James Anderson and retiring Alastair Cook share limelight as England beat India at The Oval
It all ended with a squabble, some push and shove, and then tears. Best mates, having to be parted. Prized apart. Neither, it is safe to assume, would have had it any other way.
Farewell, then, Alastair Cook, following the most glorious sunset imaginable. A half-century and a century in the same match, just as it started 12 years ago in Nagpur. And a curtain-call with The Oval’s Gasholder No 1 as the backdrop. Just as all the greats do it.
Typically, of a man so adored by his teammates, he was trying to push someone else to the front to take the applause when he left the field for the final time.
James Anderson had, after all, just taken the wicket that had taken him ahead of Glenn McGrath, and to the very summit of the wicket-taking charts among pace bowlers in Test match cricket.
The 564th wicket of his career ended India’s stubborn resistance. It knocked over Mohammed Shami’s middle-stump. Maybe the script they had prepared was for Shami to nick off to first slip, where Cook would have pouched the catch.
But still, this will do.
“Somewhere, it was written,” Cook said, at the finish, before labelling Anderson “England’s greatest cricketer”.
Anderson's tongue-in-cheek video about Cook
Really, the moment should have belonged to Anderson. But, despite being three years Cook’s senior, Anderson will carry on, while the godfather to his eldest daughter leaves the scene. There is plenty of time yet for Anderson to add to his haul, and try to rein in the tallies of the master spinners Anil Kumble, Shane Warne, and Muttiah Muralitharan.
So he shoved Cook to the front instead, and would not take no for an answer. Soon after, Anderson attempted to give a flash interview to television. That had to be quickly aborted. The tears suggested he is going to miss his mate.
It was all about Cook, Anderson, and England. Four-one winners in a series against the world’s No 1 side, led by the world’s leading player.
Four-one seems like a thrashing. But the scoreline offers scant credence to an India side that provided so much pluck and brio in one of the most enthralling series played anywhere in recent times.
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“The fans will come and watch if both teams want to win and be competitive in every situation, that is where the excitement of this format lies,” India captain Virat Kohli said.
How India recover as they get ready to head to the UAE remains to be seen. Kohli, their player of the series for his remarkable run-getting, was supposed to be the most conspicuous absentee from the Asia Cup. But what about Rishabh Pant?
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The Delhi wicketkeeper had a mixed debut series. With India’s pace attack curving the ball hither and thither – particularly so once it had beaten the bat – he was often all at sea with the gloves.
The number of byes he conceded got progressively worse by the Test: 16, then 30, then 40 at The Oval. They are poor numbers, no matter what the prevailing conditions are.
He had some failures with the bat, too. But his effervescent century – the first by an Indian Test wicketkeeper in England – in the fifth Test, was evidence of a precious talent. Such a pity we will not be seeing him in Dubai next week.
Not so long ago, England rearranged the regular run of four-yearly Ashes tours. There was sound thinking behind the schedule rejig. Away Ashes usually went badly, which had a negative knock-on effect for the World Cup that habitually followed straight on after.
India might have been minded to do similar ahead of the Asia Cup.
England is a usually a tough away assignment, and so it proved. The blows they suffered across these Tests may be difficult to shake off before their one-day side face Hong Kong at Dubai International Stadium next Tuesday.
At least opener Lokesh Rahul found form just at the right time. His magisterial 149 in the final innings of the series was a reminder of his lavish gifts with the bat.
It was also a handy tune-up ahead of the challenges to come in the UAE.
He might have pushed his side closer to what had seemed like an impossible win, too, had England not suddenly remembered that Adil Rashid still played for them.
He was handed a rare chance by Joe Root, went all Shane Warne on Rahul, and the game was all but won.
Updated: September 11, 2018 10:33 PM