(Image Credit: Times Of India)
When Jasprit Bumrah walked out to join Mohammed Shami on the last morning of the second Test Match between India and England at Lords, the visitors were undoubtedly on the mat. Joe Root’s men had one leg firmly planted on the neck of their opponents. It was just a question of pressing hard and pressing fast. Yet, a couple of hours later, a disconsolate English team found themselves trudging off towards the Pavilion, stung by an unbelievable resistance dished out by two lower order batsmen, one of whom, prior to his latest batting bravado, had notched up more wickets than runs in his stellar career. Bumrah remedied this temporary deficiency by clocking what had to be India’s second most important 30+ score at Lords, with only Kris Srikkanth’s 38 in the epic World Cup final in June 1983, ahead in terms of relevance and prominence. The famed menu at the Mecca of Cricket would not be as inviting or fulfilling after all for Root’s lot. A mood that was by then mellow would end up becoming an abject misery as England would find themselves bundled out in under 60 overs after the resumption of play post-lunch to hand India a remarkable victory and a 1-0 lead in the series.
So what was it that made England descend into chaos, from a position of seemingly insuperable ascendancy? The only logical answer would lie in a collective brain fade that transformed what should not even have been a stirring war of attrition into a ridiculous exhibition of retaliation. The seeds of England’s ultimate capitulation were sown on the third day of the Test Match when James Michael Anderson joined Joe Root at the crease. The English skipper, in red hot form, had pulverized the Indian attack and was on the verge of an imperial double century. Root’s exploits had even ensured that England eked out a small first innings lead after India, being asked to bat first, had, on the back of K L Rahul’s heroic century, notched up a score of 364.
Anderson, a workhorse par excellence and the greatest evergreen right arm swing bowler of all time, had bagged a ‘fivefer’ when India batted. Now the 39 year old veteran was given a thorough workover – and inexplicably so – by Jasprit Bumrah. A barrage of short pitch deliveries had Anderson hopping in visible discomfiture at the crease. While one bouncer clattered his helmet, the southpaw copped the brunt of a few other rising deliveries on his body. Ultimately when Shami dismissed him with a straight one that rattled his stumps, words were exchanged between Anderson and his tormentor, Bumrah. The atmosphere had turned acerbic. The English had decided that Bumrah’ s travesty could not and would not go unpunished. There would be recrimination and there would be hell to pay. This is exactly where Messrs. Mark Wood, Ollie Robinson, Joe Root & Co missed and messed up the plot when Bumrah with a Test Match batting average just about touching 3 found himself at the crease with India tottering on the brink. All that the pacers would have had to do was ask either a pair of statisticians or Anderson the Master himself about the number of batsmen who had fallen prey to Jimmy the maestro, courtesy balls that either magnificently left the batsmen or mischievously darted back into them, in stark contrast to those that malevolently reared off a length.
So they tried. And tried. And tried. Unrelentingly. Unrepentantly. Unfathomably. They peppered Bumrah with the short stuff. One clanged the side of his helmet while yet another one clanked the top of it. However, oblivious to the chirping and chattering Englishmen, both the scoreboard as well as the profits of Bumrah’ s helmet manufacturer were the only beneficiaries of a steady accretion, in the numbers game. A totally inadequate lead of 150-odd runs first slid into a comforting territory from an Indian captain’s perspective before crossing over into a positively dangerous geography for his English counterpart. As the verbals and altercations increased, so did the confidence of the men stitching together a memorable 8th wicket partnership. Alternating between sedateness and swashbuckling intent, Shami first glided into his strokes before flicking, cutting and driving with a flamboyance that warmed the cockles of every Indian’s heart. For a while, he even looked as though he was the panacea for the middle order woes ailing his team. Ok That was an exaggeration. A towering six off Moeen Ali not only raised his 50, but also brought every single member in the Indian dressing room to their feet in undisguised admiration, acknowledgement, and applause. When finally, a pumped up, adrenaline fueled Virat Kohli (has he been anything else ever?) signaled the Indian innings closed, Shami had his highest score in Test Match cricket. The unbroken eighth wicket partnership had missed the three figure mark by a meagre eleven runs. It was now in England’s hands entirely to either get both their act and morale together in double quick time to force a draw or to follow a recently acquired habit of collapsing in stunning fashion. Meekly, and unsurprisingly, England chose the latter.
Ishant, Bumrah, Siraj and Shami ripped an extraordinarily fragile looking English batting to absolute shreds. As the bowlers were busy taking their opponents to the cleaners, only Joe Root looked capable of offering even a modicum of resistance. Even though Jos Buttler did his best to stodgily occupy the crease, he will unfortunately be remembered in this Match more for engaging Bumrah in agitated banter than for the employ of his willow. Rory Burns and Dom Sibley achieved the unglamorous distinction of being the only English opening pair to have grabbed a pair at home, while Sam Curran earned the unenviable record of being the first cricketer to bag a king pair at Lords. Mohammed Siraj, with his uncanny ability to move the ball both ways, demonstrated with surgical precision as to why he was Indian cricket’s most exciting new find as he ran rings around the hapless English batsmen. Bumrah’ s pure brilliance in hoodwinking Ollie Robinson with a slower ball, after softening him up with a couple of fast, short ones, to me, was undoubtedly the ball of the match. It was on par with the delivery that accounted for Shaun Marsh in India’s tour of Australia in 2018. When finally Siraj scalped Anderson by pegging back his off-stump, India had won the game by a comfortable margin of 151 runs. Set to score 272 off 60 overs, England had crumbled to 120 all out with 8.2 overs still left to be played.
While the order of the day was logically finesse, an unfortunate flexing of muscles had invariably cooked England’s goose. Even the greatest of them all, the man who made a living pounding heads, operated under the uncompromising dictum of ‘floating like a butterfly’ before ‘stinging like a bee’. If only Root had heeded to the tactics of Mohammed Ali, he would have been all the wiser. Root could also have gleaned lessons from the fact that the fastest quartet or quintet of fast bowlers ever seen, won games and series galore for their side not by merely dispatching batsmen to the emergency wards in hospitals nearest to the ground (although they accomplished this with frequent and disconcerting regularity) but also by either trapping them in front or uprooting timber. The dangerous pacemen plying their wares under the captaincy of Clive Lloyd, knew that in the ultimate analysis, finding the top of off stump mattered more than striking the centre of the head of the man standing guard over it.
Even though deserving victors, India and Virat Kohli in particular would also need to engage in more than their fair share of introspection as they wait out the intervening days before the commencement of the third Test. While passion and aggression denote the exact manner in which the game needs to be played, there is a distinctive line between aggression and loutishness. A captain is not just a fearless and impartial leader of his men. He is also an unyielding but graceful competitor. A veritable role model for all those seeking to emulate him. A benevolent but not a boorish spearhead. Hollering obscenities and expletives within the close proximity of a stump microphone is certainly not a transgression that is expected from someone who is donning the mantle of a skipper. Also, rumours have it that the torrent of bouncers unleashed at Anderson by Bumrah, might have been at the behest of Kohli. If yes, this is unfortunate. I still remember with vividness and a fair degree of consternation, the stern warning issues to Michael Holding and Co by Umpires Dickie Bird and Barrie Meyer as they lay into the Indian tailenders with a hostile barrage of short, pitched bowling during the 1983 World Cup Final. The word “tail enders” is after all employed for a reason.
In the famous Matrix Trilogy, a sci-fi Dystopia directed by the Wachowski Brothers (now turned sisters), the antagonist asks the protagonist (a character essayed by the irrepressible Keanu Reeves), why he keeps persisting in his fight for the good. Reeves’ nonchalant response, “because I CHOOSE to.” It would be of interest to note that although Reeves’ character has the ‘machine name’, Neo, his original name happens to be Mr. Anderson. England would do well to remember this. For Anderson has always chosen well. It has been his choices that have catapulted him to the highest echelon of the game and led to his scalping more than 1000 batsmen in first class cricket. Learn to choose your deliveries wisely. Learn from the preceptor. Learn from Anderson.
The series so far has been exciting, unpredictable and thoroughly enjoyable. Let us hope that the teams keep it this way for the ensuing three tests as well and feelings of acrimony are replaced by a sense of amicability.