, Waqar Younis took 113 first-class wickets at 18 – and, to please new strike-rate convert Anindya Dutta, a wicket every six overs – at the Kennington Oval, including 11 in two Tests, built in large part on his devastating reverse-swinging yorkers that had stumps and toes alike in danger.
It’s no exaggeration to say that the now-ex Pakistan bowling coach would have been proud if he had bowled Jasprit Bumrah’s post-lunch spell that did the bulk of the work of sending India 2-1 up in the series, giving India their first win at the Oval in half a century and marking the first time they’d ever won more than one Test in a series in England
Figures of 6-3-6-2 read like a tennis score, and no wonder with Bumrah serving down ace after slicing ace. He did Ollie Pope for sheer heat as a nip-backer just would not stop coming at him on it’s way through to the stumps, and Jonny Bairstow now knows exactly what nightmares batters of the 1990s went through seeing a Waqar heat-seeker scream in at them.
Bumrah, for all the quirks of his run-up, is more orthodox in his upright delivery stance and braced front knee than the slingy Pakistan great. But so good is his wrist, and so precise his positioning of the seam, that in around an hour of brilliance he was able to get an old ball to talk on a pitch that everyone thought was unresponsive, and make even the outrageously in-form Joe Root abandon all thoughts of a England win.
And with Ravindra Jadeja ripping the ball out of the footmarks from the Vauxhall End to prise out the obdurate Haseeb Hameed and ending a disappointing Test for Moeen Ali in his own miserly spell of 7-3-2-10, there was nowhere to go for England.
Fifteen overs went by without a boundary, and in the middle 20 minutes of that suffocating 60, four wickets fell for just six runs.
At the end of yesterday, it seemed hard to imagine that 13 wickets had fallen on day 1. Halfway through today, it seemed hard to imagine that England had been 100 for none half an hour into day 5. But Rory Burns in particular had looked comfortable against India’s seamers, who were accurate but non-threatening in the first half an hour.
But, as at Lord’s, India’s whole attack proved themselves capable of making contributions. Umesh Yadav, unused to bowling away from home in recent years but highly skilled on unresponsive wickets, had the potentially stickable Chris Woakes well caught by KL Rahul at very short midwicket on the stroke of tea, but we have to talk about Shardul Thakur.
He is as close as India have to a classic swing bowler, certainly with Bhuvneshwar Kumar seemingly no longer fit enough to play Test cricket. And like Umesh he has years of working out ways to succeed on slow Indian pitches. But even so, and even with the confidence of sparkling twin fifties, he had looked so innocuous in England’s first innings that he felt like a makeweight going into their second. He didn’t bowl in two hours yesterday.
But on he came, bowling in the fourth innings for the first time in his short Test career, and with his fourth ball bowled the platonic ideal of the right-armer to the left-hander round the wicket, getting the ball to both seam and swing away against the angle and leaving Burns hoping he missed it. He didn’t, and so it was 50 and out on his home ground.
Even players not in the playing XI made contributions. Dawid Malan had looked positive in defence against Jadeja, using his feet well to smother any turn out of the rough. But a moment’s hesitation to a tight call for a single by Hameed, a sharp pickup and throw by sub fielder Mayank Agarwal, who moved swiftly following a stint at bat-pad, and a good take by Rishabh Pant, saw England’s No 3 record his first failure in this return to the team.
Joe Root was typically positive when he came in, scoring freely behind square on both sides of the wicket and even in the midst of the collapse managing an on-drive, almost his first of the series. But even he could not remain fluent once Bumrah and Jadeja did their work, and from the fall of Moeen to his own dismissal, chopping on trying to steer Thakur, who this time struck first ball of a spell, he managed just 18 in 38 balls.
India were so all over England that they didn’t even need R Ashwin, Ishant Sharma or Mohammed Shami, who have 919 Test wickets between them. Any or all of the three could play at Old Trafford, as could one or both of Rohit Sharma and Cheteshwar Pujara, who did not field in the fourth innings with knee and ankle pain respectively but did so much to set up this victory with their superb batting.
India were so all over England they didn’t even need every chance to go their way. There were lost reviews, DRS reprieves in favour of England, and Mohammed Siraj and Ajinkya Rahane, the two Indian players in this eleven who would say they didn’t contribute much, dropped a sitter and a presentable chance respectively. Siraj added injury to insult by letting the ball, a bizarre panicky half-sweep from Hameed, thump him in the Gooly Wooly Woolies (EJCLCR Rainford-Brent™).
India were so all over England that they didn’t even need to take the new ball as soon as it became available. They bowled 49 balls with the now-very-old, taking two for 20. And four balls after they did, Umesh got the new dark Duke to bite off the proud seam and painfully bowl Craig Overton off an unprotected back elbow.
One to go, 33 more overs to bowl, and another round of Bumrah v James Anderson.
But, as though as reward for old ball toil, it was Umesh who saw off the great man who could only poke behind.
So the series moves to Old Trafford.
Ravi Shastri certainly won’t be there. Neither will Bharat Arun, the fast bowling coach who’s done more than anyone else to turn India into a pace-powered overseas win machine, or fielding coach R Sridhar. They will preside over their last Test before stepping aside from hundreds of miles away.
But, assuming the rain stays away in Manchester, England will have the fight of their lives on their hands to avoid an outright series defeat that would damage even at this early stage their chances of World Test Championship final qualifications.
This report has been very India-focused despite England losing 10 wickets in two and a bit sessions on a theoretically flat pitch. Let others do the wailing and gnashing of teeth. Let others call for the umpteenth root and branch review. Let others promote their favourite county player to replace whoever you care to name.
The agency today was all the visitors’, powered by the latest subcontinental swing sensation to grace England’s oldest Test ground, and the hosts, who were pretty good for most of the Test, ended up simply as collateral damage.