KL Rahul sprinted back from mid-on, eyes glued to the ball over his shoulder to complete Stuart Broad’s catch off Ravindra Jadeja.
He then held up one finger of his left hand and three of his right to point out it was his 13th catch — most catches taken in a Test series in England.
But the numbers that matter for an opener have been hard to get. Though Rahul tried to bat positively after falling to in-coming deliveries, he fell on 37 – one run better than his best in eight previous innings. Left-arm seamer Sam Curran, the Surrey all-rounder playing at The Oval, his home turf, got one to swing and seam to hit Rahul’s off-stump.
It gradually opened up India’s innings. And once skipper Virat Kohli (49) edged a drive off Ben Stokes to second slip, soon after exchanging words with him – the all-rounder also got Rishabh Pant (5) in similar fashion. The visitors were 174/6 at close, still 158 behind England’s robust first innings 332 on Day 2 of the fifth Test on Saturday.
James Anderson complained about the original ball — it didn’t swing — and confronted umpire Kumar Dharmasena for turning down a close leg before appeal against Virat Kohli, the one number the swing bowler has searched all series. A review showed impact was marginally in line with off-stump, umpire’s call. Dharmasena got skipper Joe Root involved.
But Anderson, aiming at Glenn McGrath’s 563 scalps – most Test wickets for a pacer – got the replacement ball to talk after tea. The in-form Cheteshwar Pujara (37), playing beautifully until then, was furious to be sucked into nicking one that moved away late. Ajinkya Rahane (0) gave a regulation slip catch.
Kohli batted with debutant Hanuma Vihari (25 batting), who was first clueless, then got a leg before decision against Broad reversed, and top-edged Stokes for six and four. He was batting with Jadeja (8 no). Kohli’s series total stood at 593, but England will fancy their chance to finish the series 4-1.
Rahul has 150 runs from nine innings. India’s top three still scored 536 runs (23 innings) in the first four Tests compared to England’s 394 (21 innings). Pujara made 204 of those, but the real difference has been the lower order.
Indian bowlers have a history of letting the tail-enders off the hook. But the series stands 3-1 in England’s favour because India’s lower order hasn’t fought back. Ben Stokes and Curran have contributed with bat and ball, or with gloves and bat in Jos Buttler’s case.
Buttler, enjoying a Test revival post IPL 2018, hit another 89 – 10th fifty overall to go with a century and fifty in the series – to turn the innings around from 198/7. Ishant, Bumrah and Shami looked tired after long spells overnight and pitched the second new ball a bit short and didn’t cash in on the early seam movement.
Buttler’s 98-run ninth-wicket partnership with Broad (38) helped England score 106 runs in the morning, the last two pairs adding 112 runs and extend the trend for the series.
In the first Test at Edgbaston, England added 63 runs for the last four wickets in the first innings and 93 for the last three in the second. They won by 31 runs. At Lord’s — India lost by an innings and 159 runs — 265 runs came off the sixth and seventh wicket stands. At Trent Bridge, where India won by 203 runs, the last wicket pair added 33 runs and 76 runs were put on for the last two wickets in the second innings.
In Southampton — India lost by 60 runs — Rishabh Pant and Hardik Pandya failed, but England’s last four wickets were worth 160 runs and 93 runs on a breaking pitch.