his head in a what-have-I-done pose.
Now Sharma took over. Four years ago he undermined England with short balls; here he bowled fuller, consistently finding movement against England’s army of left-handers. He had prepared for this differently to Ashwin by bowling for Sussex in the county championship. Sharma found rhythm and swing either side of lunch and confounded the middle order.
Soon he found the edge of Dawid Malan’s bat as he did with Jonny Bairstow, Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler, who just managed to avoid a pair. As a few members of England’s Greatest XI, selected by the public in another questionable advert for referenda, were presented to the crowd at lunchtime, the mood was grim but the last three wickets mustered 93 runs thanks to Curran. There were some outside edges but also some mighty blows down the ground off both Ashwin and Sharma, which finally opened the throats of those in the stands. At last leafy Edgbaston was transformed into a Brummie colosseum.
Next on stage was Stuart Broad, who had fluffed his lines (and lengths) in the first innings, which meant that he was only required to bowl 10 overs. Now something clicked. Murali Vijay, dropped by Malan off Jimmy Anderson on one, padded up and Broad celebrated, just remembering to turn to face the umpire in his appeal as he reached the other end of the pitch. Up went the finger, so too the decibel count. In the next over Shikhar Dhawan, just as in his first-innings dismissal, played an airy drive and was caught behind; Broad was a protagonist again.
Now Stokes, currently mightier with the ball than the bat, intervened, having Rahul caught behind, which left India tottering on 46 for three. Soon after the irrepressible Curran, despite being on the receiving end of two silky drives from Kohli, found the inside edge of Ajinkya Rahane’s bat. Then Ashwin, peculiarly promoted, edged against Anderson to give Bairstow his fourth catch of the innings.
England’s senior men were eager to whip up the crowd, who were happy to respond. No one left early. There was just one problem – Kohli. He remained, watchful and willing himself to appear nonchalantly calm amid the mayhem at the other end. England tried a review against him and the ball was straight but it was passing over the stumps – even though it had been bowled by Curran. Kohli, the colossus, was playing a different game to the rest.