Rohit’s maiden overseas Test century
At the Oval, Rohit Sharma scored his first Test century away from home. He has seven hundreds at home and now has the Indian record – held earlier by Mohammad Azharuddin – for most centuries at home before hitting the first overseas one. Rohit reached the milestone by launching Moeen Ali over long-on, making this the third instance of completing his Test century with a six (Mumbai 2013, Ranchi 2019).
Rohit has looked like India’s most complete batsman in this series in terms of compactness and balance. It was no different at the Oval, where he was once again light on his feet and played shots all around the wicket. Rohit is arguably the most flamboyant and languid power-hitter of this generation, yet, he showed remarkable restraint in compiling what, by his standards, was a slow hundred. The 256 balls he played in the second innings of the Oval Test was the third-most by an India opener this century in England, only behind Rahul Dravid and Murali Vijay.
“Most pleasing thing was that I was able to play 250 balls,” Rohit would later say on Saturday. “If you look at all the Test matches [in this series], I have nearly played 100 balls in every innings. That to me was a goal.”
At the Oval, England perhaps didn’t try the short-ball ploy against Rohit as much as they should have, given the latter’s tendency to fall prey to the pull. He eventually did fall to a pull shot off a short ball from Ollie Robinson. While the jury may be still out on whether Rohit is a great player of pull shots or a player of great pull shots, his willingness to curb natural attacking instincts and instead focus on time batted has ensured India goes into the final Test in Manchester 2-1 up.
BOOM BOOM BUMRAAH
As a fast bowler, what do you bowl on a flat pitch? You go short or deliver inch-perfect yorkers at over 140 kph and take the pitch out of the equation – that’s what you do, as Jasprit Bumrah showed on the final day.
With Ravindra Jadeja scuffing up the old ball, Bumrah ran through the middle order with reverse-swing during a post-lunch spell of 2 for 6 in six overs. A full inswinging yorker to clean bowl Ollie Pope saw Bumrah take over Kapil Dev’s record for quickest to 100 Test wickets by an Indian fast bowler (in 24 appearances).
“When it started reversing, he just said give me the ball,” Virat Kohli said at the post-match presentation. Now we know why.
Pujara’s assured return
It could be overlooked in light of more eye-catching performances elsewhere. But Cheteshwar Pujara’s 61 from 127 in the second innings of the Oval Test had glimpses of an impressively assured return to form.
Despite twisting his ankle early in his innings, Pujara played with fluency, especially on the cut shot. His 153-run second-wicket partnership alongside Rohit ultimately proved the turning point on the third day in a fourth Test that had been in the balance for the first two days.
Pujara, of course, benefited from a docile pitch and some generous width off the England fast bowlers, but that footwork of Pujara’s, that had looked unsure for a while now, appeared to be decisive. Unlike some of his other teammates, who stand outside the popping crease to negotiate both the swing and the seam movement, Pujara stays inside which has allowed him to score runs, off the front and back foot.
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A 61 at Oval to go with his 91 at Headingley should give the Indian No. 3 confidence going into the last Test.
Shardul Thakur, the maverick
The early stages of Shardul Thakur’s career may not have been smooth, but he now has the chance to establish himself as a valuable member of the Test squad, and his contribution at the Oval was a template of what he can bring.
Thakur has shown a knack for making things happen. On the fifth day, Thakur nipped out two batsmen with two contrasting deliveries – if he got Rory Burns caught behind with a peach that held its line on the off stump after pitching, Joe Root, the most dangerous-looking batter, played on to an innocuous delivery, on a length, outside off.
This to go with the fifties in both innings of the Test match when England was threatening to wrest advantage. Thakur’s 31-ball fifty in the first innings was also the fastest recorded Test fifty (in terms of balls faced) in England. He didn’t stop there. His second-innings 100-run partnership with Rishabh Pant was dotted with some gorgeous shots – none perhaps more eye-catching than a lofted launch off a slower ball from Robinson over long-on for six!
“Shardul’s fifty was the difference and a counterattack in the second innings,” Kohli would later say at the post-match presentation.
Umesh Yadav, Ravindra Jadeja prove their worth
Jadeja lived up to his role as the solitary spinner in the XI, firing into the footmarks to cause doubts in the minds of the English batsmen on the final day. He took 2 for 50 in 30 overs and kept the fast bowlers fresh while roughing up the old ball to facilitate reverse-swing, which Bumrah then put to devastating use.
Umesh, meanwhile, kept finding extra bounce and movement whenever he was brought on to bowl. He wrapped up the win with the final two wickets after tea, finishing with fourth-innings figures of 3 for 76.