After a bizarre and catastrophic day of cricket—depending on which side you're on—India trumped England by 95 runs at Lord's to take a much-deserved 1-0 lead in the five-match series.
It would be safe to say there isn’t a single person on the face of the planet who would have predicted the happenings of the afternoon session on Monday—not even the psychic guy who bet on Germany beating Brazil 7-1 in the FIFA World Cup semi-finals.
India were favourites going into the final day of what has been a fascinating Lord’s Test. They were put in that position by many protagonists: from Ajinkya Rahane’s technical brilliance on Day 1, to Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s disciplined, accurate bowling on Day 2 and rock-solid batting on Day 4, to Murali Vijay’s patient, attritional innings of 95 on Day 3 and finally Ravindra Jadeja’s fearless flamboyance with both bat and ball on Day 4.
Needing six more English wickets to win a Test match away from home for the first time since 2011 and at Lord’s since 1986, India’s heroes were bound to be either Kumar or Jadeja.
However, as play began on an overcast morning in London on Monday, an optimistic India’s hopes of wrapping up the game early were slowly and smartly wriggled away by a determined, plucky effort from England’s young guns, Moeen Ali and Joe Root.
The duo built their partnership from an overnight 33 with some smart batting, which wasn’t chanceless but brave enough to see them almost through the morning session unscathed.
With a ball to go until the lunch interval, the partnership had swelled to 101, and all of a sudden, it was England who were the favourites.
Bowling the last over before lunch was Ishant Sharma, who had produced short bursts of probing spells throughout the series, including one during an afternoon in Nottingham which was his best by a country mile in a long time.
Coming back to Lord’s, in this session, he had tried bowling all possible lengths and had been stubbornly blunted by Ali and Root. In the over before, Root had hit him for three boundaries.
Given the quickly diminishing lead, it would have been demotivating for any bowler.
But this was Ishant Sharma—someone who has been lambasted for most parts of his seven-year international career, having never quite lived up to the herculean expectations of Indian fans since his wonder spell at Perth in 2007-08.
He was coming into this series on the back of two six-wicket hauls against New Zealand. His three for 150 at Trent Bridge on a lifeless pitch had threatened to bowl England out early, only to be thwarted by a stiff resistance by the tail.
In spite of this, an Indian loss or draw at Lord’s would certainly be put down to his impotency on a Day 5 pitch. It was unfair to the extent of being ridiculous, but it was true.
With all that possibly at the back of his head, Ishant ran in to deliver the last ball before lunch to Ali. The left-hander was susceptible to the short delivery but had done extremely well to defend his vulnerability on the day.
As it turned out, Ishant stuck to bowling short; the ball rose up to head height as Ali jumped and awkwardly tried to fend it off. It took his glove and looped up for an easy catch for short leg. Ishant had ensured his team’s lunch tasted a bit better, but five more wickets remained.
In the afternoon session, India started with more short-pitched bowling to Root and new batsman Matt Prior, who valiantly decided to go on the counter-attack. A string of boundaries put the pressure back on the visitors as England briskly approached the 200-run mark.
Facing such an offensive, any bowler would have doubts as to what line to maintain, but with the score at 198 for five in the 80th over, Ishant decided to stick to the chin music. What transpired in the next six overs is bound to become folklore.
In possibly the most disastrous half-hour in English cricketing history, Prior, Root, Ben Stokes and Stuart Broad all succumbed to Ishant’s short delivery, all save the latter going for an attacking stroke and holing out.
It was a hostile, accurate and relentless five-over spell of short-pitched bowling from Ishant that almost cruelly bulldozed the Englishmen.
So intimidating and ruthless was the tall 25-year-old with a lion’s mane that it would have rekindled fond memories of a glorious summer for a certain mustachioed Australian fast bowler. Yes, even Mitchell Johnson would have been proud watching Ishant's charge.
Even as India wrapped up the match via a run-out—poetic as it was with Jadeja dismissing James Anderson—the bold fact was that India had won a Test match abroad by bouncing out the opposition, a proposition that would have seemed outrageous mere hours ago.
Not only had Ishant got his name on the honours board at Lord’s—a muzzle for his critics—but he had recorded his career-best figures of seven for 74, also the first time an Indian bowler had taken that many wickets in England.
It was a spell which deserved to be reproduced into collector’s item DVDs and described fondly in books.
Speaking in the post-match presentation after winning the man-of-the-match award, Ishant revealed that it was his captain MS Dhoni who had convinced him to persist with the short length. Dhoni’s astute captaincy, replete with innovative and instinctive field placings and bowling changes, coupled with other brilliant individual performances, meant that India thoroughly deserved to go 1-0 up in the series.
But this match, perhaps unfairly to the rest of the performers, will always be remembered as Ishant Sharma’s Test. It was a performance that could prove to be the turning point for not just his personal career, but also his team’s fortunes away from home.
It was a performance that should transform his image from a national scapegoat to a national hero.