Updated: August 17, 2021 8:40:15 am
As Joe Root crouched in dejection after getting out, the wicket-taker Jasprit Bumrah rushed towards him, his arms punching the air. Like an incensed boxer who had knocked out his champion adversary, he kept staring at Root. Skipper Virat Kohli was wheeling away in delirious joy in another corner of the field. They knew how defining that wicket was.
Getting Root, the pillar of England batting, out was as good as the battle won, as England’s middle-order was flimsy and bereft of the quality to either win the match or force the draw. Jos Buttler did his best to salvage a draw, but Mohammed Siraj’s double-wicket burst sealed a famous, 151-run victory at Lord’s Monday for India to lead the series 1-0 after two Tests.
Siraj didn’t look like someone who had made his Test debut at the turn of this year. He was fearless and feisty, his in-your-face aggression a reflection of the ideals that Kohli keeps close to his heart. Thrice, his double blows shaped the match. In the first innings, he gobbled up Dom Sibley and Haseeb Hameed with the new ball. Then in the second, he grabbed the wickets of Moeen Ali and Sam Curran when the match seemed meandering towards a draw, before he dismissed Buttler and Anderson at the death.
It is another potential tryst-with-destiny moment for Indian cricket at the home of cricket. And Kohli would call the win, coming a day after August 15, “the best gift we can give to the people of India”.
As characteristic as Kohli’s celebratory excesses were, Bumrah’s overly aggressive body language struck odd. Since his debut, he is known as the smiling assassin. But then, the sight of the mild Bumrah turning into a mean, snarling fast bowler illustrated how intensely heated this Test match has rolled out.
The proceedings on Day Five, and a bit of Day Four and Three, could light the touch-paper on what could prove to be a fiery Test series.
No one symbolised the nature of this match as much as Bumrah. He was hustling in, wearing on his face the restlessness of a man out to take revenge. When batting in the morning, en route to a match-defining ninth-wicket alliance of 89 runs, he had copped blows from Mark Wood on the side of his helmet.
And then, Jos Buttler and Wood, decided to apply some taunt into the hurt. Bumrah was infuriated and was heard telling Buttler: “I was not the one who was complaining to bowl slow, man.” The umpires intervened and seemed to douse the flare-up. The embers kept burning.
The next ball, Bumrah walloped Wood through point. In retort, the bowler blasted him on the helmet. He peppered him with more short-pitched balls at his body, but Bumrah either swayed away from the line. In the end, it only frustrated England’s bowlers, as they withered in their futile pursuit to break the stand.
The short-ball barrage was a response to a similar treatment Bumrah had meted out to James Anderson late on the third day. The England veteran too was struck on the helmet and flush on the elbow. Anderson seemed furious when retreating to the pavilion. Bumrah walked up and patted him on his shoulder, but Anderson was still muttering something to himself. The incident could have been the spark that portents to light up the series.
Kohli was at his expressive best. On Day Four, he was constantly worrying about the light or the lack of it. When he was batting, he engaged Anderson with verbals. “You swearing at me again, are you? This isn’t your f****** backyard,” Kohli told Anderson at the start of the over. The England fast bowler grimaced. Kohli did not stop. After the fifth ball, he resumed: “Chirp, chirp, chirp. This is what old age makes you.”
Later, when Kohli led his men to defend the fourth-innings target, he urged the Indian crowd to ratchet up their decibel levels. They responded, and the gloomy Lord’s for a moment felt like sunny Wankhede. More verbals flew, some unprintable, some more like banter. Buttler was reminded of his diminishing returns in Test cricket. “Don’t worry about it, it is not white-ball cricket.” Ollie Robinson, when he played and missed a cover drive, was riled: “The guy laughed at me when I missed a cover drive.”
Even as India’s bowlers tired towards the end of the day, they never dropped intensity. Bumrah embodied it again, sending down a spell of unrelenting hostility at the death, breaking the resistance of Robinson and Buttler, before Siraj nailed Buttler and Anderson to wrap up a famous win. But there are three more Tests, and the series will only gather more heat and fire.