A gripping final day at Lord's started with England in the driver's seat, but some poor tactics from the hosts and India's wagging tail changed the course of the game. With England's top-order crumbling yet again, the visitors seized the advantage, registering an emphatic 151-run win.
Emotions get better of England
"SENTIMENT... sentiment is a chemical defect found in the losing side", states Sherlock Holmes, moments before he cracks open a mysterious case in the British crime television series - 'Sherlock'. The statement perfectly resonated with England's display in the first session on Monday, as they allowed emotions to dictate their bowling plans and field settings. So much so, that it might’ve well been a differentiator between a possible win and a loss for Root's men.
After the early wicket of Rishabh Pant, England had their noses ahead with the tourists struggling at 194 for 7. Ishant Sharma went back four overs later, and a lead of 200 looked a distant prospect. But the moment Jasprit Bumrah out, England were suddenly more interested in avenging the bouncer barrage executed by the Indian speedster against James Anderson a day ago, than to actually try and knock India down with conventional bowling.
From there on, the hosts adopted the hideous tactic of short-pitched bowling with men around the boundary against Bumrah and Mohammed Shami, less known for their batting. The slip fielders were out, there was no gully with easy singles on offer. All England needed were a few full-pitched straight deliveries, instead, they were keen on the chin-music practice. It allowed Shami and Bumrah to settle in, the former getting to his second Test fifty during an epic ninth-wicket stand worth 89. India were now in with a genuine chance.
India’s tail wags, once again!
India's vulnerable tail has been causing headaches since time immemorial. They were averaging a poor 12.35 coming into the series since the start of 2020, the worst amongst teams with a minimum of 10 Tests.
“Bumrah, Shami, Siraj, Umesh and Ishant are putting in the effort in the nets and we're hoping for some contributions from our tail-enders," vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane had remarked before the start of the ongoing series. In theory, the expectations appeared a bit outlandish, but the lower order has surely exceeded them.
In the first Test at Trent Bridge, with the brittle middle-order failing to capitalize on the platform laid by the openers, India managed to add 73 for their last three wickets collectively, which gave them a handy 95-run lead.
They went even better at Lord’s, more importantly, when the situation demanded resistance. Shami and Bumrah rescued the hosts from a delicate 209/8 to add 89 further, extending India’s lead beyond 270. Shami became India's first half-centurion at No.9 in two years. After weathering the storm against a bouncer barrage and some heated verbal exchanges, the duo nailed straight drives and a few through covers, with a few perfect blocks in between. It was, in every way, reminiscent of India's fighting spirit Down Under.
As per CricViz, Shami and Bumrah played 30% and 33% false shots respectively during the first 30-balls they faced. But, more than anything else it was their application and immense grit that stood out. The Shami of the old would have possibly gone for the agricultural slog and perhaps thrown it away. Not the case anymore! There has been a tectonic shift in the lower order's approach and attitude, and India won’t mind if the trend continues.
England's perennial top-order woes
“Not again” - was the collective outcry from the English fans when their openers exposed Joe Root to the new ball yet again. Rory Burns and Dom Sibley, known for their defensive play, had an opportunity to make a mark during a tricky period on the final day’s play.
Burns, the most reliable of the two, was bamboozled by Bumrah's awkward pace and bounce, falling in the first over of the innings for the second time in four outings. Sibley, who was hard to dislodge in his first three outings of the series, couldn't last long either, edging one behind off Shami. The pair ended up with a forgettable stat against their name - it was the first instance ever when two English openers bagged a duck in a home Test innings.
37% of Sibley and Burns’ opening partnerships have not made it to the end of the second over— Charlie Reynolds (@cwjreynolds) August 16, 2021
In fact, both the openers have been guilty of exposing England's middle-order time and again. This year alone, they have bagged nine ducks collectively, certainly below par for any opening pair in Tests. Haseeb Hameed, who was slotted in at No.3 for Zak Crawley, failed to carry his county cricket form onto the biggest stage, following his first-innings golden duck with a struggling 9.
England's top-order now averages 28.90 since the start of 2020, the second-worst in the period with a minimum of 10 Tests. It has put Joe Root under extreme pressure and magnified the absence of the ever-reliable Ben Stokes in the middle-order. Should the trend continue, England’s chances in the series will only deplete further, as they will ahead of the Ashes tour later this year.
India’s four-pronged pace attack too-hot to handle
Bumrah and Shami's great batting alliance left just two possibilities - either an India win or a drawn game. The former looked a massive challenge given that Kohli's men had to fold out England in two sessions. But Kohli meant business, and he made it apparent by opening the bowling with Shami, perhaps a more attacking bowling option than Ishant Sharma.
With immense self-belief, and overcast conditions on offer - Bumrah and Shami made an impeccable start, getting two early wickets to set the base for an improbable win. The visitors just didn't let England off the hook as they kept on bowling the probing lines and lengths to test the batters. After the opening burst, Ishant Sharma took it on himself to replicate some of his magic from the first innings, dismissing Hameed and Bairstow with his exceptional nip-backers. Bumrah removed Root soon after, to give India a decisive opening.
With a pace heavy attack, India were never short on energy or relentlessness. As Jos Buttler and Moeen Ali showed resistance, Siraj broke through to remove Moeen and Sam Curran off successive balls, to make it 90-7. The intensity continued till the very last, to keep the Home Of Cricket crowd on their toes throughout.