India head into the fifth Test in Manchester starting on Friday just one match away from the superb achievement of winning Test series in both Australia and England in the same year.
Their 157-run win at The Oval, which put them 2-1 up with one to play, came after England’s innings and 76-run victory at Headingley, where India were dismissed for just 78 in the first innings.
But it was a different story in south London.
Rohit Sharma scored his first Test hundred outside India, all-rounder Shardul Thakur hit fifties in both innings and took valuable wickets, and Ravindra Jadeja bowled some probing spin.
Jasprit Bumrah’s devastating spell of reverse swing – 6-3-6-2 – was then instrumental in England losing their last eight wickets for 69 runs as India bounced back in style.
India’s win was made all the more remarkable by the omission of Ravichandran Ashwin, yet to feature in this series, despite the off-spinner’s haul of 413 Test wickets.
In Australia, India recovered from being 36 all out in the series opener to win 2-1 and they now lead England by the same scoreline after bouncing back from another batting collapse.
“It was unbelievable,” said India captain Virat Kohli after the victory. “We love being written off and I think a lot of people after Leeds really stood up and said, ‘Will India be able to come back?’
“But we’ve shown time and time again that we are a top side and we have been at the top for a while now, and that’s because of the belief and the passion that we have in this group,” he added.
BCCI president Sourav Ganguly, himself a former India captain, wrote on Twitter: “The skill is the difference but the biggest difference is the absorbing power of pressure. Indian cricket is far ahead than the rest.”
But no one is now writing off India, who have been in England since losing the inaugural World Test Championship final to New Zealand in June.
In Manchester, however, India must cope with the pressure of being favourites to win, or at least avoid defeat, if they are to enjoy just a fourth series victory in England following their 1971, 1986 and 2007 triumphs.
India may be able to summon some of the ‘backs to the wall’ spirit Kohli thrives upon from knowing they will be without head coach Ravi Shastri, bowling coach Bharat Arun and fielding coach Ramakrishnan Sridhar, who will all miss the match after testing positive for Covid-19.
England not managing pressure points
Meanwhile, England are on the brink of losing two Test series in a home season for the first time since 1986.
Veteran seamer James Anderson and Ollie Robinson have both bowled more than 163 overs each so far this series, the pair combining for 36 wickets in the absence of the injured Stuart Broad and Jofra Archer, with all-rounder Ben Stokes missing the series due to mental- health issues.
“You want to make sure you do the best thing for the player but you also don’t want to go into a Test match and someone goes down injured and you’ve got one less bowler at your disposal,” said England captain Joe Root.
Root said Jos Buttler, who missed the fourth Test for the birth of his second child, would return as England’s vice-captain and wicketkeeper.
It means Jonny Bairstow, who kept wicket at The Oval, is in line to miss out given batsman Ollie Pope made 81 on his England return in that match.
England could play two spinners at Old Trafford after Somerset left-armer Jack Leach was recalled in addition to Moeen Ali.
Root said not managing key pressure points had “really cost us”.
So, too, has a lack of runs from anyone other than the England skipper, the world’s top-ranked Test batsman.
Root has scored 564 runs at an average of 94, including three hundreds, in this series with England’s next-best contribution Bairstow’s 184 runs at 26.28.
Root, in a plea to his team, asked: “Can you be the one to go and make that big score and to really put us in a position of strength, be part of a really big partnership?”
© Agence France-Presse
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