Rishabh Pant was an advocate of ‘Bazball’ long before Brendon McCullum dreamed up the concept and this very modern Test batsman gave England a taste of their own medicine with a thrilling display of hitting on the first day of the re-arranged final Test.
This was high-octane Test cricket at its very best again as Pant rescued India from a perilous position and ensured they carried on where they left off against England last season before they abruptly headed for home ahead of the last Test of a series they still lead 2-1.
And alongside Pant in a rapid record stand of 222 for the sixth wicket that came off only 38.3 overs and turned this Test on its head was another left-hander so often over the years a thorn in England’s side in Ravindra Jadeja.
India fought back to reach 338-7 at stumps on the first day of the rearranged Test at Edgbaston
Pant reached his third century against England off just 89 balls, the fastest in Edgbaston history, before he perished trying to smash Joe Root into Birmingham while Jadeja was still there on 83 when a roller-coaster day for Ben Stokes and his side finally came to an end.
Clearly, England are not the only ones trying to re-shape Test cricket. Just as Jonny Bairstow made two extraordinary hundreds in the last two Tests now Pant produced an incredible display of controlled skill and aggression right out of the Twenty20 playbook.
Only when Root had him caught at slip trying to smash a second successive six did Pant’s exhibition come to an end and England were able to grab back an element of control.
India ended a breathless day on 338 for seven off just 73 overs, with a lively Edgbaston full house provided with exceptional entertainment despite a near two-hour break for rain.
Wicketkeeper-batter Rishabh Pant scored a majestic century to help India recover from 98-5
How India needed Pant. For England, on the crest of a giant wave after their 3-0 drubbing of New Zealand, made the perfect start once Stokes had again defied conventional thinking by bowling first.
It was not so much Stokes felt there would be enough in this Edgbaston pitch and in the conditions to encourage his seamers.
Instead it was more that England, just like their one-day counterparts, prefer to chase now in pursuit of a win, as they have done already this season at Lord’s, Trent Bridge and Headingley. No target, they figure, is too big nor daunting for them to reach.
It looked a masterstroke when Jimmy Anderson, back with the new ball after missing last week’s win at Headingley, made two early incisions before Matthew Potts, the discovery of England’s summer, made two more, including the key scalp of Virat Kohli, after the break.
Pant smashed six fours and one six off England spinner Jack Leach to turn the momentum
What an introduction to Test cricket Potts is having. He took 14 wickets against New Zealand, including the key scalp of Kane Williamson three times, and now added another huge name when Kohli inside edged into his own stumps trying to leave the ball on 11. The former India captain’s long wait for an international century, that goes back to late 2019, continues.
When Anderson, getting movement and bounce from a flat Edgbaston surface, claimed Shreyas Iyer with the help of a spectacular diving leg-side catch from Sam Billings, India were 98 for five and the new England’s golden run looked set to go on.
Pant had other ideas. Edgbaston was under cloud cover and the floodlights were on with India under siege but how did this box-office talent respond? By dancing down the wicket to Anderson from the off and running into the danger provided by England.
India’s fun could easily have been nipped in the bud when Jadeja edged Stuart Broad low to slip on five where Root was not sure if he had taken the catch cleanly.
Fast bowlers Matt Potts (right) and James Anderson took all the five wickets between them
England’s uncertainty contributed to a soft-signal of not out from Aleem Dar but inconclusive TV evidence suggested it might just have carried. Third umpire Marais Erasmus had little option other than to stay with the on-field decision.
How India took advantage of an apparent slice of good fortune. Jack Leach knows all about the flashing blade of Pant after he went after him in spectacular style at Chennai 18 months ago and now the left-arm spinner’s new-found confidence was given a fierce examination.
Pant went to his half-century with the first of his three sixes off Leach and attacked conventionally until he appeared to tweak his left hamstring on 65. Only then did he switch to the sometimes unorthodox, attempting to reverse scoop Anderson along the way.
India’s keeper reached his century fully 26 balls quicker than Kevin Pietersen’s previous fastest on this ground, made against Sri Lanka in 2006, and England began to get ragged, notably when 22 runs that included four overthrows came off Leach’s ninth over.
Anderson (pictured second right) had struck twice to leave India 53-2 at lunch on the first day
Anderson (right), recalled after recovering from injury, took the wicket of opener Shubman Gill
No-one was more ragged than the England captain. Stokes had insisted before this Test that he deliberately did not bowl himself in the first innings at Headingley last week, and only sent down four overs in the second, because he wanted to push his attack.
Now he bowled 10 overs but was plagued by the no-ball problem that has been a feature of his bowling, overstepping 10 times yesterday alone and finally taking the wicket of Shardul Thakur off the eighth ball of a particularly indisciplined over.
England’s bowling figures were almost as bruised by the end as New Zealand’s had been throughout their series, Leach going at nearly eight an over and Potts at five even though he had again been impressive before Pant got hold of him.
Thanks to Pant a Test that should have been played in Manchester last September is nicely poised. And Test cricket was given another welcome shot of adrenalin.
Zak Crawley (left) then shelled a chance at second slip, failing to catch Hanuma Vihari’s edge
But Crawley had redemption the next over when he pouched the edge from Cheteshwar Pujara
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