Its 1:00 pm at the Oval, where the Test is just 90 minutes old. Had this been a football game, these would have been the dying minutes of the game. And if you were an Indian fan, you perhaps wouldve wanted this to be football since if only to hear the final whistle. With Indias score reading 36/5, the Test and series were as good as over. So early in the Test, a 3-1 series result seemed an eventuality. For the rest of the Test, only the other blanks in the scorecard remained to be filled.
At stumps, there would be a minor change of script as Mahendra Singh Dhoni played a captains knock of 82 but India still folded up for just 148. After that, England got their 90 minutes under the sun. That began the second one-sided contest of the day. At stumps, against a listless Indian bowling attack, openers Alastair Cook (24) and Sam Robson (33) took England to 62/0.
On the first day of the final Test, England had given further evidence that they were the better side. India, meanwhile, were once again proving to be poor travellers, Test-challenged and IPL-addicted. Every stereotype associated with Indian cricket, however unfair or rhetorical, seemed apt on Friday.
Like in the first innings at Old Trafford, Indias top-five had once again aggregated all of 36 runs between them. Incredibly, while matching their worst show in this Test series, they also had managed a couple of new lows. Losing a wicket in the first over, an openers golden duck, no 50 partnership in the top half -- none of these tragedies had figured in Indias sob story in England so far. At the Oval, they were being effortlessly enacted and painfully watched. It seemed Indias batting elite were saving their worst for last. Worst, only if they dont get any worse in the second innings.
It all looked eerily familiar when Gautam Gambhir and Murali Vijay walked out to be bat against James Anderson and Stuart Broad under overcast conditions. The trauma of last weeks batting collapse seemed as fresh in their minds as the green pitch and the grey morning. The next hour and a half showed that Indias Gen Next batsmen werent yet ready for away tours, top quality seam and swing bowling and, definitely not for a five-match Test series. They hadnt been able to rectify the batting flaws repeatedly exploited by their rivals, nor were they able to defeat the doubting demons residing in their minds.
The slide started early when Gambhir first played, then left and finally played at the fourth ball of the day. His late withdrawal of the bat to an Anderson rising ball made it 0/1. That dismissal encapsulated how England had expertly exploited the insecurity and indecisiveness of Indias top order. Broad, with his black eyes and stitched face, and Anderson, the foul-mouthed bad boy, formed an intimidating pair on the pitch with a greenish tinge. They ruthlessly opened every old wound they had inflicted in this series.
Anderson showcased three balls - the one that came in and went away, the big in-swinger and the wobbly seam delivery that straightened. Broad, on the other hand, would make the ball to nip around. He would trouble the right-handers with the ball that would shoot up to the abdomen after pitching. These weapons were used to deepen the mental scars of the Indian batsmen.
Deja vu for Pujara<>/b
Pujaras dismissal was very similar to the one at Lords where Ben Stokes had got through his bat and pad with a mean in-cutter. Broad would hit the No.3s torso a few times till he got that perfect ball that was pitched outside off stump. This one would go on to hit the stumps after wriggling between the left leg and bat, hitting the elbow on the way.
Next was Virat Kohli, the batsman who has so often in this series been playing at balls that he should be leaving. So here he was making a conscious decision to shoulder arms. To do that over a period of time, you need to know where your off-stump is. Just when it seemed he had finally found his touch, a stunning straight drive past mid-on off Anderson being the evidence, he was out leaving a ball he should have played. The under-rated Chris Jordan got the ball to slightly move and the umpire decided that it wouldve hit the stumps.
Jordan got another wicket when Ajinkya Rahane once again played a nothing stroke into the hands of the bowler. The man who seemed the most-comfortable among Indias top order hadnt lived up to his post-Lords reputation. The same was true for Murali Vijay, who threw it all away after a very disciplined stay of 64 balls. Since the runs were drying up, Vijay tried to do run a Chris Woakes ball to third man -- something he has attempted so often in this series to get the scoreboard moving. But Joe Root, fielding at point, grabbed the catch with his finger-tips.
For England, it had worked out really well. In the first hour, Anderson and Broad had made it 26/2 before the second-stringers in Jordan and Woakes joined the party to make it 36/5.
All through this disappointing day, a flock of pigeons occupied the central square, pecking at the grass to find food. They occasionally ventured towards the pitch, where they found great company in a few sitting ducks.