As expected when the day began, England were the victors in the fifth and final Test against India. But they were made to work far harder than anyone expected.
For a time, they might even have been fearing a shock defeat at the hands of two talented young Indian batsmen who played the knocks of their lives, KL Rahul and Rishabh Pant.
First Rahul. There was a hint last night of how he’d approach his innings. He’s had a tough tour, with his technique looking up to the task but him still struggling to make any kind of contribution, and with the series gone, and seemingly the match too, he took the opportunity to try and hit his way back into form. It came off in some style.
The passage in which he brought up his hundred summed up the knock. In nine balls he scored 20 runs, the highlight a flat-bat over extra cover for six, and he had 101 of India’s 152/5.
He had been well supported for a time by Ajinkya Rahane, who has looked near his unruffled best at the back-end of this series. The pair added 118 after India had been 2/3, before Rahane toe-ended a sweep shot into Keaton Jennings’ hands at midwicket. Then Hanuma Vihari fell to a vicious Ben Stokes bouncer, copping a duck to go with his first-innings fifty.
And thereafter it was the Rishabh Pant show. His Test career began with a six. It was only fitting he’d bring up his maiden ton with one too, and in between there were all the fireworks which have helped make his name in the IPL.
It took something special to separate them, an Adil Rashid legbreak ripping from the rough past the outside edge of KL Rahul, choosing a little injudiciously to try and nudge a single to bring up 150. Pant was even more injudicious, feeling he was running out of partners even though he had first innings hero Ravindra Jadeja for company, and he holed out into the deep.
That was the end of India’s resistance, but not of the drama. Ishant Sharma and Jadeja both nicked off to Sam Curran to leave India nine down, and having taken the first two wickets of the chase on the fourth evening, it seemed James Anderson might end the game still level with Glenn McGrath as Test cricket’s leading wicket taker among fast bowlers.
But if ever a Test has been scripted, it’s been this one, and after Alastair Cook’s glorious sign-off hundred, there was one more fairytale finish in store, and Anderson duly pegged back Mohammed Shami’s middle stump.
There were tears to follow, not of joy at breaking the record, but in seeing his “best mate” Cook depart. He can at least take heart in the fact that there can’t have been a more perfect end to a career, and that they have taken part in a series for the ages, one which Test cricket needed, and one which received the finish it deserved thanks to two upstarts who will surely entertain in the longest format for years to come.