India's cricketers may have been forgiven for arriving at the Oval with a sense of dread in the morning. This was the last day of a long tour; with the series decided and the match slipping away, it would have been easy to surrender, to give up hope, to treat this game as a lost cause. Instead, India resisted. And an engrossing series came to a dramatic end.
Key highlights: Anderson reaches milestone to Cook's goodbye
K. L. Rahul and Rishabh Pant scored bold, enterprising hundreds, their 204-run stand broken only after tea, as the fifth Test went into the final hour of the final day. With the skies darkening and India's last pair at the crease, James Anderson forced a ball through Mohammed
Shami's defence to overtake Glenn McGrath and become the most successful fast bowler in Test history.
Anderson, who had waited all day to reach the milestone and had seen a catch dropped off his bowling, raced away in joy as England completed a 118-run victory over India. It marked a 4-1 series defeat for Virat Kohli's men but the task was not as simple as the home side may have hoped early on Tuesday.
Rahul fell for 149 half an hour into the third session, when Adil Rashid pitched the ball in the rough outside leg-stump, and got it to hit the top of off. It was a beauty. Minutes later, Pant fell for 114, caught on the long-off boundary trying to whack the leg-spinner out of the ground. England took the second new ball and it all unravelled quickly thereafter, India losing its last three wickets for nine runs.
At the start of the day, it seemed unlikely that the visitor – three down and 406 adrift of the target – would take the game into the evening. But Rahul and Pant, united at the crease after Ajinkya Rahane and G. Hanuma Vihari had been dismissed in the space of eight balls, did not budge.
Hundreds in dead rubbers are viewed with a certain sneering contempt: where were all the runs when the contest was alive, when the heat was on, when the ball was doing all sorts? Yes, this was a flat afternoon's cricket, when the ball simply didn't move, on a pitch that wasn't crumbling. Much of the tension had been sucked out of the series. A swift end would have been unremarkable, just another little batting failure to blend into the medley of collapses on this trip.
But none of this means that Rahul or Pant did not bat well. They had a strong, motivated attack to face and other pressures to deal with: of playing for their spots, of playing for India. This has been a troubled, tormented summer for Rahul, whose top score of the series before this effort had been 37. In his previous 15 innings, he had made only one half-century -- and against Afghanistan. He summoned the energy here to craft a fine hundred.
In Southampton, Pant had been a man undecided between all-out attack and all-out defence; he tried one approach in each innings; neither worked. Here, he played a happily exuberant knock, studded with one-handed sixes and muscular slog-sweeps.
Rahul, who had swept and driven with confidence, went from 87 to 101 in the space of one Ben Stokes over. One ball he slashed over extra-cover for six, another he pulled to fine-leg for four and a third he slapped past mid-off, like a forehand. It was his fourth century outside India, achieved in 118 balls.
At the other end, Rashid suffered at Pant's hands, conceding three giant sixes. The second of those, walloped over long-on, took the left-hander to his maiden Test hundred, off 117 balls. He became the first Indian wicket-keeper to score a century in England and the second youngest wicket-keeper to score a ton in Test history. As the players walked off for tea, Rahul ruffled his young colleague's hair. They had kept their side in the game, for some time at least.