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World Test Championship 2021/23

India, take heart: A bad start is no death sentence at The Oval

by Michael Rudling 5 minute read

India have a lot of work to do in the World Test Championship final, but they can take heart from the Oval’s recent history.

England were in a dominant position against South Africa on day one of the 2012 Oval test after losing just three wickets, but things changed fast on the second morning as they were skittled for under 400.

South Africa racked up 637-2 in response thanks to a triple hundred from Hashim Amla, before Dale Steyn toom five fourth-innings wickets to confirm an unlikely innings win.


A similar game took place nine years earlier with England winning by nine wickets despite South Africa racking up 362-4 on the first day.

Sri Lanka did the same in 1998 when Muttiah Muralitharan’s famous 16-wicket haul took Sri Lanka to victory after a chastening start in the field.

As India wrestle their way back into the World Test Championship final, here’s a look at previous comebacks at the Oval and what India can learn from them.

England vs South Africa 2012, first Test, The Oval

South Africa win by an innings and 12 runs

Australia and England ended the first day of their respective Oval Tests three wickets down, although Australia had scored 60 more runs thanks to a rapid hundred from Travis Head.

Alastair Cook’s first day ton came off a distinctly un-Bazball 222 deliveries, but despite the different scoring rates both sides went to stumps undeniably ahead.

Both would have expected to bat for most of the following day, and in England’s case, their failure to do so may have cost them the game.

The games began to shift on the second morning after losing three early wickets, with both teams adding less than 150 the next day despite resistance from their wicketkeepers (Matt Prior made 60 and Alex Carey 48).

Hashim Amla’s extraordinary 311* sealed South Africa’s comeback in 2012, although it was the complete lack of penetration at either end for England that really swung the match, with Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis also scoring hundreds as Andrew Strauss’ men took just two wickets in 189 overs.

Spare a thought for Alviro Peterson, the only man not to make a hundred in the innings, who fell to James Anderson for an eight-ball duck.

India’s top order have failed at The Oval, and while Ravindra Jadeja and Ajinkya Rahane settled in well, the former’s dismissal has surely ended their hopes of a massive total.

It will take a miracle for them to build a lead, but after being so far behind earlier they may be able to wrestle back some momentum, even if they end up with a first innings deficit.

England vs South Africa, 2003, fifth Test, The Oval

England win by nine wickets

One thing all these games have in common is a sorry bowling performance on the first day, and England were certainly left licking their wounds in 2003 after a quickfire hundred from Herschelle Gibbs took the visitors to 362-4 at stumps.

South Africa failed to make it to 500 the next day, though, and were put back under pressure thanks to a Marcus Trescothick double hundred, with Graeme Thorpe and Andrew Flintoff also in the runs.

England ended their first innings with a 120-run lead, and kept the momentum going as Martin Bicknell and Steve Harmison took four wickets each and South Africa were bowled out for 229.

Trescothick added 50 more in what turned out to be a straightforward chase, as England completed a nine-wicket win despite looking out of the game, and the series, after 90 overs.

The challenge for India may come in the third innings. If they do find a way to approach parity, they will still need a way to run through an Australian top order that caused them a lot of problems earlier in the game

Jasprit Bumrah will be sorely missed, and the other Oval turnaround may leave India fans wishing they’d opted for a different attack.

England vs Sri Lanka, 1998, only Test, The Oval

Sri Lanka win by 10 wickets

Traditionally, The Oval is a fast bowling paradise. It’s the home of Michael Holding’s scorched-outfield demolition job, Devon Malcolm’s nine-for, but in 1998 South London served up something of a dust bowl.

The hosts followed the day one script, with both Graeme Hick and John Crawley making hundreds, but they were pegged back to 455 after Muttiah Muralitharan took 7-155 in almost 60 overs.

Sanath Jayasuriya and Aravinda de Silva led the response as Sri Lanka made 591, before Murali continued to baffle England in the third innings.

The batting scorecard was defined partly by some monumentally slow scoring in search of a draw (42 off 220 for Mark Ramprakash, 25 off 150 for Steve James), but mainly by Murali, who again baffled England on his way to 9-51 in 55 overs, as they were bowled out for 181 in 130 overs.

The spinner was denied a full set only when Alec Stewart was run out, and Sri Lanka completed a famous win by nine wickets.

Given the flat pitch and the lack of spin at The Oval in the Championship this season, the Murali model is perhaps the least likely route back into the game for India.

The player most likely to complete such a turnaround would have been Ravi Ashwin, who isn’t playing, although Ravindra Jadeja does have an impressive record against Australia with 86 wickets at just 19.

After the Australian top order looked comfortable against the Indian seamers on day one, Jadeja could yet be key to turning the match in his side’s favour.

England vs India, 2021, fourth Test, The Oval

India win by 157 runs

There is a fourth comeback, more recent, though by the side batting first rather than bowling. But India will take heart because the team that completed the turnaround was… India, who took a 2-1 lead before a Covid scare delayed the decider until 2022.

The cast remains similar, with KL Rahul, Jasprit Bumrah and Rishabh Pant the three players missing from that XI – all significant losses, no doubt. But the man who had arguably the biggest impact is yet to bat. Shardul Thakur came in at 117-6 and blasted the fastest fifty in an Oval Test to take India up near 200. Though England built a sizeable lead, he bowled Ollie Pope, England’s top scorer, in the second innings, added 60 more in the third, and then bowled Joe Root and nicked off Rory Burns in the chase.

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