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IND vs ENG 5th Test: When Indian bowlers counterpunched the counterpunchers

The Bazball evangelist Bairstow was launching England back into the game when Indians led by the indefatigable Bumrah stormed back through their skill and relentlessness.

India's Mohammad Siraj celebrates the dismissal of England's Joe Root during the second day of the fifth cricket test match between England and India at Edgbaston in Birmingham, England, Saturday, July 2, 2022. (AP Photo/Rui Vieira)

The numbers would lie, as they often do. The raw digits convey that India’s bowlers let England fightback from 83 for 5 and then 149 for 6 to post 284 runs. A classic England stung-by-the-lower-order tour story. Just change the names and dates. A once-typical losing the steam at the end narrative.

Except that it was not. Instead, it was one of India’s finest bowling recoveries in recent times. They did let England off the hook, but they regathered to pull the hook back. Bazball-indoctrinated Jonny Bairstow could have blown them away, but they clutched at the straws, hung onto the swaying pole and then whipped up a furious storm of their own post lunch, counterpunching the counterpunch.

The Bairstow carnage wracked them in the second hour of the first session. After a rip-roaring first hour, wherein Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami tangoed to produce an orchestra of high-class, hostile seam bowling, but woefully luckless as Ben Stokes and Bairstow survived numerous close shaves. Cut into half, edges beaten, edges falling short, tricking fielders, the pair survived by slim margins, leaving frustrated palms on face, imploring gazes skywards and angry kicks onto grass.

Around this point, with Bairstow on 13 of 60 balls, Virat Kohli’s mouth began to itch. Verbals were exchanged, Bairstow mimed the verbal-yapping, Kohli gestured he should just bat and was told to go to his fielding position. It could well have worked in India’s favour as Bairstow suddenly went for two extravagant hoicks – just about cleared the infield with first and missed the second. Kohli guffawed as a taunt. But the jailbreak was done.

Then India unravelled, as Bairstow tucked and tore into, unfurling strokes of rare timing and power. Pulls, late-cuts, lofted drives, every stroke seemed like a slap on the face on India’s vaunted pace-pack. It is on third day afternoons that pitches are most amenable to bat in England. A long and gloomy day lingered for Bumrah and Co.

But as so often they had demonstrated, India’s bowlers find wherewithal when there is none to be found. At Oval last year, there seemed nothing in their tank, nothing they could harness from the pitch, before Bumrah did Bumrah things, that is breathe life into a dead match. Not just Bumrah, India have a slew of bowlers who could conjure magical moments, bowlers that are not just lethal, but relentless.

The post-lunch session started in much the same fashion—Bairstow searing to his third Test hundred on the spin with a punch off Shardul Thakur. That was perhaps the last of Bairstow’s glory shots. That was the exact moment the game was to change. The Bairstow hundred, his manic celebrations, and the over-joyous fist-pumps in the English balcony hurt India so much that it awakened them. The moment felt like India flicking a switch.

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So often the comeback arc begins with Bumrah. And so it did. In the new over to Sam Billings, the old Bumrah was back. He rediscovered the in-between lengths again, the inscrutable line again, the precision and penetration again. Billings had to shelve his attacking vigour, he had to jam his bat right in time to prevent a yorker crashing onto his stumps.

Bumrah rang in a change—he commissioned Ravi Jadeja for the first time in the day in a bid to reassert some control and block the strangle runs. The move found immediate success. Bairstow could only hoard a single—a thick inside edge—in four balls. And then he copped some Bumrah music himself. An over, though it did not bargain a wicket, altered the tempo. That hunter became the hunted moment.

The first ball kicked up from back of length and cut in sharply to brush his bat’s inside edge and whistle over the stumps. The second held the line and grazed his outside edge. He pounded a short-of-length ball next. Bairstow scrambled to defend. A full next, which again held Bairstow from pulling out an attacking stroke. Suddenly, the bristling Bairstow looked unsure, even cagey. The fifth ball, a stinging yorker, hammered him on the pads. Bumrah reviewed, in vain. But the mood of the match was changing. India could sniff the kill. Jadeja was the decoy—he rifled in another quick two-run over.

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Then landed the sucker punch. Bumrah sent for Shami, just when you thought that another high-intensity over was up his sleeves. But he was just preying on Bairstow’s mentality. He knew he would straightaway look to punish the new bowler. The last 21 balls had yielded him just 6 runs. He would look to thrust Bazball on Shami. The hitherto luckless Indian seamer knew it too—he bowled an intentional loosener of sorts, wide and full outside the off-stump. The starved Bairstow had a wild swing, a throwback to his difficult days, to snick off to Virat Kohli, who blew a kiss in his direction after all the trash-talking in the first session.

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The Baz-ball messiah dislodged, Bumrah replaced Jadeja with Siraj, the least tired of the trifecta. His short-ball had Stuart Broad hacking recklessly, Billings looked to spread Bairstow’s gospel but ended up chopping a wobble ball onto the stumps. Siraj added a fourth wicket to return with figures of 66/4. But it was a day the figures hid more than what it revealed. A day they counterpunched the counterpunchers and knocked them out of the floor.

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First published on: 03-07-2022 at 11:24:11 pm
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