A healthy dose of their own medicine came England’s way on the opening day of this rescheduled fifth Test as India’s Rishabh Pant unfurled a remarkable century that challenged the concept of “Baz-ball” on grounds of copyright.
This had initially looked like a meeting of the emboldened versus the undercooked at a packed-out Edgbaston when India stumbled to 98 for five in the afternoon.
The evergreen Jimmy Anderson had cruised in for three typically slick wickets, while Matt Potts added two more to his growing collection, including the prized pelt of Virat Kohli. But over the course of the late afternoon, as heavy clouds over south Birmingham made way for bright sunshine, Pant delivered a sizzling counterattack packed with crunching cuts and contemptuous drives. It changed the complexion of the day, offered a reminder that Brendon McCullum’s attacking ethos as England head coach is not new or exclusive, and saw the tourists close on 338 for seven from 73 overs.
Pant needed just 89 balls to reach his fifth Test century, gave Jack Leach another torrid time after their one-sided encounter in India last year, and looked a man at ease until Ben Stokes turned to Joe Root’s off-spin out of desperation and an edge flew to slip. Having cracked 20 fours and four sixes, the wicketkeeper walked off with 146 at a strike-rate of 131 to his name and Edgbaston collectively said “well batted, bab”.
Support was required, of course, with the experienced Ravindra Jadeja at number seven far more watchful than his fellow left-hander en route to an unbeaten 83 from 163 balls, the half-century of which was met his usual sword dance celebration. Their sixth-wicket stand was worth 222 runs in just under 40 overs, the kind of turnaround England thought they had trademarked against New Zealand at Headingley last week.
This already discombobulating series finale against India, 10 months after the tourists went 2-1 up at the Oval and featuring just half of the 22 players on show, began at 10.30am for Indian television; not since the 2005 Ashes, when Channel 4 had to get off air before Hollyoaks, had England started a home Test match so early.
Stokes, with Anderson back in his quiver and pregnant skies overhead, had no hesitation in asking the visitors to bat. It meant an early trial for India’s opening pair of Shubman Gill and Cheteshwar Pujara, with KL Rahul injured and Rohit Sharma having temporarily handed the captaincy over to Jasprit Bumrah after contracting Covid-19.
Gill played an innings not unfamiliar to followers of Zak Crawley’s Test career, delivering a collection of four pristine boundaries that could have been hung on the walls of the nearby Barber Institute. But Anderson found the edge of a stone-handed push from the right-hander on 17 and the original Crawley held on at slip.
Pujara, a rare tourist to have acclimatised fully after a stint at Sussex, overturned a caught behind decision awarded to Stuart Broad on 13 – the 36-year-old’s 550th Test wicket, until it wasn’t – but could not add to his score. Anderson swapped to the Pavilion End and found some extra bounce with a beauty that handed Crawley a second catch moments after his drop off Hanuma Vihari on seven. That brought Kohli marching out to a typically friendly Brummie welcome at 46 for two at the start of the 18th over.
His keenly awaited reunion with Anderson was soon paused for two hours when the heavens opened and the ground staff scrambled. And after the resumption it was all too brief, Potts deciding the stage was in fact his with two wickets in seven balls that continued his impressive start to life as a Test cricketer.
Hustling in from the Birmingham End, the Hollies Stand in fuller voice from the extra drinking time, Potts first pinned Vihari, plumb lbw for 20, with a ball that nipped in. Nothing could compare to the roar that met Kohli’s demise, however, India’s former captain seeing his two-year drought continue when he looked to leave a delivery that swung away, seamed in and cannoned into the stumps off his bat. Anderson, not one to be upstaged by a whippersnapper, then swiftly doused an eye-catching 15 from Shreyas Iyer with a short-ball that jagged in and was gloved to the flying Sam Billings behind the stumps; a leg-slip in place, and the 39-year-old’s wave to the balcony during the celebrations, pointed to a plan having come together.
But as Stokes pressed on with his attacking fields, and the latest ball change at 35 overs produced a replacement with little zip, Pant and Jadeja began their salvo. It was punchy but also impressively calculated, the former disdainful of Anderson at times – and Leach pretty much all the time – as they added the bulk of the 121 runs India scored between lunch and tea in a session that saw the run rate exceed five.
The fun continued into the evening, the last 96 runs of Pant’s pugnacious display taking just 60 balls as he carved Potts through the ever-vacant point, occasionally charged Anderson and sent Leach back over his head three times. Stokes breathed easier once Pant fell and followed this by bouncing out Shardul Thakur. Jadeja held firm, however, and England were feeling a little Kiwi come the close.
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