Spicy or Flat Pitch, It Just Doesn't Matter for All-Weather Jasprit Bumrah
Jasprit Bumrah is the quickest Indian bowler to achieve 100 Test wickets having completed it in 24 games.
England all-rounder Chris Woakes was firmly of the opinion that any score was chaseable at The Oval. And at stumps, on Day 4, Woakes, brimming with confidence, backed his teammates to rewrite the record books, as he placed his faith on the pitch.
“You can chase any score on this wicket. The pitch is a great one for batting and we can do it if we put our minds to it. We’ve definitely got the belief we can get the win," Woakes asserted.
But how often is there is a slip between the cup and the lip, and how often has a certain Jasprit Bumrah reminded batters to not write him and his mates off.
Woakes, making a comeback in the longer format, had had a brilliant Test up until that point. He was the one who drew first blood, bowling a snorter to Rohit Sharma on Day 1 when the conditions were diametrically opposite to what they ended up being on the last two days of the Test match.
Woakes took four wickets in India's first innings to bundle the team out for just 191. There was intervention, as you would expect, from Jasprit Bumrah who dismissed both England openers overnight and took India to a position where they would have fancied a first innings lead.
It was Woakes once again who shone on a comeback, smashing a quickfire half-century to nullify Shardul Thakur's fastest half-century on English soil in red-ball cricket. Woakes claimed three more wickets in the second innings, dismissing Ravindra Jadeja on the morning of the 4th day before packing off Ajinkya Rahane for a duck.
Had England gone on to win the Test, Woakes would have been the uncontested Player of the Match.
Now, Woakes is a terrific bowler and picked up 7 wickets in the match to Bumrah's 4. However, he is a different kind altogether. The one who excels when the conditions are muggy, ample swing on offer, the pitch his ally and the ball cutting at odd angles.
Bumrah, while being almost as effective in helpful conditions, is a completely different beast on relatively flat tracks, and with reverse swing as his accomplice. In short, he has the rare ability of taking the pitch out of the equation. An ability that would come in handy in London.
It was not totally unreasonable for Chris Woakes to see some light at the end of the tunnel, to believe that England had a chance of chasing down 368 – something that has been achieved only nine times in the history of Test cricket and only thrice in the last 13 years.
Woakes, however, was not alone. Many experts gave England a healthy chance of creating history. The predictions were not without reasons. These were some of the flattest conditions a Test batting line-up would ever encounter, particularly in England.
The moisture-laden Oval pitch on Day 1 was nowhere to be seen and it was replaced by brown tarmac, with the sun baking it. The nature of the pitch meant that it did not crumble either to facilitate uneven bounce or sharp turn. Effectively, the pitch was nothing short of a pancake, a batsman's dream, a perfect day for batting, a benign day two pitch in the garb of a day five wicket. If ever a 350+ run chase was possible on Day 5 of a Test, it was here.
Moreover, the England batting lhad gained steam over the last few innings. Incoming players Haseeb Hameed, Dawid Milan and Chris Woakes had all chipped in and the line-up was looking a lot more assured than it did a couple of Test matches ago.
In fact, they batted so well at Headingley that India were bowled out twice and still fell 76 runs short of the England total. If that was not enough, the England openers added 77 from 30-odd overs towards the end of Day 4 and were successful in escaping unscathed.
291 runs in the T20 era were not impossible on a dead pitch and in sunny conditions.
But, what Woakes and a few other experts did not factor in was the differentiator between the bowling line-ups of the two sides: Jasprit Jasbirsingh Bumrah. A freak of nature who continues to defy biomechanics and rout poles with a run-up which mimics a ballet dancer in full flight.
At 131/2 after 59 overs at Lunch on Day five, England were still in with a chance. Hameed (62) and England's best batsman of this generation, Joe Root, were at the crease.
They batted right down to number 10 with Ollie Pope, Jonny Bairstow, Moeen Ali, Chris Woakes, Craig Overton and Ollie Robinson still to come. England hadn't fared too badly, losing just two wickets in the first session, and now was perhaps the time to accelerate.
But Bumrah had different plans. With a hint of reverse swing on offer, he sensed an opening in play and demanded the ball from skipper Virat Kohli. Bumrah walked the talk with a masterclass of reverse swing bowling, rocketing one between Ollie Pope's bat and pad to rattle his stumps.
Jonny Bairstow was the next to arrive at the crease but could last for just four deliveries before having his timber rearranged by a Bumrah classic, a reverse swinging yorker which dipped far too late to give Bairstow a chance and snuck under his bat.
Bumrah bowled a couple more such masterpieces in the spell and it needed the class of Joe Root to dig them out... just about. One could only imagine what mayhem the slinger would have caused had Root not taken it upon himself to see off India's trump card.
On an absolute belter of a pitch, when Bumrah ended the fiery spell with 6 overs, 3 maidens, 6 runs and 2 wickets, the game had turned on its head.
Ravindra Jadeja, Shardul Thakur and Umesh Yadav did their job as well and before long, India were celebrating another famous overseas Test victory as they pocketed the match by 157 runs.
It was not long ago when the decision to hand Jasprit Bumrah his maiden Test cap ahead of Umesh Yadav and Ishant Sharma in South Africa irked a few.
The arguments were that he was a one trick pony, just bringing the ball into the right-handers with the angle. That he did have the skills with the white ball but won't be able to make a mark in red-ball cricket. That his action won't allow him to have a long Test career.
At The Oval, Bumrah once again shut the doubters, becoming the fastest Indian pacer to 100 Test wickets, going past Kapil Dev. The canny quick achieved the milestone from only 24 Test matches, at a strike rate of just over 50.
"The wicket was on the flatter side," was all the mild-mannered pacer would say about the surface after the match. Rapid through the air, Bumrah had taken matters away from the pitch, and into his own hands.
Subscribe To Our Daily Newsletter And Get News Delivered Straight To Your Inbox.