The long summer of cricket has finally reached its final chapter. The 5th and final Test match between England and India started at the Oval.
This was a big Test for Alastair Cook, who earlier in the week, had announced his retirement from international cricket after the conclusion of the current Test series against India.
England, who have already won the series, went in with the same playing XI as the previous Test, the only change being that Jonny Bairstow took the gloves again. India, on the other hand, dropped Hardik Pandya and rested injured Ravi Ashwin, and brought in Ravindra Jadeja and 24-year-old debutant, Hanuma Vihari as replacements.
All the build-up for the Test was quite rightly on Alastair Cook, who is playing in his 159th consecutive Test, which has spanned over 12 years. He has been England’s rock at the top of the order and it will be a tough time now for the selectors to find a suitable replacement for him. They are still trying to find one for Andrew Strauss, and he retired in 2012.
For the 5th time this series though, Joe Root won the toss and on a lovely sunny morning in London, on what looked like a good day for batting, elected to bat first.
This proved true, as England brought up their first fifty opening stand in this series as Cook, playing in his final Test match, along with Jennings, with his place in question, had a steady and pleasant morning session on day 1.
Against the run of play though, Keaton Jennings, tried playing a shot on the leg-side, straight to where KL Rahul was stationed at leg slip. It was a shocking dismissal for an international cricketer. Why would you try and play a shot on the leg side if you know there’s a leg slip? Did he not look at where the fielders are? Just another nail in the coffin that is Jennings’ Test career.
Cook and Moeen Ali got England through to lunch on 58-1 and both had chances in the 2nd session. Cook was dropped on 37 by Rahane at 5th slip, it was a healthy edge that flew to Rahane, who couldn’t hold on, and the next over saw Ali get dropped by Indian captain, Virat Kohli on 2. It was a much tougher chance, flying wide of Kohli at 3rd slip, but catches win matches.
The bowling after lunch was very good, Mohammed Shami, in particular, was causing Alastair Cook all sorts of problems. Had him beating the edge multiple times. But Cook remained to score his 57th Test half-century of his career.
Cook and Ali got England through to the tea break with their unbeaten 63 run partnership, as England moved onto a slow but steady 123-1. It was an absorbing session of Test match Cricket but importantly for England, they didn’t lose a wicket in the session.
India’s bowlers bowled with fight and heart, they asked the right questions but it was a very placid pitch, not much swing and seam on offer. They induced many plays and misses, and edges and their hard work paid off shortly after the tea break, courtesy of Jasprit Bumrah, who bowled a lovely over that saw Cook out for 71 and then Joe Root, coming in at his preferred number 4 position, out for a 3 ball duck after a beautiful inswinging delivery that hit him straight on the pads.
Jonny Bairstow was next man in and he too didn’t last long, he got an absolute beauty of a delivery from Ishant Sharma, nicked it behind and was gone for another duck, his second in consecutive innings as England lost 3-1 in 9 deliveries. Lovely spell of bowling from India late in the day. What was most impressive about their bowling was their “never say die” attitude. They never gave up. Their bowling has been absolutely brilliant at times in this series.
England dominated in the first two sessions, but this is why this game of Cricket is so wonderful, things can change so quickly. England went from 133-1 to 181-7, losing 6-48 as India fought back tremendously in the final session.
What started out as a good day for batting, and England firmly in control at tea, quickly changed with the wickets for Root, Bairstow and Curran, all without troubling the scorers. By stumps on Day 1, the Test had turned in India’s favour.
It’s the last Test of the summer but it’s nice to know some things never change, as we saw yet another typical English collapse.
Dead-rubber or not, this Test should be a cracker.