“WHEN in doubt,” noir master Raymond Chandler once said while dispensing writing advice, “have a man come through the door with a gun in his hand.” James Anderson was that man with the gun for England, at a point in the game when the game was in equipoise.
How do you explain to a Martian that a game that lasts five days / 450 overs can really be decided in the space of four minutes and six deliveries? Or how a 38-year-old, well past any logical use-by date — notionally the team’s strike bowler, who gets his first bowl in the 28th over of an innings — can produce a first over of such lethal quality as the one James Anderson bowled to completely change the narrative?
India lost Pujara in the 7th over of the day’s play, against the run of play — because there was nothing in Pujara’s play either in the first innings or for the duration of his second to suggest he was particularly vulnerable to spin. His ability to come out to the in-between length, and go deep for the slightly shorter one, has worked for him through his career — until the fatal delivery just back of length, with inward drift before turning the other way, that the number three played from a rooted position at the top of the crease and a shut bat face to give Leach an outer edge.
Gill, though, was batting with his trademark languid grace and Virat Kohli, who hasn’t had an innings of real distinction since his century against Bangladesh in 2019, settled in quickly. With both batsmen stroking fluently and stealing singles almost at will, India appeared to have weathered the loss of two of the top three and brought the game back into balance.
Enter the man with the gun — with an over as devastating as a landslide. What was most impressive was the way he called it before he played it — in pre-game comments, he had said that the ball would reverse appreciably around the 25th over. He got it in the 28th, and it took him just one delivery to line things up before he delivered.
Gill’s batting has no discernible chinks. His footwork is very organised, his read of line and length close to perfection, his bat has so much time get in position it is almost as if the ball slows down to accommodate him. And here he was truly on song – until Anderson got him in his sights, and took him out with an example of swing bowling that deserves to go down in song. The ball started off on a fourth stump line, began drifting in towards off, hit the deck on that perfect length just back of good, and moved sharply in to find a gap between bat and pad where there seemed to be none. You can watch the clip endless times without ever figuring out what any batsman — including the very best in the world — could have done to survive it.
And then it got better. One ball later, another perfect example of reverse swing nailed Ajinkya Rahane, who was lucky to get the benefit of the umpire. So the following ball, Anderson took the umpire out of the game, repeated the exact same delivery he had bowled to Gill, and found India’s vice-captain, already woefully out of form, a sitting duck in his personal shooting gallery.
Four deliveries, one let off, two instances of the off stump cartwheeling towards the keeper — game over. But brilliant as those dismissals were, I have a preference for the way he out-thought Rishabh Pant. The diminutive number six looked quite comfortable even against Anderson around the wicket, so the bowler set him up with reverse swinging deliveries that came into him, then took him out with a cutter that went the other way. Pant played for the one coming in, looked to work it off his pads, and got the outer edge to cover.
That spell, of 7-4-8-3, is the story of the Indian second innings collapse — the rest, including an extended spell by Jack Leach where he showcased the much-hyped, rarely understood ‘character’ more than anything else — had an air of inevitability, once Anderson set the dominoes tumbling.
There is an end of Test ritual fetishised by management-speak — “take away the positives” is how it goes. But barring the continued form of Shubman Gill, a better outing for Virat Kohli, the batting ability of Washington Sundar (which should not come as a surprise to anyone following his career) and the bowling of Ishant Sharma and Ravichandran Ashwin, there is nothing to take away no matter how hard you scrape the bottom of the barrel.
India’s number one and number five are iffy. Number four is struggling to overcome what for him is an extended run drought. On the bowling front, one number tells the story: Ashwin bowled more than 72 overs across days one, two and four. That he had to shoulder — on a dodgy shoulder — such a marathon effort tells you the story of a bowling attack that was not even a decent bowling defence.
In post-match comments, Kohli suggested that the two support bowlers — Nadeem and Sundar — didn’t live up to expectations. He did not explain what the expectations were based on. What India lacks — and what India can do — is a subject for another day, though.
For now: Jimmy Anderson. In a different day and age, they would be writing about him in iambic pentameter. All you can do, in the age of 240-character Twitter posts, is watch clips of his three dismissals on loop. And marvel, at a man who seems to get better each time someone writes finis to his career.