Ali, Curran deny India victory

India ended up on the wrong side of yet another hard-fought Test match and fall 60 runs short of England’s total and as a result lose their third successive Test series on British land. Virat Kohli and co. had their moments in the match but just like Edgbaston, couldn’t capitalize on those. As a result, England take an unassailable lead in the 5-match Test series. Here’s how the action unfolded in Southampton over the course of 4 days.

For the fourth time in the series, England skipper Joe Root won the toss, but this time, he decided to bat first on what looked like a hard surface. While Moeen Ali’s inclusion surprised everyone, injury to Chris Woakes meant that Sam Curran got a chance to prove his mettle once again. For the first time in 39 Tests as captain, Virat Kohli fielded an unchanged XI.

The English openers failed to impress once again as Jennings was dismissed in only the second over by Jasprit Bumrah. Root survived a close LBW decision, owing to Bumrah’s no-ball, but the reprieve didn’t last long as the England captain was trapped plumb in front while attempting a flick off Ishant Sharma. With that dismissal, the lanky pacer joined an elite list of Indian fast bowlers to pick up 250 wickets in Test cricket. Playing as a specialist batsman in the match, Jonny Bairstow, didn’t last long either as Bumrah got his second wicket of the morning with a peach of a delivery which squared up the batsman. After three early dismissals, Cook tried to break the shackles but played a loose shot off Hardik Pandya and suddenly England were 36/4.

Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes started the rebuilding process for the hosts but just when it looked like the pair had got their eye in, Mohammed Shami struck and broke the partnership by dismissing wicket-keeper Buttler. Eight overs later, Shami got the better of all-rounder Stokes and England were reduced to 86/6.

Southpaws, Ali and Curran, then batted with caution and faced the Indian bowlers with confidence. The pair frustrated the Indians and added crucial runs in their seventh-wicket partnership, which was finally broken by Ashwin, when he foxed Ali with his spin. Curran then batted phenomenally with the tail and was the last man to depart, but not before ensuring that the total is a respectable one.

Jasprit Bumrah was the pick of the bowlers for India as he clinched a 3-fer. In fact, on a not-so-lively wicket, the performance of the Indian pacers was admirable. They ran in hard and always looked like taking wickets as England were bundled out for 246 in the first innings.

India’s openers, Shikhar Dhawan and KL Rahul, survived a tricky phase at the end of the first day but the partnership was broken early on the second day’s morning by Broad as Rahul departed for 19. Cheteshwar Pujara then joined Dhawal in the middle but once again, it was Broad who provided England the breakthrough as the opener perished for 23.

Skipper Kohli and Pujara, then build the Indian innings and added 92 runs for the third wicket. The pair looked at ease against the England pacers and played the spinners, Moeen and Rashid, comfortably. After his heroic 78, it was time for Curran to perform with the ball and he did by inducing an edge off Kohli’s bat. Rahane succumbed to Ben Stokes on a controversial decision soon after. The LBW was plumb but there were indications that it might have been a no-ball. Just at the stroke of Tea, off-spinner Moeen dismissed Pant and India were in a spot of bother as the score read 181/4.

India’s troubles against Moeen continued post-Tea too as the off-spinner dismissed Hardik, Ashwin and Shami in successive overs to leave India reeling at 195/8, still 51 short of England’s first innings total.

On the other end, Pujara was calm and composed. He played his natural game but was running out of partners and when Ishant Sharma joined him in the middle, Pujara decided to adapt to the situation and played some uncharacteristic shots very effectively.

He combined prolifically with first Ishant and once he was dismissed, with Bumrah, who played the supporting role superbly during his 24-ball knock. During the last wicket partnership of 46 runs, Pujara brought up his 15th Test ton as well.

From 195/8 to 273 all out, it was a fabulous recovery from Pujara, Ishant and Bumrah which frustrated England and certainly put India on top, as they came out on the field for a short burst. For England, Moeen picked a 5-fer in his comeback match.

On Day 3, Cook and Jennings came out to bat with England trailing by 21 runs. India started the proceedings with Ashwin and Bumrah. Once again, Bumrah provided India the opening breakthrough when he dismissed Cook for 12. Following his bowling heroics, Moeen was promoted up the order but the ploy didn’t work as Ishant dismissed him for 9.

After adding 59 runs for the third wicket with Root, Shami struck twice in 2 deliveries to rattle England. Just when it looked like Root was going to make a big score, the skipper was run out by Shami and it was once again upto Stokes and Buttler to bail the hosts out of this precarious situation.

The pair added 56 runs for the sixth wicket as Ashwin finally managed to join the wickets column. Once again, England’s lower middle-order frustrated India and played Ashwin comfortably.

From 122/5 to 260/8, India allowed England’s lower middle-order to build partnerships which costs them dearly in the match.

India wrapped up things quickly on the fourth day morning. While Broad was dismissed on the first ball of the day, Curran ran for a non-existent single and was adjudged out. The equation was simple. The visitors needed 246 runs to win the match and draw level in the series while the hosts required 10 wickets to win the match and hence, the series.

The task was uphill, and the start was horrid for India as Rahul misjudged Broad’s length and England found an opening in only the 4th over of the innings. Anderson made it worse when he dismissed Pujara with a beauty in his third over. Dhawan fell prey to Anderson’s swing in his next over and was caught by Stokes in the slips.

All eyes were now on Kohli and Rahane. India’s captain and vice-captain had to deal with adversities to first ensure that India aren’t bundled out on a paltry score and then needed to start the rebuilding process. And they did both the things with perfection.

The ball was spitting venom off Moeen’s hand and the pitch had developed a lot of cracks which the off-spinner was using wisely. But the duo gutsed it out and continued India’s run chase slowly, but steadily. There were too many close LBW calls but the duo went to lunch unharmed.

During their 101-run partnership, Kohli completed yet another half-century and also completed 4000 runs as India’s skipper. But against the run of play, the skipper departed, minutes before the Tea session and England heaved a sigh of relief.

India still required 119 runs to win when they came out to bat post-Tea, but Hardik didn’t last long and half the Indian team was now back in the hut. It was upto Rahane, who completed a fighting half-century, and exciting wicketkeeper-batsman Rishab Pant to steer the run chase.

Pant decided to counterattack the spinner but played one shot too many and was dismissed for 18 off Moeen. Whatever hopes India had off a comeback were laid to rest when in his next over, Moeen dismissed Rahane.

Once Ishant was dismissed for nought, Ashwin tried to bat with Shami and Bumrah but it was not to be for India, who were bundled out for 184. Moeen spun his web once again and clinched 4 wickets in the second innings too.

The final Test of the series will begin on September 7th at the Oval and India will hope to end the series on a high.