A fairy-tale ending to Alastair Cook’s glorious career was the highlight of the Oval Test. As a sportsperson, nothing is more fulfilling than going out on a high. Cook ticked all the boxes in his farewell appearance, signing off with a century and playing a significant role in England’s comfortable victory in the final Test.
The 4-1 scoreline in England’s favour might not necessarily be a true reflection of the quality of the two sides. But it reiterated the fact that in Test cricket, you can’t take your eyes off the ball for even an hour. India had their opportunities, but except in Trent Bridge, they didn’t take them. By contrast, England raised their game a notch or two when it counted the most. The manner in which they bounced back in Southampton after the Trent Bridge hammering and in the intensity with which they approached the dead rubber at The Oval is something India must seek to emulate.
The Indian think tank will, I am sure, introspect and look inward in the aftermath of the series defeat. The one thing they will recognise is that they kept repeating mistakes — allowing the tail to wag after making serious inroads into the top order, and not getting off to starts which is not the hallmark of the number one Test team of the world.
In saying that, I was delighted with the attitude of KL Rahul and Rishabh Pant in a daunting run-chase at The Oval. From a position of no hope, they batted with freedom and expressed themselves beautifully with some of the best stroke-making of the series. Both men needed the hundreds; Rahul had had a disappointing tour till that point, while Pant faded away a little since his promising Trent Bridge debut.
Their conviction and positivity when the chips were down is something Indian cricket can take great heart from.
India could have looked for a draw in the immediacy of Rahul’s dismissal, but they kept going for the target till Pant was around, like they had done in Adelaide in 2014 in Virat’s first Test as captain. That is the character of this team — to strive for a result, no matter what. Their shot at redemption will come later in the year in Australia, if they can take the lessons from this tour and apply them Down Under.