In the eternity that it took Joe Root to drag himself off the park, some 10 minutes before lunch on Tuesday (November 29), visions of a debilitating defeat must have flashed through the England vice-captain’s mind.
A wonderfully composed 78 in more than four hours, made with an authority that till then stood out from the sea of hesitancy his colleagues swam into, had been cut short by an outstanding reflex catch at slip by Ajinkya Rahane in a match liberally dotted with spilt chances. England were floundering at 152 for 7, ahead by just 18 and an early finish looming large.
Root’s fears did come true on day four of the third Test at the PCA Stadium as India surged to an eight-wicket victory and claimed an unassailable 2-0 lead in the five-match series, but the end wasn’t as swift as he, or the rest of his teammates, might have feared. That was largely because of a 19-year-old kid in his first Test series, batting way out of position for an opener at No. 8, and nursing a sore, badly bruised left little finger that seemed not to make an iota of impact on his concentration.
The world will hear a lot more of Haseeb Hameed, of that there is little doubt. The little right-hand batsman with the heart of a lion, the assuredness of a virtuoso and the character of a battle-scarred veteran rallied a late-order revival, switching from adhesive occupant of the crease to a blithe spirit in the company of last-man James Anderson to ensure that even if India did win, they had to do it the hard way.
Hameed became the first English teenager to score more than one Test half-century. He showcased his improvisation skill-sets in an entertaining stand with Anderson worth 41, which ended in the only manner that looked possible during their 35 minutes together: a run-out. By the time R Ashwin, out of sorts with the ball, collected Ravindra Jadeja’s throw from deep midwicket and knocked off the bails at the bowler’s end to terminate England’s innings at 236, the lead had swelled to 102. A target of 103 wasn’t going to trouble India, but through Root’s mastery and Hameed’s courage, England had redeemed themselves somewhat. But only somewhat.
India lost M Vijay to Chris Woakes for an eight-ball duck – his extreme inconsistency must worry the think-tank a little – even as Parthiv Patel scrunched out a half-century in his first Test in eight years. The little fella took England apart with a breathtaking exhibition of strokemaking in adding handsomely to his first-innings 42. Alongside Cheteshwar Pujara, who began like a train but then slipped from express to passenger mode as Parthiv got on the bike and sped away, he put on 81 for the second wicket.
Pujara’s dismissal with 15 needed triggered the loudest cheer of the day as Virat Kohli emerged from the changing-room, watching on like an indulgent father and then punching his right hand in glee as Parthiv thrashed Gareth Batty over cover for the winning runs – 104 for 2 in 20.2, done and dusted.
Hameed’s was an abject lesson in never saying die, not even when the odds are stacked heavily against you. England’s feeble second innings appeared headed nowhere when Jadeja trapped Batty, the nightwatchman, in front off the day’s eighth delivery without any addition to the day three total of 78 for 4, and Jos Buttler’s adventurism lasted no more than a half-hour. Root, measured in his footwork and decisive in both defence and studied attack, looked in complete control again while Buttler decided to adopt an aggressive approach, stepping out to smash Jadeja over his head and bustling energetically between the wickets.
However, as he left his station a little too early, to telegram his intentions to Jayant Yadav, the offie dragged the ball down. Buttler went ahead with the hoick and was caught at cow-corner, a poor stroke made to look worse with England, trailing by 134 in the first innings, needing a further 27 to deny India an innings win.
Hameed, an external protective casing on his glove to protect the wounded digit, walked out to a rapturous welcome from the Barmy Army, aware that the match was headed only one way, but looking for some degree of succour. Root first, and then Hameed, provided precisely that, amplifying the fact that even on the fourth day, there were no demons in the surface and that if you trusted your defence, watched the ball closely and backed yourself, you could not just survive but also score runs.
Kohli had called up all his bowlers inside the first 45 minutes bar Ashwin, strangely not brought on until the day’s 20th over. With his second delivery, one that went straight on, Ashwin caught Hameed’s outside edge, but the thickness of the edge meant Parthiv behind the sticks had no chance. That was one of the few times Ashwin threatened the batsmen; from time to time, he dragged the ball down to allow himself to be cut, the cherry leaving his right hand with none of the venom of the previous evening.
India were patient, knowing that success could come anytime if they stayed alert and prepared. Jadeja proved them right in the first over of his second spell of the day, drawing Root forward with a lovely delivery that curled away and caught the outside edge of the scything bat. Rahane stuck his left hand out and latched on for dear life, the stand of 45 coming to a dramatic end as Root trudged off disconsolate, his first mistake also his last.
Like India, England’s lower order has few rabbits. With Hameed endearingly obstinate – Kohli had tried to unsettle him early by bringing on Mohammed Shami, to no avail – Woakes’s energy and intent pushed India on the back foot. For nearly an hour, with neither Ashwin nor Jadeja really making an impression, England slowly brought up the runs, forcing Kohli to summon the new ball. India were still in control because despite the stand of 43, the lead was only 61.
Until then a bit player really, Shami sprang to life in his first over with the shiny red sphere, smashing a short first ball into Woakes’s right temple, protected only by the helmet. Woakes waved away the concerned bowler and fielders, received treatment from the physio, composed himself and then walked right into another beautifully directed short ball that he only fended to Parthiv. Adil Rashid survived a testing first delivery, staying on the back foot expecting a bouncer, only for Shami to pitch it up, but fell to the next, pulling it close-eyed to long-leg. It was a wonderful burst of sustained hostility and great purpose, neither trait visible on Monday when England were confronted with India’s lower order.
Until Rashid was dismissed, Hameed was singularly becalmed. Apart from a self-indulgent slog-sweep against Ashwin off his 112th delivery for his first four, he was content to defend and dab and nurdle and milk, having meandered to 23 off 127 deliveries when Anderson walked out. Suddenly, he transformed from Boycott to Pietersen, not just keeping the last man away from the mean bowlers but laying into the same bowlers with the delight of a child given free licence in a candy shop.
The boundaries fizzed off his bat, not always pretty and mostly in the same direction – over midwicket – but they effectively masked the tremendous pain he must have had to endure. The metaphorical pain was all India’s, Kohli’s face a cracking mask of irritability and irascibility. Each run accrued was a nuisance more than anything else, and there was no suggestion that a wicket was imminent until Anderson was slow in coming back for the second, leaving Hameed unbeaten, unconquered, unbowed, on a wonderful 59.
Kohli led the beeline of Indians congratulating Hameed. Less than two hours later, it was the Indians raking in the congrats, well on their way to another series triumph in their beloved home patch.