Mahendra Singh Dhoni produced a battling 82 but Chris Woakes and Chris Jordan, England’s so-called weak links, proved the critics wrong, taking six wickets between them to bowl India out for 148 five overs after tea on the opening day of the fifth and final Test at The Oval on Friday (August 15).
Dhoni’s last-wicket partnership with Ishant Sharma (7 not out off 42 balls) was the highest of the innings, producing 58 runs before India’s captain slapped a delivery from Stuart Broad straight to Woakes at deep backward square leg.
A wet outfield had delayed the start of play by half an hour and the overcast conditions were bound to test India’s creaky batting line-up, after England won the toss and gleefully inserted the visitors.
India might have been bundled out for 95 had Ian Bell held a simple offering from Ishant at second slip, but it was the only blemish in an otherwise flawless effort from England.
Crucially, it allowed Dhoni to eke out a few more runs. He relied on brute strength rather than footwork in his 142-ball stay at the crease, muscling the ball for 16 boundaries – one of which was a six walloped over long-off.
India had walked out after lunch at 43 for 5, looking more bruised than Broad’s nose.
Stuart Binny hadn’t played since the second Test at Lord’s and he fared little better than Ravindra Jadeja, the man he replaced, barely managing to put bat to ball. R Ashwin showed more positive intent, but an excellent low catch from Joe Root sent him back for 13.
It all started with the wicket of Gautam Gambhir. Looking in two minds whether to play or leave the ball from James Anderson, the opener chose the latter option but the ball grazed the open face of the bat and was pouched by Jos Buttler, the wicketkeeper.
With Gambhir gone for a first-ball duck, Cheteshwar Pujara found himself making his way out to the middle in the day’s opening over. Pujara (4) lasted 19 balls before Broad – the same menacing bowler despite his injury at Old Trafford – got the ball to ricochet off the batsman’s pad and arm and onto the stumps.
Virat Kohli nearly gave Broad another wicket when he decided to shoulder arms to a delivery that angled back in a bit. The umpire wasn’t interested then but when Kohli (6) did it a second time, to Jordan, his luck had run out.
For Ajinkya Rahane (0), it was déjà vu, offering a sharp catch back to the bowler just as he done in the second innings at Old Trafford. And Jordan, who has taken tougher catches in this series, wasn’t going to drop a straightforward offering.
All the while, M Vijay had a front-row view to India’s horror show. Of the entire top order, he alone left the ball with some measure of comfort, but eventually succumbed to the pressure and exited stage left, caught at gully by Root off Woakes for a 64-ball 18.