Cricket

India vs England: Kohli's fire-breathing bowlers combine guts, aggression and smarts with bat and ball to conquer Lord's

At Lord's, Indian bowlers stared, they chirped, they roared, and they breathed fire to blow away England.

India vs England: Kohli's fire-breathing bowlers combine guts, aggression and smarts with bat and ball to conquer Lord's

Mohammed Shami (R) celebrates with Jasprit Bumrah after getting to his fifty. AP

It's the first ball of the 11th over on Day 5. Mark Wood steams in and bowls a good length delivery outside off. Jasprit Bumrah shuffles a tad, then backs away and smashes it through point, in anger. No one moves. It whizzes away to the fence. A charged up Kohli on the Lord's balcony stands up and applauds. An uncharacteristically intense Ajinkya Rahane comes out and shouts 'come on'.

Bumrah getting angry is a rare phenomenon. But here he was angry and fired up after getting into a war of words with a couple of England players including Jos Buttler, before the start of the Wood over. It had carried on from Day 3 where he had pinged Anderson on the helmet in a fiery spell at the fag end of the day and things got heated up between Anderson and Indian players as he walked off after getting cleaned up by Shami.

On Day 5, with momentum on their side, England wanted to give it back to Bumrah. But Bumrah wasn't going to cave in. He wanted to fight fire with fire. That shot was perhaps the turning point of the day and Test as well. It sent out a message that, unlike in the past, we are not going to fall in a heap and surrender. We will fight it out. "Whatever happened on the field, charged us up and gave us the extra motivation to pull this off," Kohli would go on to say in the post-match presentation after the win. Bumrah and Shami survived the short ball barrage, took the attack to the bowlers, pushed them on the back foot and planted seeds of doubt in their minds. They played with their minds and the field to script a fascinating turnaround.

Mohammed Shami (R) celebrates with Jasprit Bumrah after getting to his fifty. AP

Mohammed Shami (R) celebrates with Jasprit Bumrah after getting to his fifty. AP

Before the start of the day, England had a slight upper hand. An hour into Day 5, they were into the driver's seat. The talks meandered around whether England would bowl India out for a target of 170-180. At the end of the first session, it had all reversed. And the talk was whether India should declare and have a go at the English batsmen. That was the kind of impact Bumrah and Shami made. And by the end of the day, India won the Test.

India were craving tail contribution for a long time. It wasn't arriving, especially overseas. It often dictated the team combination as well. Playing four pacers meant that lower-order got weaker. The absence of a seam bowling all-rounder in Hardik Pandya was felt.

In the last three years (Since 1 Jan 2018, before the series began), India's lower-order (8-11) had the third-worst average among the top 9 Test-playing nations — 13.39, only South Africa (12.65) and Sri Lanka (12.36) had worse. It further went down to 12.04 away from home.

It meant that India had to be very cautious about the combination to go with and added responsibility on the top and middle order. In the WTC final, India went with two spinners — Ashwin and Jadeja — to strengthen their lower-order despite the rain and overcast conditions. New Zealand went in with an all-out pace attack and it worked for them.

Arriving in Nottingham for the first Test, the 'template' had changed. India went in with four pacers and Jadeja, leaving Ashwin out. It raised a lot of eyebrows. India now needed not just their struggling middle order, but the tail to click as well.

Shardul in that four-man pace attack gave them a bit of batting insurance. Yes, he had shown in Australia that he can bat but with totally different conditions in England and a first-class average of 16.58, how much could they have expected off the Mumbai pacer? While he couldn't contribute much, getting out on a duck, Bumrah, Siraj and Shami contributed 48 runs between them and the 8-11 stand accumulated 73 runs to stretch the lead to 95. Kohli termed those runs as "gold dust". It was a significant lead given the tricky conditions and the pitch.

At Lord's after failure in the first innings, the tail stepped up at a crucial juncture in the second innings. England had a slight upper hand heading into Day 5 with the lead still at 154 and just one recognised batsman — Rishabh Pant — at the crease and a long tail to come.

India lost Pant in the third over of the day, it was a massive moment in the match. They were staring down the barrel. Every single run became crucial. The fight had started with Ishant surviving the last few overs of Day 4. He scrapped around on Day 5 with a couple of edged fours but most importantly scored 14 crucial runs. Four overs later he departed. Shami had got off the mark in the trademark Shami style with a thumping shot through point for four. This is where Bumrah and he got together, survived the bouncer barrage. Yes, there were plays and misses and edges but they survived. Got the odd boundary and that approach, forced Root onto the back foot.

With vital runs being added, Root went on the defensive too early. The slips and gully started to disappear. The field had spread with very few catching men. It was a questionable strategy from England. This is when Shami and Bumrah added smarts to their approach. They milked the singles and twos and kept the scoreboard ticking without employing those expansive and risky shots consistently. They ran 33 singles and six twos, 50 percent of the partnership runs (45/89) had come in ones and twos.

Two deliveries after smashing Wood for that four through point, Bumrah got hit on the helmet by a bouncer. He stayed unruffled. And with each passing over, he got stronger and confident. There were a couple of straight drives off the middle of the bat which hit the stumps at the non-striker's end denying him boundaries.

What stood out was the body language of the two batsmen. They were up for it, chipping away at England's morale. Shami showed his range driving one through extra cover off Moeen Ali for four. The lead reached 200, then 220. The 50-stand came up, off just 72 balls. They were reaching towards the safety mark. It also meant that England's required run rate was rising. The pressure was building. Root dropped Bumrah at slip off Moeen. And then Shami went after Moeen with two fours and a six over the mid-on/cow corner region. That six brought up his second Test fifty. The duo surpassed Kapil Dev-Madan Lal's 66 runs in 1986 at the same venue to stitch India's highest ninth-wicket partnership in England.

All through this, a range of emotions unfurled in the Lord's balcony where the captain transitioned from a quiet Kohli to an intense Kohli to smiling, laughing and cheering Kohli.

As Bumrah (30 not out) and Shami (52 not out) walked back to the pavilion unbeaten at lunch adding 77 vital runs, the entire team and support staff came down and lined up in that iconic Long Room to give them rousing applause.

The duo had completely changed the momentum of the game and dragged India to safety. The talk at lunch time was whether India should declare but Kohli didn't, the pair came out and added another 12 runs before Kohli decided to call them in, leaving England to chase 272. As they walked back, an angry Bumrah had turned into a smiling one as he belted out a passionate fist bump, and a pat on the back to Shami. The mood had entirely changed.

It frustrated England. The drop in body language was palpable as Anderson, who was electric in the field the day before let one through for four with a lazy dive at mid-off.

India themselves have been on the receiving end of the tail-annoyance for a while now. Those 2018 England tour frustrations would have been fresh in their memories where Sam Curran and Co piled on the agony, averaging 21.95 (8-11), which was the difference in the series. The Indian tail had averaged half of that — 11.

When India lost Shardul to injury for the second Test, the concerns about the long tail popped up again. But the bowlers stepped up, showed spine and made a significant difference to turn the tables. In the 2021 series so far, the Indian tail (8-11) has averaged 23.14 while England has averaged just 7.61.

The bowlers were working hard on their batting in the background. It was a self realisation more than anything else.

These tail contributions can have a significant impact on the opposition's psyche. It also forces a change in momentum. From being on the front foot for most of the Test, England suddenly found themselves on the back foot. And the jangling nerves were visible with fire-breathing Bumrah and Shami steaming in as the English openers walking back inside the first two overs. Lord's was buzzing. India were buzzing. There was adrenaline coursing through their veins.

It was time for their bowling skills to take over from their batting resolve. They swung, seamed and made the English batsmen look deer in headlights. It was the same pitch. Same conditions. And they were doing it better than England. The buzz grew louder, the Mexican waves took flight in full flow. Ishant joined the Bumrah-Shami party and so did Siraj — the workhorse, the pressure builder. He made things happen in the first innings and was making them happen in the second, turning up the aggression and ripping through the middle-order.

This bowling line-up had clawed its way back in the first innings to dismiss England for 391 from a position of 341/5. And here they were wielding their magic again.

They all gathered around every new incoming English batsman like a herd of wolves. Constantly getting into his ears.

"We don't mind a bit of banter but if you go after one of our guys and all eleven of us will come back at you," Rahul minced no words after the match.

Catches were dropped but their energy didn't. Buttler and Robinson threatened to keep India at bay with their 79-ball 30-run partnership. India needed a wicket with time running out. Then Bumrah arrived from round the wicket to Robinson: Bouncer, full, full, bouncer, bouncer and then the genius slower one. Foxes Robinson. Dead plumb. Bumrah's bowling is not just about aggression and skill, it's about smarts as well. When there is nothing happening, Bumrah makes it happen.

And then Siraj came back and delivered the knockout punch.

They stared, they chirped, they roared, and they breathed fire to blow away England.

Just like Nottingham, the Lord's Test ebbed and flowed. It was a wonderful theatre.

It told the story of India's tremendous mental strength and belief, again. The story of unpredictability in Tests. The story of Indian tail's guts and resolve. The story of Root's loneliness in that England batting order.

And...The story of what happens when you make Bumrah angry.

Updated Date: August 17, 2021 09:11:43 IST

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