England secure 4-1 finish despite Rahul, Pant tons
t had to be James Anderson. He bent his back to get a breakthrough, then held firm with the new ball. Two wickets on day one had put him level with Glenn McGrath on 563 career Test wickets. But he had to wait till the very last ball of the Test series to overtake the Australian legend and become the leading quick in Test history. With it, England sealed a 118-run win and a 4-1 finish.
They were made to sweat on a final day that was supposed to be more of a celebration than a chore. The final hour had been called with India eight down. Survival was well within their grasp but you did not have to go far back in the day for a moment when India seemed to hold a few of the aces.
At 167 for five at lunch, there was little whiff of resistance, let alone a chase. The cluster at the start of the fourth innings to set India back two for three seemed to call for an early finish, then the morning’s quick double, taking the score from 120 for three to 121 for five in seven balls, saw a prospective finish pencilled in by Tea.
Yet, when Tea arrived, India had found themselves in the box seat on 298 for five, with both KL Rahul and Rishabh Pant into their hundreds for the fifth and first time respectively in Tests. Joe Root at a loss in the field and a weary bowling attack. Those remaining 166 to get, while not a formality, were very much in full view. Certainly the ease with which both batsmen were playing the situation suggested at least one would still be there by game’s end. Rahul played with an eye on time. Pant with an eye on the stands. The road to this point had been a thrilling one.
Six balls into the morning, KL Rahul had a first half-century of the tour, as Anderson was picked up through square leg after straying onto the right-handers pads.
Yet, having survived a tough first 80 minutes, Ajinkya Rahane gave England their first wicket of the day with a tame sweep off Moeen Ali, straight to Keaton Jennings at orthodox midwicket. Just over five minutes later, Hanuma Vihari was founding wanting with a steepling delivery from Ben Stokes that was far too good for him.
Nevertheless, Rahul carried on with his own plans in mind. Much of that was staying true to what had got him to this position – Test level and at the very top of the Indian order. Playing his shots.
And wow, what shots they were. Further to the boundary to take him to that fifty (from 57 balls), there were eight further boundaries in the 61 balls it took to bring up a fifth Test hundred. Three of them came in the 41st over against Ben Stokes.
The most spectacular was the first: Rahul using his crease to create width to blaze a short ball over extra cover with what is probably the shot of the series. The strike took him to 93, before a hook around the corner moved him to 97. With the final ball of the over, a back-foot slap past the bowler took him to three figures for the first time since December 2016, when England were on the receiving end of 199 in Chennai.
By contrast, Pant’s was an assault on the sense, in the most entertaining way possible. A rock-and-roll symphony that started loud and only got louder. The wicketkeeper batsman – and the term “wicketkeeper” should be used loosely after his poor showing behind the stumps this Test – did not look like he would be around for a long time. But he immediately found his range, hitting Moeen Ali into the pavilion for the first of his four sixes.
The left-hander’s first jaunt past 50 in Tests took 78 balls but he did not have to wait long to bring up the next fifty. While Rahul played cool, Pant played it raw. Rashid was treated with particular disdain, sent into the posh seats just in front of changing rooms twice, with such purpose that the legspinner might have had to pay for a seat. It was the second that took Pant to his maiden century, just 39 balls after the half thanks to those two blows and seven other fours.
Early into the evening session, the 200 partnership between Pant and Rahul was greeted with a quick handshake before both returned to work. But Rashid had other ideas.
Before the start of the 82nd over, Rashid had bowled 10 overs for 54 runs and no success. However with his next ball, he span out out of the leg side rough to pin Rahul’s off stump. Three overs later, Rashid had his second, as Pant tried and failed to clear Moeen Ali at long off.
It curtailed any hopes of a successful chase, but the time out of the game meant batting out a draw was still achievable. However, England still had the new ball up their sleeve and, when it was taken, Sam Curran used it to first find Ishant Sharma’s edge through to Jonny Bairstow, then ended Ravi Jadeja’s 46-ball stay with an outswinger that was nicked through to the same man.
With number 11 Jasprit Bumrah on strike for two balls of the 94th over, Curran’s close it out without incident to give Anderson six balls at Mohammad Shami. He needed just three, nipping one in through the defences to topple middle stump and seal the win and history.
Fittingly, it was Alastair Cook who walked away from his 161st and final Test match. His first innings of 71 was followed up with a 33rd career hundred of 147. Upon taking the final wicket, Anderson wheeled away before finding Cook and embracing his close friend.
Brief scores: England 332 (Jos Buttler 89, Alastair Cook 71; Ravindra Jadeja 4-79) & 423/8 decl. (Alastair Cook 147, Joe Root 125; Hanuma Vihari 3-37) beat India 292 (Ravindra Jadeja 86*, Hanuma Vihari 56; Moeen Ali 2-50) & 345 (KL Rahul 149, Rishabh Pant 114; James Anderson 3-45) by 118 runs.