This time it wasn’t the elephant which came to the Oval, as it had in 1971.
Instead it was a snarling, growling wolf pack of an Indian seam-bowling unit, fearsome and imposing in its presence, unrelenting in its ferocity, savage in its bite and capable of sniffing out the last whiff of panic in the opposition ranks.
Half a century between victories at this iconic ground has been time enough for a complete metamorphosis in the way India approach their cricket. Now the Oval will, following India’s enthralling 157-run win in the fourth Test on Monday, stand forever testimony to this tectonic shift under Virat Kohli.
By the time the slowish but effective Shardul Thakur, the most unlikely addition to this pace pack, got Joe Root to drag one back onto the stumps with the old ball, it was already game over for England, who eventually fell for 210 chasing 368. It would be a matter of a few more overs before the last vestiges of resistance would be snuffed out from the hosts.
There was no Shami. No Ishant. But the sensational Jasprit Bumrah (2/27 off 22 blistering overs), the chief whip of this attack, was a one-man army on the last day, a conductor in complete control of his formidable abilities.
Now the fastest Indian pacer to 100 Test wickets (24 Tests), Bumrah showed just why he is lethal in the fourth innings by breaking England’s back in a six-over reverse-swinging burst after lunch.
He was aided and abetted by Ravindra Jadeja (2/50) spearing it into the rough from the other end and getting the wickets of Moeen Ali and Haseeb Hameed. Bumrah, whose second spell read 6-3-6-2 and the wickets of Pope and Bairstow, was something else entirely: an engine of destruction on a flat and docile surface.
India had kept the pressure on England till that Bumrah second spell, conceding just 54 runs in the morning session and getting rid of Burns, courtesy a bit of swing magic from Shardul, and a gift of a wicket in Malan. The fielders had been chirpy. India’s seamers had till that point been spot-on in their lines, accuracy and intensity, finding the reverse swing that would make the crucial difference.
Kohli’s field placements were on the mark too but Bumrah knew something extra would be needed: having already found an average swing of 1.2 degrees in his second spell, the most of any bowler since Day 2 according to Cricviz, Bumrah unleashed the effort balls, that yorker length at the base of the stumps.
Bairstow (out to 2.3 degrees of swing) had no clue and only the certitude of Root enabled the England captain to dig out a few.
If Bumrah doesn’t get you Umesh Yadav (3/60) will, though, as the dismissal of Woakes just before tea confirmed. Umesh has been a revelation in this Test, finding his lengths and also showing marked improvement in the control of his lines. At that pace he was a handful, especially with the hard, second new ball as Overton found out.
England were guilty of trying to hustle the scoring rate early on in their chase before crumbling, leaving Sunil Gavaskar to wonder whether “the art of saving a Test match is completely lost these days”.
Everybody loves a good comeback story, and this Indian team is providing us with one every few weeks in England! It seemed game over for India on Day 1 when they lost seven wickets for 127, but Shardul Thakur with the bat had other plans.
The others responded. First Umesh got rid of Root to peg England back. Then came Rohit Sharma’s first overseas ton, and then this supreme bowling performance showed just why it’s never safe to write off this team.
India are now 2-1 up and this is the first time since 1986 that they have won two Tests on a tour of England.
That elusive series win seems within their grasp.