The improvement from Team India came in the first half hour after being asked to bat.
Sporting comebacks are not a rarity. Not in modern cricket where teams are as mercurially brilliant as they are fragile.
Even so, India bouncing back to win the third Test and keep the series alive is a stellar achievement. Coming as it did on top of two grand batting performances by the fiercely committed captain Virat Kohli who believes in leading from the front, the path to victory was opened up by the rocking swing of batting all-rounder Hardik Pandya.
He made such rabbits out of the England batsmen with the swinging Dukes ball that they were in some danger of following on against India’s first dig tally of 326.
This was only India’s second win in the last three series in England but it was an immensely enjoyable one as it came against the odds. A team beaten squarely in the first Test after an oscillating opening contest seemed ready to be consigned to the history bin when they turned it around.
England may have won three Tests on the trot before the Trent proved a bridge too far. Their batting vulnerability was showing often enough even in the winning streak and it was exploited to the hilt by fast medium swing in helpfully cloudy conditions with the lights burning at Trent Bridge. Kohli’s brilliance then left England so far behind that there were no comeback stories to be had within the boundaries of the third Test.
Would Team India dare to dream the impossible dream? Maybe not impossible, as Don Bradman’s team won a series in England after losing the first two Tests. The balance may swung enough in the third Test to open up all possibilities.
England batsmen resisted when the sun shone although one spill in a Test of good catching standards made the resistance possible as Rishabh Pant reprieved Jos Buttler when the batsman had made just one run. Much would depend on the micro conditions in each innings as a cloud cover brings on the dancing dervish in the Dukes ball.
The improvement from Team India came in the first half hour after being asked to bat. A determination to play ugly had been thrust upon them by the reading of the riot act after the Lord’s debacle. Even then it took considerable discipline from ‘white ball’ batsmen to eschew the shots and buckle down to play longer innings. Representing the new brand of batting more in line with the demands of Test cricket were Kohli and his deputy Ajinkya Rahane, who knows a thing or two about toiling in the straight and narrow Test match lanes of batting.
Turning all those theories about discipline was the advent of Rishabh Pant. His hit for six was a statement of intent from a young man whose presence came as a whiff of fresh air. He was replacing a wicket-keeper who looked less than comfortable playing the red ball a decade and a half after his debut. Pant is from the new school. He is not to be hyped up too soon as some kind of answer to the prayers for a Test wicket-keeper batsman.
His approach bristled with the positive and his confidence was perhaps also reflected in his neat catching behind the stumps. It is too early to say India has found an Adam Gilchrist. But I like the cut of his jib. Hope he goes places.
The wobbling ball is no one’s favourite cup of tea. Many a team has got undone by it, more so in English conditions. Ajit Agarkar did it to the Australians in Adelaide once for an Indian Test win that was as remarkable as this.
The manner in which Pandya got it to shake in the air made it seem as if the ball had a will of its own during its trajectory and that makes it difficult for any batsman to face. This is not the first occasion on which the England batting lineup has come unstuck in home conditions of swing and seam and all the more credit that the fourth seamer should do it in this manner. One man’s batting form in the midst of a series of fluctuating fortunes means Team India are very much in the series despite the bad defeat at Lord’s. Virat Kohli’s steadfast ways at the crease have allowed India to remain in every contest save at Lord’s where he failed. However, it is an old failing of Indians that they take time to settle to alien conditions as we saw in South Africa too. To recast an old ethnic joke about why Indians can’t play the second innings first, we ask now India can’t play the last Test first.