India post hard-hitting reply after Kuldeep five-for wrecks England

replay of , Afghanistan vs Sri Lanka, Group B, Asia Cup 2022, Dubai, August 27, 2022
India post hard-hitting reply after Kuldeep five-for wrecks England

India 135 for 1 (Jaiswal 57, Rohit 52*, Gill 26*) trail England 218 (Crawley 79, Kuldeep 5-72, Ashwin 4-51) by 83 runs

If, in a nutshell, England’s batting approach on this India tour has been to rack up their runs before they get a ball with their name on it, then in Kuldeep Yadav, they have encountered an opponent whose methods could not be more perfectly tailored to confound them.

Few spin bowlers in history have served up a greater frequency of wicket-taking deliveries than Kuldeep has now managed, for in rushing through to his first five-wicket haul of a quietly devastating campaign, he brought up his 50th Test wicket from just 1871 deliveries – faster than any spinner since Jonny Briggs in the 19th Century, and more than 55 overs more brisk than India’s next quickest to the mark, Axar Patel, the man who tormented England on their last tour in 2021.

He has 17 wickets from exactly 100 overs in the series now, but nine of those have come in his last 30. Just as he had unpicked England’s batting in the crucial third innings in Ranchi, so it was on his watch that they disintegrated yet again, in tough but tenable batting conditions.

After winning what ought to have been a crucial toss, Zak Crawley and Ben Duckett endured a tough first hour in swinging conditions to lift England to 64 for 0 with their seventh 45-plus stand in nine partnerships in this series. That scoreline, however, was 175 for 6 by the time Ben Stokes had become Kuldeep’s fifth and final scalp, and ultimately 218 all out, once R Ashwin had marked his 100th Test with a four-wicket docking of the tail.

By the close, England’s sense of a missed opportunity had been comprehensively rubbed in by another free-wheeling century stand between India’s captain, Rohit Sharma, who endured to the close on 52 not out, and the Boy Wonder, Yashasvi Jaiswal, who charmed his way to a 56-ball fifty, including three sixes in four balls off Shoaib Bashir to lift his series tally to a scarcely credible 26.

In the course of his innings, Jaiswal rushed past Virat Kohli’s previous record for most runs in a Test series against England (655). Having crossed the 700-mark en route to his fifty, he had Sunil Gavaskar’s legendary tally of 774 in the Caribbean in 1970-71, the most by an India batter in any series, very much in sight too. But then, in a rush of blood, he charged past a wide one from Bashir, having slapped his previous two deliveries for four, to be stumped for 57, and with a third century of the series at his mercy.

Mercy, however, was in broadly short supply on a dismal day for England. The tale of the tape was a sorry one, no matter how thinly you sliced their latest batting collapse. They lost all ten wickets for 154 after Kuldeep’s first-over googly had foxed a free-flowing Duckett; they lost their last nine for 118 after a skittish Ollie Pope had run past another googly to be stumped, rather gruesomely, on the stroke of lunch.

Worst of all, however, was their mid-afternoon meltdown – five wickets for eight runs between overs 44 and 50, including – surely uniquely – three elite batters with a century of caps each, and not a run added between them in the space of ten balls, as Jonny Bairstow, Joe Root and Ben Stokes came and went with the sort of whimper that England’s no-consequences mindset had been intended to banish.

Bairstow, in his 100th Test, at least produced the innings of raw emotion that his pre-match comments had telegraphed – but, as has been the case throughout a frustratingly unfulfilled campaign, his blazing start gave way to a limp departure. After resolving to climb through anything in his arc, and mixing two sixes off Kuldeep with a fierce caught-and-bowled opportunity in a wild knock of 29 from 18, he stepped into a loose drive with the ball just outside his eyeline, and burnt a review as Dhruv Jurel snaffled the thin edge.

Root, by this stage, had quietly nudged along to 26 not out – precisely the sort of stealthy progress that has habitually been his calling card. But his equilibrium hasn’t been all that on this tour, the Ranchi century notwithstanding, and in Ravindra Jadeja’s subsequent over, he was nobbled by a classic two-card trick – a bit ripper to beat his outside edge, followed by the slider into the middle of his knee-roll.

Root too decided, belatedly and a touch desperately, to seek a second opinion before HawkEye gave him the bad news, and if that was further evidence of England’s scrambled minds, then Stokes confirmed it by the time Kuldeep’s next over was done. England’s captain has cut a subdued figure with the bat all series long – his tendency to hang back in the crease to gauge the challenge before taking it on has, inadvertently, come to epitomise precisely the sort of fatalistic batting that his team would otherwise profess to avoid.

And so, just as he was attracting Jasprit Bumrah magic balls at the top end of the series, so he invited Kuldeep to attack him on his own terms here. A huge ripping legbreak past his outside edge was followed by an inch-perfect googly, which pinned Stokes on the crease as he flapped reactively across the line. A six-ball duck, and his third single-figure score in quick succession, left England too deep in the mire for salvation.

Ben Foakes at least learned the lessons of his purposeless graft at Ranchi, as he resolved with Shoaib Bashir to counterattack briefly after tea, but as Ashwin picked apart the remainder of the innings – before indulging in a cute game of “you first, no you first” as he handed Kuldeep the honour of leading the team off the field – it was self-evident that England had blown their best chance of retreating from this tough tour with pride intact.

Once again, England’s best performer was Crawley at the very top of the order. For the ninth time out of nine, he reached double-figures with more composure than the early-morning conditions might have warranted, with his sublime reach on the cover drive yet again the stand-out feature of his innings. But, once again, he failed to convert a formidable start – falling this time for a series-best 79, his fourth half-century and the highest of three 70-plus scores.

Kuldeep, inevitably, was the man who prised him out, and it was a magnificent delivery to be fair – a tossed-up legbreak, high above the eyeline, that dipped, ripped and took out the leg stump as Crawley was lured into yet another of his cover drives, only to be carved open in the process.

But he had already ridden a fair bit of luck by that stage – including a tough caught-and-bowled chance in Jadeja’s first over, and a strangle down the leg side off Kuldeep moments after lunch that Sarfaraz Khan at short leg was rightly adamant should have been reviewed. He also survived, on 29, a leg-stump umpire’s call lbw shout off Mohammad Siraj, precisely the sort of dismissal that had been going against him earlier in the series.

At that stage, India’s quicks had been extracting 2.4 degrees of swing, compared to less than a degree in the previous four Tests. In short, England had weathered the storm, and should have been capable of cashing in on a surface that India have subsequently proven to be full of runs. Kuldeep’s methods, however, don’t allow for such bedding-down. You don’t imagine there’ll be any let-up from hereon in.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket

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