@Ben_Wisden 15 minute read
Ben Gardner picks out five moments which defined day three at Trent Bridge, as India set England a would-be-world record 521 to win.
Pujara’s long-awaited fifty
When, from the last ball of the 54th over, Cheteshwar Pujara clipped Stuart Broad through the leg-side and trotted a single, he completed a half-century that was a long time coming in more ways than one. It took all of 148 balls, summing up India’s approach on a day which they began in an almost-impregnable position – slow and steady, grinding England into the dirt rather than pounding them into a pulp.
Some questioned the lack of intent, suggesting that, with rain forecast for Wednesday, it offered England a route back into the game. But there should still be plenty of time, and there will be implications beyond this match – England may well be forced to rest a member of a tired seam attack.
It was a long time coming for Pujara too, with India’s No. 3 having endured a torrid time in his four months in England – this was his first half-century in 16 first-class innings. He wasn’t selected for the first Test of the series, and the questions over his ability to adapt his technique outside of Asia were growing. This innings suggested he can find a way.
The wobble. It’s the peculiarly English thing that happens to a cricket ball the moment it passes the stumps, at which point it appears to be possessed by a phalange-hating poltergeist, swinging one way and then the other, often at the very last moment.
It’s what makes this country one of the hardest places to stand behind the stumps, and today it threatened Jonny Bairstow’s participation in the rest of the series, as a James Anderson delivery moved at just the wrong moment and clanged him on the left hand.
A scan confirmed a small fracture of the middle finger. He will bat if needed, and there is no further news as yet. Considering he is not just an improving keeper, but England’s second-most consistent batsman behind Joe Root, it really would be some blow were he to miss the rest of the series.
So predictable, inevitable even, was Virat Kohli reaching a ton today, that it barely qualifies as ‘a moment’.
In 2018 he has stood alone, and in South Africa and England has done it time and again when the conditions have been stacked against him and when his batting line-up has crumbled around him. He was never going to miss out, not with, for once, his side well ahead, and especially not having fallen three short in the first innings. Certainly England’s slip catching wasn’t going to stop him, as he found out gladly when he edged straight through Keaton Jennings at gully on 94.
This wasn’t his most perfect innings, or his most demanding, or his most important. But it did underline an underrated trait of his; he’s not just the best in the world at doing the impossible, he might also be the best at cashing in when in form.
Pandya’s all-round show
As much as India struggled at Lord’s, it was borderline-ridiculous that Hardik Pandya’s was the place being questioned.
With the bat, he’s been India’s second most reliable this series and this year, and with a 95-ball 93 against South Africa, from No. 7 and out of a total of 209, he showed that Ben Stokes-esque quality of seizing the big moments and doing things other players can’t. With the ball, he’s capable of topping 140 with the ball and can hit the seam and break a game open.
In this game he demonstrated both traits, a timely display of his skill for himself and for India. His five-for yesterday has done more than anything else to put India in the lead, while his run-a-ball 52 today, on a pitch where no one else has scored with much freedom, showed he can be more than a flat-track bully.
Testing the edges
Alastair Cook and Jennings might have survived to stumps intact, but it was no easy passage to safety. Two deliveries from Ishant Sharma in the day’s penultimate over demonstrated the scale of the task, the first whistling past the outside edge off the seam, and the second which kept a bit low and took an under-edge through to the keeper.
All through the Test match there has been seam movement on offer, while on the third day there were signs throughout of variable bounce. India just need 10 balls on target to do something. The task facing England is immense.