There was much talk before this game about the six-week hiatus the India team enjoyed after the World Test Championship and the opportunity it afforded them to enjoy the delights of Britain. Some disappeared into the Scottish highlands, others to England’s hinterlands and the youngest of the crew threw themselves into the hipster dens of east London. Their break has clearly had a lasting impact because even on day three of the Test match the holiday spirit has not quite left them.
From the moment that Rishabh Pant walked out for his flirtatious cameo in the morning, it was clear that India’s lower order were up for a good time. Jimmy Anderson had just wound up for his second over of the day when Pant smacked him through the covers for four, chasing him down the pitch like someone trying to shoo a cat off their lawn. He scurried out of the crease for singles that were not there and hooked anything short. England must have thought that, if the rest of the batters took this approach, they would have a shot at an unlikely first-innings lead.
Ravi Jadeja, in particular, looked at times like a walking wicket. There is laid-back and then there is nearly getting run out when you have taken your gloves off and you are dithering around in the middle of the pitch. But the only thing England picked up from his carefree batting was an equally loose approach to fielding. And the difference was, Jadeja was enjoying himself.
The No 7 quickly overtook the settled KL Rahul in the scoring stakes. Like Root, Rahul was the blu-tack holding together the top and tail of an innings so fragile it might easily have torn apart. And where the lower order wanted their moment in the sun, Rahul spent much of the morning trying to get out of the rain. Anderson’s first over to him was a proper tester and, when the squalls came, Rahul was Mr Safety First, heading towards the pavilion before the umpires had made an official decision.
His calmness at the crease has been in marked contrast to that of many of the England batsmen and goes a long way to countering the earlier criticisms that he could suffer from nerves in high-pressure situations. His part in this Test match was by no means assured until Mayank Agarwal suffered concussion in the nets; it will be hard to remove him from the opener’s spot after this performance. He has defended patiently and with confidence, waiting for the right balls to unfurl his favourite square drives, and could be seen giving Jadeja a little talking to at moments after the latter’s near run-out.
It certainly did not dampen Jadeja’s spirits too much. As soon as Anderson strayed on to middle stump, Jadeja picked the ball over fine-leg for a mighty six into the stands. The crowd, preoccupied with their pints, did not seem too interested in searching for the ball, and the fourth official had to run out with a shiny silver case of replacements. It was hard cheese for England, who had been working so hard to keep that one swinging.
Jadeja was swinging, too. He went at Anderson’s next delivery like someone wielding a mace in a historical reconstruction; it was a relief to everyone when he missed. And when Ollie Robinson replaced Anderson, Jadeja cut his very first ball for four to bring up his 50 and gave his trademark Zorro swish with his blade. Someone in the crowd attempted to replicate it with his umbrella. The rest of the India team applauded enthusiastically from the dressing room.
India’s tail let them down repeatedly in the 2018 series. But when they lost both Rahul and Shardul Thakur, just 22 runs ahead, Jadeja went for broke, and his confidence was catching. The new ball flew off edges and over fielders, plopping down in wide safe patches of grass where it was never supposed to be. At one stage Anderson was haplessly chasing down balls from Mohammed Shami all the way between mid-on and mid-off, and even the one he caught dribbled down his front and on to the turf.
As for Jasprit Bumrah, it augurs poorly for England’s batsmen that the bowler seemed to be having the time of his life. Three deliveries from Sam Curran went for four, six, four – the six clubbed to the square-leg boundary, where Dan Lawrence ended up starfishing in an entertaining but spectacularly undignified attempt to make the catch. Making England’s batsmen look embarrassed in the field was what India had been doing all day. Bumrah pumped the air with his bat.
At the other end Mohammed Siraj’s efforts would have won him excellent scores in an Air Batting World Championship. They still annoyed Anderson, who had supposedly been brought on to mop things up, enough to earn the tail-ender a special shoulder-bump at the end of an over. Bumrah, meanwhile, unleashed a perfectly respectable on-drive off Robinson, finishing with 28 off 34 deliveries. His previous Test highlights with the bat included 4, 6 and a landmark 10 not out against New Zealand. The Great British Holiday lives on.