James Anderson magical spell hands England win, series lead over India
England needed an early opening on the fifth day and they got it. Still, it is the perfect storm in the form of a double-wicket maiden that followed soon after that will be spoken about for long.
That was caused by James Anderson, who spliced open India’s batting. His masterful reverse swing rattled the stumps of Shubman Gill and Ajinkya Rahane in that sensational over, in the space of four balls. It wrecked India’s hopes of fighting through the final day of the Chennai Test on Monday, the high-flying side handed a 227-run defeat in the first game of the four-Test series.
Left-arm spinner Jack Leach’s turn first did in Cheteshwar Pujara, in the seventh over of Day 5, but the visitors still needed a burst of wickets early as the SG ball has shown a tendency to go soft after 30 overs and the Indian batsmen were playing spin with ease. In came Anderson in the 27th over of the innings, and 14th of the day.
Test cricket’s most successful pacer with 608 wickets struck with his second and fifth deliveries. And within four overs, the 38-year-old had a third, decisively breaking India’s resistance.
Though India were chasing an improbable 420-run target with 381 to get on a final day Chepauk pitch, with nine wickets and confidence gained from the exploits in Australia, hopes of a miracle lingered until Anderson intervened.
At Brisbane in their last Test, India had scored 328 runs on the final day. But the bounce in Australia and kookaburra ball gives way to a hard grind in the sub-continent. Spinners, reverse swing, close catchers, sweep shots and big first innings totals take precedence. England had taken the upper hand in all these.
The visiting team was also better acclimatised. The 2-0 win in Sri Lanka last month allowed England to test their arsenal, be it the spin combination, pace options or batting strategy. India had gone into the Test with no red-ball cricket at home conditions after the Australia tour. There was just a week’s gap between leaving a bio-bubble and entering another in Chennai.
Skipper Virat Kohli, who top-scored with 72 before Ben Stokes bowled him with a virtual shooter, didn’t agree his team was at a disadvantage.
“We don’t want to jump the gun. Our focus is bouncing back in the next game. You could say they are well prepared but to say they are better prepared than us in our own conditions is not an accurate assessment. If you look at the second innings, when the ball was turning and bouncing, both sides were pretty similar in how they went about,” he said in a virtual media interaction.
Kohli almost waged a lone battle. With rough patches around the wicket, it was a tough ask. Leach started the slide with Pujara’s scalp. He got the ball to drift into the India No.3 and turn across and the edge was taken by Ben Stokes at slip.
Kohli and Shubman Gill added 34 runs, but that partnership lasted only 6.5 overs. The 21-year-old has rapidly grown into his opener’s role since replacing Prithvi Shaw. He looked in control defending against the turn of Leach and went after any loose delivery by off-spinner Dom Bess. He hit his third half-century in four games.
With the ball fast losing shine and hardness, England needed something special, and quick. Anderson delivered immediately after coming on to bowl.
Over the years, he has been preserved by England for Tests because his magical swing can be decisive. In the first Test in Sri Lanka, he delivered with six wickets at Galle, and stepped up again when England needed.
The angle from wide of the crease and reverse in-swing from a perfect length sent Gill back. He trapped Rahane with another though England lost a referral that showed the impact was just outside off-stump. But Anderson dismissed Rahane next ball with a delivery identical to the one that got Gill.
He was not done yet. Rishabh Pant’s counter-attacking 91 in the first innings had unsettled the England bowlers. Pant again started by having a go at anything outside off-stump. Anderson set him up with two back-to-back deliveries on that line. The third, a cutter delivered at slower pace, sucked Pant into miscuing to Root at short cover. India were down to 110/5.
India now needed some solid defence if they were to save the Test. Kohli took advantage of a soft ball, rotating strike and finding the fence occasionally, until he ran out of partners. Ashwin braved blows from Jofra Archer to his glove, right shoulder and helmet as he dug in for 105 balls, batting for 78 minutes.
The previous day, Ashwin’s spin had helped dismiss England for 178 in the second innings, but the visitors already had a 241-run first innings lead. England could thus bowl an attacking line and post aggressive fields on a pitch with variable bounce.
Leach, who was belted for five sixes by Pant, broke the Kohli-Ashwin stand, the latter nicking to ‘keeper Jos Buttler an attempted cut but beaten by the bounce. It was awkward bounce again that would get Kohli, a Stokes delivery sneaking under the bat to hit off-stump. India’s resistance ended soon after for 192 as England completed a 227-run victory.
It is England’s sixth away-Test win in a row, and the first in India since 2012.
First innings pangs
Despite a strong bowling comeback in the second innings, Kohli lamented the undoing in the first innings—dropping chances to let England score 578 and then dismissed for 337.
“The Test probably shifted in their favour when we batted in the first innings. We were looking to play long and were not able to do that. I don’t think there was enough application shown by us as a batting unit.
“Last time around when they got 500-plus in the first innings the difference was we also got 400-plus. That’s why they could not get a result on Day 5 because we could bat out for a draw. Things are not as complicated as they might seem to be. We understand if we add 80 runs to that score in the first innings and take two-and-half-hours, it’s a different result altogether.”
Kohli said the bowlers too didn’t perform as a unit. Left-arm spinner Shahbaz Nadeem conceded close to four runs per over in both innings, and Sundar too was not far from that.
“Our fast bowlers and Ashwin were consistent. If Shahbaz and Washington would have been economical, the pressure would have been more. The situation could have been different. The opposition could have 100 less runs on the board.”