It was a magnificent final day in Southampton, with England sealing the Test and the series. But as Ben Jones writes, for thirteen deliveries, India dared to dream.
At the start of today’s play, Indian coach Ravi Shastri asserted that the chase was a 50/50 call. He felt that his side were as likely to chase their target down as they were likely to fall short. A contest that started with the toss of a coin was also going to end with one.
The numbers didn’t quite agree with the Indian leader. As Sam Curran and Stuart Broad walked out to the crease at the beginning of the day, WinViz gave India just a 29% chance of victory, hardly out of the contest but their opponents certainly tagged as favourites.
However, at one moment on a remarkable final day of this Test, Shastri couldn’t have been more correct. When the Indian captain Virat Kohli reached his half-century, WinViz had the game at evens. 50 for Kohli, 50% for England, 50% for India. It was as tight as a match between two sides can be. The crowd in Southampton was sparser than many would have hoped, but those who were there were gripped, enthralled by a game completely, perfectly, precisely in the balance. Then it tipped.
For thirteen balls.
That’s how long India were favourites today. For thirteen deliveries, between the fourth ball of the 49th over, until the fifth ball of the 51st over, India’s WinViz was higher than England’s. Thirteen deliveries where English fans and players held their breath. Thirteen deliveries, thirteen minutes, where India were still in this series.
My, how India had fought to get to that position. Kohli played magnificently, with a degree of caution and care which acknowledged, implicitly, that this was going to be down almost solely to him. He offered just six false shots in his entire innings. His false shot percentage of 5% was the lowest for any prolonged innings, on either side, in this series. He dug in, and forced the game to his will. It took India crawling, creeping, towards victory.
For thirteen balls.
Accompanied by Rahane, the Indian skipper was working with the perfect man for the situation. No batsman on either side has bettered Rahane’s false shot percentage of just 11% this series, no batsman offering more control. At times he’s looked stodgy, barely recognisable from the fluent figure of Rajasthan Royals acclaim, but he’s been wonderfully obdurate. His efforts today, alongside his captain, were inching their side towards history.
Thirteen balls. The same number of false shots Rahane played in his entire innings.
Of course, as you may have heard, thirteen is unlucky for some. Those thirteen balls were the apotheosis of Indian hope, the belief that the luck was in their favour. India may have gone on to score more runs in the innings, but they were never closer to victory.
For those thirteen balls.
But then the moment came, when India fell behind and never recovered. Moeen Ali – the player of the match, and offering arguably the finest performance by a recalled player in recent memory – found a degree of spin which surprised even the Indian skipper. 9.9° of turn, spitting off the pitch and bouncing up onto Kohli’s inside edge, looping to Alastair Cook in at short-leg. No other ball bowled in the innings spun as much. It was a vicious delivery, a game-ender, and the degree of spin is rather apt. It was a 9.9/10 kind of delivery. The kind of ball worthy of winning a series.
And that it did. With Kohli gone, Rahane fought valiantly, but without his partner the tension was lessened, the sense of a rising tide of hope and history no longer weighing on the England team. They rattled through the remaining six wickets with comparative ease, and sealed the contest, and with it the series by a margin which gave no indication of the battle which preceded it.
Indeed, that rather sums up the series. It’s been wonderful, competitive cricket, the gap between the sides nothing like as wide as the series standing suggests, but by and large England have won the crucial moments. They came through at Edgbaston, and they came through again today. In that final crucial period today, with all the combined skill of a marvellous Indian batting line-up, Kohli’s team could still only nudge themselves ahead for thirteen balls.
13 balls. But it’s 3-1.
Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.