India's bowling depth trumps Bairstow's third straight Test century

Jonny Bairstow scored his fifth Test century of 2022
July 03, 2022

India 416 and 125 for 3 (Pujara 50*, Pant 30*) lead England 284 (Bairstow 106, Billings 36, Siraj 4-66, Bumrah 3-68) by 257 runs

Jonny Bairstow added a new chapter to a glorious summer with a belligerent 106 off 140 balls, but it was India who took control of the Edgbaston Test over the course of an enthralling third day. Their quicks, led by Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami, bowled England out for 284 to secure a first-innings lead of 132, and by stumps, this lead had grown to 257, with seven wickets still in hand, as Cheteshwar Pujara marked his comeback with a rock-solid, unbeaten third-innings half-century.

After both first innings flew along at more than four-and-a-half runs per over, India's second innings followed a far more traditional Test-match pattern as they went to stumps at 125 for 3 after 45 overs. This was down in large part to Pujara's presence at the crease, of course, but every minute he spent out there was precious to India's push to bat England out of the game. Barring a couple of nervy moments, he looked utterly secure - more secure in his defence, possibly, than at any point since the Covid-19 pandemic began.

In this Test match, it has been apparent that Pujara has changed his set-up at the crease to get more side-on, with his front shoulder pointing to the bowler rather than towards mid-on as was the case during the first four Tests of this series in 2021. On Sunday, this seemed to allow him to adjust more easily to late away movement than he has done in recent times. Where he would occasionally get squared up by these deliveries while playing the initial angle - a common pattern in a lot of his dismissals in Australia and England last year - he seemed to be able to play the ball later here, and adjust the angle of his bat face to defend in the direction of the movement.

His leaving was full of certainty too, even against incoming balls in the channel outside off stump, against Stuart Broad in particular. The only time he got into a tangle while leaving was when Ben Stokes bent one into him, late, to strike him on the front pad. A loud shout was turned down, and England's review returned an umpire's call verdict, with ball-tracking suggesting the ball would have gone on to clip the outside edge of off stump.

This moment came soon after Stokes had produced the ball of the innings, which lifted unplayably to kiss Virat Kohli's glove, to end a 32-run third-wicket partnership. Getting Pujara out then could have put India - who at that point led by 218 - under quite a bit of pressure. As it turned out, Pujara and the impish Rishabh Pant saw out the rest of the evening's play, putting on an unbroken 50-run stand for the fourth wicket.

The morning began with India ascendant, leading by 332 with England five down. They would have been wary of Bairstow and Stokes, however, an overnight batting pair that's as likely as any to turn a situation like this on its head.

Bumrah and Shami bowled through an engrossing first half hour, and had, by the end of that period, sent down 30 of the innings' 33 overs, thanks to rain and the overnight break giving them frequent periods of rest. Bairstow and Stokes had shown the bowling plenty of respect during this half-hour, and even so had been lucky to survive with the ball moving both ways at pace and beating their edges frequently.

Then came a frenetic period where both batters switched gears. Bairstow did so successfully, hitting six pristinely timed fours in the space of 16 balls to go from 16 off 65 to 50 off 81. Stokes, however, kept offering India chances, only for Shardul Thakur to put him down on 18, off the luckless Shami, and then for Bumrah to put him down on 25, Thakur the bowler on this occasion. Both were straightforward chances. Remarkably, though, Stokes hit Thakur's next ball in the air as well, in the direction once again of Bumrah at mid-off, and this time he plucked out a far more difficult chance, diving to his left, to leave England 149 for 6.

Bairstow kept playing one breathtaking shot after another - highlights included a drive over mid-off off Mohammed Siraj and a pick-up whip off Thakur that bisected long leg and deep square leg - either side of successfully reviewing an lbw given by Aleem Dar off Thakur's bowling. Just as he entered the 90s, though, rain sprinkled down to take the players off the field. Apart from the 40 minutes of the lunch break, which was taken 15 minutes early, a further 35 minutes were lost before play resumed.

When it did, Bairstow rushed to his century, clipping Thakur pristinely between midwicket and a deepish mid-on, and then stabbing him to the point boundary to bring up the landmark. It took him only 119 balls to get there, but it was still the slowest of his three centuries this summer.

Bumrah returned to the attack for a fiery spell during which he beat Sam Billings' bat twice and found his edge once - only for it to fall short of the cordon - in an over before having a loud lbw shout turned down - rightly so, it emerged after he went for the review - when he bent a low full-toss sharply inwards at Bairstow. He gave way to Shami after four overs, and the change brought a wicket instantly, as Bairstow drove away from his body at an outswinger to nick to first slip.

With England six down and still 175 behind, India scented a quick finish to the innings, and they largely achieved this, as Siraj bounced out Broad, bowled Billings off the inside edge, and then had Matthew Potts caught at second slip to complete an odd sort of four-wicket haul.

Siraj was expensive, conceding 66 in 11.3 overs, and threatened the batters far less consistently than Bumrah or Shami, but every bowler enjoys the occasional day when they are far from their best but end up with a big haul. The final wicket came in debatable circumstances too, with Shreyas Iyer grabbing the low chance on the second grab, having first scooped it up from very close to the turf - close enough that the decision may have gone the batter's way had the soft signal been not out rather than out.

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