After England had dismissed the menacing Rishabh Pant and the not-so-frightening Ishant Sharma on Monday morning at Lord’s, they sat firmly in the box seat, a famous Test victory not a formality but a real possibility. Jasprit Bumrah proceeded to shuffle to the middle, a man averaging the best part of 3.5 with the blade, and it was from then that England began to unravel.
They understandably launched some abuse at Bumrah after his bouncer-filled assault on Jimmy Anderson on day three, but as they began to bowl at him, it did seem England had lost some of their focus. They did not bowl at the stumps enough, with Joe Root spreading the field and opting for a similar short-ball strategy, a tactic arguably conceived more in petty retribution than wicket-taking nouse.
What ensued was rather remarkable, as Mohammad Shami hit his first Test fifty since 2014 and Jasprit Bumrah reached an improbable 30 not out at lunch, the pair putting on 77 together. Bumrah has now scored more runs in this series than he had in his previous thirty innings combined. That is a stat England will reflect solemnly upon should this series not go their way.
It reflects an all-too familiar trait that has defined the hosts for some time. There is no questioning the heart of this England side, seen vividly during this game as their inferior batting line-up, minus Joe Root of course, goes toe to toe with the burgeoning cricketing dynasty that is the Indian Test team. However, they seem to regularly do the hard yards, only to fall at the most surmountable of hurdles.
They will not be given tailenders with worse records to bowl at than on this final day. It was a grand opportunity to force home their advantage, to be ruthless. It is this, along with a top three, that England so obviously lack – a mercilessness to run opponents into the ground when they are under pressure. Something extraordinary may yet happen at Lord’s, but England’s lunch will be tasting palpably of lost opportunities.