WE’VE had a bat drop and a mic drop. But the pivotal moment of this summer could turn out to be a ball drop.
Virat Kohli had scored 21 when he edged a delivery from James Anderson towards Dawid Malan’s waiting hands at second slip.
The height was comfortable, around his knees, and Malan wrapped two hands around the ball. Agonisingly, it escaped his grasp and fell to earth.
Perhaps Malan was put off by Keaton Jennings diving across him from third slip but, really, there was no excuse. The catch should have been held.
When, several hours later, Kohli completed an innings of 149 featuring ferocious intensity and brilliant skill, the consequences of Malan’s error were only too obvious to Joe Root and his players.
England had their chance to keep India’s master batsman under the thumb. He managed just 134 runs in ten innings in his only previous Test series in England and another modest score here would have played on his mind.
James Anderson, his tormentor-in-chief four years ago, was bowling brilliantly to Kohli. There were edges, air shots and uncertainty as well as that dropped catch.
But Kohli remained. And he survived another dropped catch by Malan – this time more difficult as he leapt to his right – off Ben Stokes when he had scored 51.
Kohli marshalled the tail so effectively that, when No.10 Ishant Sharma came out to bat, he had scored 67. He was last man out for 149 for 225 balls out of a total of 274 all out. England’s first innings lead was restricted to 13 runs.
Kohli and Umesh Yadav put on 57 for the last wicket to which Yadav’s contribution was one. The next highest score for India was 26 by opener Shikhar Dhawan.
Don’t forget it was Kohli’s brilliant direct hit run out of Root on Wednesday that sent England’s first innings into terminal decline. After just two days, his impact on the series is already immense.
And his joy was not finished. In the final over of the day, Ravi Ashwin produced a carbon copy of the brilliant, spinning delivery he produced the previous day and again bowled Alastair Cook.
England finished with 9-1 – a lead of 22 runs – and the match is dead-set evenly poised.
This was a truly magnificent day of Test cricket. We had Sam Curran’s four wickets, Ben Stokes working up a furious head of steam and taking two wickets in his first spell, and the captivating private battle between Anderson and Kohli.
If you need proof of the action-packed, roller-coaster events, all of this happened when India’s total was 100:
- Ajinkya Rahane was caught in the slips
- Dinesh Karthik was bowled to give Stokes his 100th Test wicket
- Hardik Pandya was given out lbw but the decision overturned on review
- Kohli was dropped by Malan
- Then Pandya was dropped by Alastair Cook at first slip.
Wow. Cricket doesn’t come much more dramatic than that.
Stokes’ milestone means he is the fifth England player after Tony Greig, Ian Botham, Andrew Flintoff and Stuart Broad to complete the double of 2,500 runs and 100 wickets.
In the morning, Curran was caught behind in the second over as England added just two runs to their overnight total. Then the Indian openers posted a half-century stand with minimal concern.
But Curran began swinging the ball lavishly and took out Murali Vijay, K.L.Rahul and Shikhar Dhawan in the space of eight balls. There were some pretty ropey shots among that lot, particularly the loose drives by Rahul and Dhawan.
Kohli’s first runs came courtesy of a drive at Anderson which found the edge and Jos Buttler, diving to his left in the gully, couldn’t grab the half-volley. It wasn’t quite a chance.
Buttler went to hospital for an x-ray on his left middle finger but there was no fracture and later he actually returned to the field.
Anderson bowled 50 balls to Kohli during the 2014 series and dismissed him four times. And he was making life difficult again for Kohli with his swing, seam, skill and accuracy.
Altogether, Kohli faced 73 balls from Anderson and scored 17 runs, many of them off the edge. Anderson, of course, was the bowler when Malan made his fateful blunder.
From the other bowlers, Kohli scored 132 runs from 152 deliveries.
Curran’s fourth wicket arrived when Hardik Pandya was struck on the toe by a yorker and Anderson finally reaped some reward when Ashwin played down the wrong line and Mohammed Shami aimed a drive and was caught at second slip by Malan.
India were 182-8 and England were contemplating a substantial lead. But Kohli farmed the strike so successfully that India’s final two wickets added another 92 runs.
It was a great Test match innings. But England fluffed their opportunity to end it almost before it began.