England firmly in control despite Jadeja heroics

Ravindra Jadeja's innings of measured counter-attacking dug India out of a hole, but with a 154-run lead at Stumps, England remains on top.

On the third day at the Oval, Ravindra Jadeja produced a measured counter-attacking 86 to dig India out of a hole.   -  Getty Images

When he got to fifty on Sunday, Ravindra Jadeja dusted his bat off before performing his usual sword-brandishing routine. He hadn't been playing much cricket, the suggestion seemed to be. There should be no cobwebs on his blade for a while now.

On the third day at the Oval, Jadeja produced a measured counter-attacking 86 to dig India out of a hole. He and G. Hanuma Vihari, who scored a half-century on debut, added 77 runs for the seventh wicket – the sort of lower-order strength the visitor had sorely missed this series. India was eventually bowled out for 292, handing England a relatively minor lead of 40.

For all of Jadeja's heroics though, the home side remained in control of the fifth Test. Alastair Cook, batting for one last time in a Test match, was not out on 46 at stumps, with England 114 for two. Mohammed Shami had delivered the first wicket, bowling a hapless Keaton Jennings as he shouldered-arms, before Jadeja sneaked one in through Moeen Ali's defence. But this is a dry, wearing pitch; the ball is turning and the lead is already 154. Ali will be looking forward to bowling.

At the start of the day, it appeared unlikely that India would get anywhere near England's total. Six down overnight, Virat Kohli's men were 158 runs in arrears. Vihari and Jadeja, though, batted with purpose and common sense, getting through the first hour without fuss. The former could have been out twice before he even scored his first run on Saturday. But he did not let that affect him and gradually grew in confidence.

 

In one month's time, Vihari could be batting for India against the West Indies in Rajkot; he may well come to regard England's failure to review that decision on the second evening as a sliding-doors moment in his career. The Andhra batsman handled Stuart Broad well, and seemed completely at ease when spin was introduced. He got to his fifty off 104 balls, dabbing Ben Stokes into the off-side and haring across for a single. The dressing room rose as one to applaud. Vihari was soon dismissed for 56, pushing forward in defence to Ali and getting a faint outside-edge.

India was 240 for seven at lunch, and upon resumption, the fun began. Jadeja raised his fifty (113 balls) in style, slashing Ali to the cover boundary. Cries of "Go, Ravi Jadeja" rang out from the OCS stand, where the 'Bharat Army' was gathered in large numbers. Ishant Sharma fell for 4 to Ali, who was finding success after switching ends. Shami did not help the cause, holing out trying to whack Adil Rashid out of the ground when the situation called for a more pragmatic approach.

Jasprit Bumrah, who was dropped first-ball by Jennings, was wiser. His partner was in ODI mode and he did what tail-enders like to do best: watch the action from the other end. Bumrah spent 49 minutes in the middle, facing all of 14 balls while Jadeja cut loose. James Anderson was driven straight for six and swatted to the fence at mid-wicket; Broad was pulled with disdain. Jadeja farmed the strike well, pinching
singles time after time to the extreme delight of India's supporters.

The last-wicket stand of 32, to which Bumrah contributed 0, was finally broken by a run-out. Jadeja's score was his highest in nearly two years, since his 90 against England in Mohali. He walked off undefeated, 14 short of what would have been a maiden Test hundred. That will have to wait but Jadeja's contribution to India's effort at the Oval has already been immense.