England vs India: Ben Stokes the hero as England triumph in topsy-turvy first Test
This might not quite have been Edgbaston 2005, the greatest Test of them all, but Ben Stokes found his own Freddie Flintoff moment to power England to victory in another contest for the ages.
It came 11 overs into the day, with India needing 53 more runs to chase down 194 and with four wickets in hand. Crucially one of those was Virat Kohli, their captain set on 51 and threatening to single-handedly win this opening Test for his team.
England knew they needed to get Kohli to stand any chance of denying India victory, and after five overs of James Anderson tearing in from the City End, Joe Root threw the ball to Stokes.
Kohli, with an iron will and self-belief fuelled by a first-innings 149, was the match. Within three balls Stokes had handed it to England as he speared in a delivery towards the pads and a misjudgement of millimetres by Kohli saw him trapped in front.
Up went the finger from umpire Aleem Dar and down went Stokes to his knees, mobbed by his team-mates as he pumped his fists in wild-eyed celebration. It wasnât quite Flintoffâs Jesus pose after he dismissed Australia captain Ricky Ponting on the penultimate evening of that epic 2005 Ashes Test here. It was damn close though.
Three balls later, Stokes had Mohammad Shami edging behind. From 141 for six, India, the worldâs No1 team, were now 141 for eight and within six balls the complexion of this dramatic, gut-wrenchingly tense match had changed.
By the time Adil Rashid had taken the ninth wicket, trapping Ishant Sharma lbw, India needed 40 to win.
But it was truly fitting that victory was sealed by Stokes, Hardik Pandya edging a simple chance to Alastair Cook at first slip that had Englandâs talismanic all-rounder doing his best impression of Flintoffâs trademark pose.
India, who had started the day on 110 for five, were all out for 162. Ninety minutes into this fourth day England had won by 31 runs. It wasnât as close as 2005, when Michael Vaughanâs team won the second Test by just two runs. However, this match packed in as much drama, intrigue and emotion as Englandâs entire winter.
Stokes was absent for the first part of that. Now we know just why England missed him so much during that 4-0 Ashes series defeat.
That, of course, was because of the incident in Bristol last September that resulted i n Stokesâ arrest and subsequent charge for affray.
He will miss next weekâs Lordâs Test to answer that charge in court.
But he has given England, who had lost the opening matches of their last three Test series, a monumental injection of confidence that should prove telling in the four Tests to come against a crestfallen India team whose batting was, apart from Kohli, frankly shambolic.
Other than Indiaâs leader, no other player in his team managed to score more than Pandyaâs 31 in the match. The moving ball proved unplayable to every India batsman other than Kohli, a fact illustrated by Anderson in the first over of the day when he teased Dinesh Karthik into a prod outside off stump that was gleefully taken by Dawid Malan, whose three drops, including Kohli twice on day two, and poor return with the bat makes him likely to be dropped for Lordâs.
For now, though, England can bask in this gripping win, with S tokes admitting: âItâs just great to be a part of this game. I donât really know how to feel right now.
âVirat Kohli played brilliantly in the first innings and I think we was just playing for the swing when I got him there. Iâm just so proud to be a part of this group and playing for England.
âWe werenât sure what to expect today we just knew we had to get five wickets. Weâve had a lot of stick recently so to beat a team like India will hopefully close some mouths.
âWeâll take a lot of confidence from winning today into the rest of this series.â
This Test has also unearthed another potential superstar all-rounder in Sam Curran, the 20-year-old rightly named man of the match for his five wickets and the nerveless, game-changing second-innings knock of 63 that ensured India would have to chase down their record target in England to win this match.
âWhat a game of cricket, from start to finish,â said Root. âSam Curranâs knock changed the game. There were other periods in the game beforehand that couldâve gone our way but to play that innings under pressure was brilliant.
âThen the bowlers were outstanding. Last night India couldâve got on top and swung it in their favour but none of the bowlers let me down.â
Kohli added: âIt was a great game of cricket and I was glad to be involved in such a fantastic Test match. We showed character at times but England were relentless in the a reas they hit. We could definitely have applied ourselves better with the bat but Iâm proud of the fight we showed. It sets up the series. There is no hiding from this game. We have to play positive and fearless.â
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