|Captain Alastair Cook and James Anderson return to the pavilion after England wrapped up the fourth Test within three days, at Old Trafford, on Saturday. (Picture right) Indian players rush to Stuart Broad’s aid after he was hit by
a Varun Aaron delivery. (AP/Getty Images)
Manchester: Cricket’s greatest excitement occurs when a match has a close finish — or else when one team has another on the run, generating the primeval passions aroused in hunting.
Having been hunted themselves for so much of the last year, England have had India on the run in the past two Tests, and are now 2-1 up in this five-match series. In the process England have excited their followers enough to think that they will give their opponents next summer a run for their Aussie dollars.
While it is much too early to make any confident predictions about The Ashes, England’s new regime of Alastair Cook and Peter Moores is now set to go into credit in the last Test at the Oval: their overall scoreline stands at 2-2. England were staggeringly inept at times in the first four Tests of this summer, but they have made enormous strides in the past two, culminating in their first innings victory since the Oval, in 2011 against India.
As England finished off their first innings, with Joe Root and Jos Buttler sharing a fine seventh-wicket stand of 134, the widespread expectation was that if England had India on the run again, the bowlers who did so would be James Anderson and Stuart Broad.
But Broad suffered a broken nose when the ball burst through his grille, and the bowlers who hounded India were Anderson and Moeen Ali, just as they had at Southampton.They make an unlikely pair, Ali with his beard, Anderson with his barbs. As batsmen they had combined at Headingley for a 10th-wicket partnership which had seen England to the verge of safety, but ultimately to defeat by Sri Lanka. More happily, they combined as bowlers to run through India’s second innings at Southampton and here.
It was as well for Cook that they did, as Chris Woakes and Chris Jordan could not compensate for the absence of Broad. Instead of stepping up to the plate, both tensed up — and while England’s selectors will be tempted to keep a winning team at the Oval on Friday, Anderson and Broad (assuming he recovers) may be better served by a supporting cast of Steve Finn and Ben Stokes.
Before India’s second collapse of the match — having lost four wickets without scoring a run in their first innings, they lost five wickets to Anderson and Ali for only 13 runs in their second — England took their overnight lead from 85 to 215 before Cook declared, with Broad retired hurt. The tempo was excellent after Root and Buttler had played themselves in cautiously.
It was a colder, windier day and the ball swung less for the tourists’ pace bowlers than hitherto. But Varun Aaron and Pankaj Singh were as fast as any pair of bowlers — given this pitch — that India have ever possessed.
When Root gloved a ball down the leg side, Pankaj had his first Test wicket, with his 416th delivery. Much heartened, he steamed in thereafter and added a second wicket, with a nice off-cutter that Buttler larruped to mid-off. This was progress: having had no Test average, then one of 274, Pankaj almost halved it to 146.
Before the declaration, Broad hooked two consecutive sixes when Aaron bounced him from round the wicket: for the next ball he went over the wicket and Broad top-edged the ball through his grille, where it lodged. Not too perturbed, Woakes did the batting part of his all-rounder’s job, and began well when he took the new ball in place of Broad, gripping it differently to his stock outswinger and trapping Murali Vijay.
India reached tea comfortably enough, apart from the loss of Vijay. The pitch, with its excellent carry, was sound — but were India? Winning at Lord’s seems to have been enough for them; their aggression had gone into the case against Anderson rather than their cricket. Their catching — mirror to the soul — has been consistent since Lord’s in its poorness.
This is what has been so encouraging about England’s revival. They sensed their opponents’ uncertainty and attacked. Cook, on that horrific fourth day at Leeds and the similar first day at Lord’s, was a forlorn drummer-boy wandering the battlefield after his regiment had been shredded. At Southampton, and again here, he has conducted his orchestra rather masterfully.
Although Woakes bowled too short after his first wicket, and Jordan was not much more than raw enthusiasm until he picked up India’s last two wickets with consecutive balls, Anderson and Ali responded to their conductor.
Anderson bent his outswingers into the breeze after an innocuous opening spell. Moeen drifted the ball away from the right-hander, then turned it back into the bat, but above all made it bounce. This unlikely couple — by comparison with Anderson and Graeme Swann, who had been best mates — set India on the slide with two wickets in two balls.
Anderson had Gautam Gambhir gloving a bouncer down the leg side to Buttler, who had a perfect second innings after a shaky first, and Moeen Ali spun a ball sharply into Cheteshwar Pujara, perhaps too much so as Hawk-Eye said it would have gone over leg stump. “I’ve never seen anyone make such an improvement in such a short space of time,” Cook said of Moeen.
Moeen pushed the ball through quicker, in addition to drifting with the wind and breaking back. It was a combination which had Ajinkya Rahane chipping a return catch. MS Dhoni slashed Woakes for three fours in a row then thrashed Moeen to midwicket.
Anderson could not dismiss Ravi Jadeja — he soon left the field to treat a cold — but Moeen had him well caught at slip, and ran out Bhuvneshwar Kumar from deep cover. While Moeen’s batting has regressed against the short ball, his bowling has improved to the point where he has 19 wickets in this series at 22 each, only a step behind Anderson’s 21 wickets at 21.
If the tourists had a practice game before the Oval, they might have been able to rally, but their specialist batsmen have no chance of finding their touch.
Only two of them have managed to pass 55 in this series so far. Anderson, Broad and Moeen have had them on the run.