“And they also awake the slumbering optimist in the most pragmatic of chroniclers”
It has been a contest brimful of comebacks.
Barring the unlikely possibility of a deluge leaving Trent Bridge knee deep underwater, India will wrap up this Test with plenty to spare in terms of time and runs.
Such emphatic recovery after being 0-2 down in the series, especially after being thoroughly outplayed in the second Test, is quite rare.
The performance has been as near clinical as it gets. After floundering in confused bewilderment for two Tests, barring the brilliance of Virat Kohli, at Trent Bridge, the Indian batsmen showed plenty of grit and gumption. And also on evidence was well laid out plans and impeccable implementation.
The batsmen remained cautious against the balls pitched up, and attacked the shorter offerings. They cut out needless risks, did not gift their wickets away. They applied themselves.
Kohli had already incorporated this dimension to his batting. The others now followed suit. The captain led the way as always, with 97 and 103. The openers added 60 in each innings. The out of form duo Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane managed to score useful runs, although their approaches in the second innings seemed curiously unenterprising through great periods.
And the bowling…
Jasprit Bumrah, reinstated in the side after a long injury break, underlined why he is the most exciting talent in the land today. He has taken 7 wickets in the match so far, with a five-for in the second.
He not only moved the ball around at a considerable pace, when he surprised Chris Woakes with a bouncer to get him caught at the wicket, even Michael Holding was impressed enough to say that he had not seen such a high-quality short ball in a long long time.
As far as comebacks go, it hardly ever gets better.
Add to that the significant victories of Hardik Pandya answering the doubting experts with a five-for and a fifty, KL Rahul orchestrating the conversion of the slip cordon from a mishmash of butterfingers into something akin to the Venus flytrap.
The comeback for the Indian side has been holistic, with Bumrah’s success a glittering fractal of the magnificent whole.
However, the saga of comebacks the Test has witnessed is not limited to India and the Indians.
One cannot ignore the trials, tribulations and the tensions Ben Stokes has been through. The court has returned a not-guilty verdict, and I will stick to that as far as his supposed transgressions are concerned. But, the sleepless nights before the decision must have taken a lot from him.
But then, it is not just about the legal litmus-test. There has been the media-hoopla to negotiate as well, which tends to be far more intrusive and incessant. When Joe Root faced the press before the third Test, about 85% of the questions thrown at him by the British media were about Stokes and his return. This can be as harrowing an experience as the court-room complications.
He did look dazed as he bowled in the first innings, and did not quite endear himself to everyone by coming into the side at the expense of the fantastic baby of the side Sam Curran. But when called upon to show character and determination in the fourth innings, he scripted an innings that underlined the resilience and steel under the flashy and heavily tattooed exterior. He defended, with intent. One of nature’s most gifted stroke-players, he gritted it out for 187 balls, stitching a 169-run partnership with Jos Buttler, bettering the fourth innings record for England’s fifth wicket between Trevor Bailey and Willie Watson that had stood for 65 years.
Stokes cut the risks out of his game and played for long periods without scoring. But never once did he look to be struggling. He succeeded in frustrating the bowlers, making them change their plans.
No, ultimately it did not produce a miracle. Coming in at 62 for 3 chasing a target of 521, it is not really supposed to result in anything but an effort on a burning deck. But for more than 57 overs, Buttler and Stokes did make the Indians sweat, and managed to trigger a bit of doubt in an otherwise overwhelmingly dominant performance.
One cannot help but salute this valiant warrior who has reclaimed his just spot in the side.
In sport, they kindle hope. They make the action in the arena poignant and make one reflect on life and its immense possibilities in every sphere. Even in the face of roadblocks and dead ends.
And they also awake the slumbering optimist in the most pragmatic of chroniclers.
Yes. There has been one solitary occasion in the 142-year history of Test cricket when a side has been down 0-2 and has gone on to win the series 3-2.
Yes, that happened way back in 1936-37.
Yes, that was indeed carried out by Australia under the stewardship of a certain gentleman called Don Bradman. Yes, the great man had essayed 270, 212 and 169 in the three remaining Tests to enable that supreme turnaround.
But, this Test match has seen a magnificent spark of Indian resurgence. It has also witnessed several rebounding tales from the depths of untold despair.
The Indian team is finally acclimatised with the conditions. There are vulnerabilities in the English top order that are palpably apparent. So, is it too much to dream of a spectacular end to the series with keen contests in the remaining Tests?
Whatever be the final outcome by the middle of September, the series is beautifully set up.