Another run chase taken on at warp speed will reach its thrilling conclusion at Edgbaston on Tuesday as England, powered by their Yorkshire engine room of Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow, look to boldly go where no England team has gone before. Set 378 to win this fifth Test against India, they will, quite remarkably, resume on 259 for three from 57 overs, needing 119 more runs to draw a series that began nearly a year ago.
Root is 76 not out, Bairstow 72 and the heroics of Ben Stokes at Headingley in 2019 could well be surpassed for England’s highest successful chase of all time. A bumper crowd is expected for what could amount to a mere hour of cricket given the way the hosts have already approached this target.
Warwickshire followed the trend set by Nottinghamshire this summer and made tickets available for free at 5pm on the fourth evening; just an hour later the last had been snapped up. Those fortunate enough to have secured them must remember a 10.30am start and may well see a day they will never forget.
England have already knocked off 279, 299 and 296 against New Zealand but to complete this latest challenge, against an attack as vibrant and hostile as the one led by Jasprit Bumrah, would go down as otherworldly. The tourists, refreshed overnight, know an early strike could change things dramatically.
It follows the latest rollercoaster day under the new leadership of Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum, England bowling out India for 245 and then setting off like a freight train. Not even a wobble either side of tea, when from 107 for none they lost three wickets for two runs, could dent their ambitions, Root and Bairstow combining for an unbroken stand of 150 from 197 balls that had Edgbaston rocking.
The two Yorkshiremen were sublime, seeing off the threat of a changed ball that was offering some reverse swing initially and then powering on once the threat had passed. By the close India were the side desperate to walk off, Bairstow summing up his current mood with four overs to go when he pulled Mohammed Siraj for a mighty six.
The start to the chase was similarly something to behold as Alex Lees and Zak Crawley blazed a century stand in 19.5 overs – a first for England since Haseeb Hameed and Rory Burns (at half the pace) put on 100 during the fourth Test at the Oval last summer. There was risk involved, Lees dancing down to Mohammed Shami in the second over and playing a Graeme Smith-style cover drive that ended up going for four through midwicket, plus a leave which missed the stumps by a whisker.
But things soon clicked as he began lifting short balls over the cordon, punching through cover and reverse-sweeping the hastily deployed Ravindra Jadeja for a 40-ball half-century. This early impetus from Lees and decent strike rotation not only rattled India but allowed Crawley, the subject of much debate, to settle in at the other end before he got in on the act.
A crisp cover drive off Shardul Thakur in the 18th over took the target under 300, Crawley then toying with Siraj with boundaries either side of the wicket. When he plays like this, one can see the allure.
But as an array of postboxes and traffic cones in the Hollies Stand started up a conga, a conflab between India’s players and umpires out in the middle produced the latest in a summer of ball changes. The original had done little – the pitch, too, had been left sleepy by the heavy roller – but Bumrah snatched its replacement and got it to talk, Crawley shouldering arms on 46 and bowled by a delivery that arrowed in.
The quieter half of a 20,000-strong crowd split by way of loyalties suddenly came alive, egged on further by the ever-animated Virat Kohli at slip. Ollie Pope made it to tea, somehow, and England were 107 for one. But with the first ball of the evening session, Bumrah found the edge of a tame poke for the No 3’s first duck in 48 innings.
Feasting on the heady atmosphere, India whistled up a third strike and the removal of Lees for 56 when he squirted a delivery to short fine-leg, Root ran through for a single and Shami calmly threw to the bowler’s end. Having offered Lees a few choice words when the players walked off for tea, Kohli positively erupted in celebration.
Yet over the course of the next two hours the pendulum swung once more through the sheer class and poise of Root and Bairstow. India also burned two reviews in successive overs, the more heinous of which came when Jadeja talked Bumrah into an lbw shout against Root when the ball pitched outside leg. They have one review left, something which could have a considerable impact on the final throes of this thriller.
Similarly England’s performance in the morning, when they wiped out the last seven Indian wickets at a cost of 120 runs, may well be referenced should they get over the line. Stokes led the charge here, thundering for figures of four for 33 – his best return with the ball in nearly five years – and Matt Potts finished with two for 50.
The key strike among this fightback was Rishabh Pant for 57 when a reverse sweep off Jack Leach was clothed to Root at slip. This match may have been a comedown for the left-arm spinner after his 10-wicket Test at Headingley but, much like England’s batters in pursuit of a target these days, this moment should not be underestimated.