LONDON: A compelling series kept giving right until the very last ball as James Anderson sealed England’s 118-run victory over India with a wicket that made him the most successful fast bowler in the history of test cricket on Tuesday.
Audacious centuries from KL Rahul (149) and Rishabh Pant (114) had given India hope of saving the fifth test and even reaching the target of 464 that was required for a remarkable victory but the day eventually belonged to Anderson.
With less than an hour remaining and India teetering on 345-9, the 36-year-old Anderson was finally rewarded for a long spell as he ripped out Mohammed Shami’s middle stump.
It was Anderson’s 564th test wicket – one more than retired Australian great Glenn McGrath managed – and left him fourth on the all-time list behind spinners Muttiah Muralitharan (800), Shane Warne (708) and Anil Kumble (619).
There could not have been a more fitting conclusion to an incredible few days at the historic south London ground that on Monday witnessed Anderson’s close friend Alastair Cook sign off his record-breaking career with an emotional century.
They walked off together to a standing ovation on Tuesday and Anderson was close to tears as he spoke of his achievement.
“Happy that Cooky was on the field to see that wicket, it’s been a tough week,” Anderson, who played the first of his 143 tests in 2003, said.
“I’m just happy to win the game. I wasn’t even thinking about the record. When India were building that partnership it was looking like they were going to get close.
“But I got into a good rhythm and thankfully (Joe) Root let me take the new ball and gave me a chance to take that wicket.”
Only if Cook had taken the final catch off of Anderson’s bowling could the summer have had a more fitting end.
Cook, England’s most-capped test player and run scorer, led the tributes for his old pal.
“(It has) been a privilege to play with England’s greatest cricketer, no disrespect to any other guys, his skills to do it time and time again,” he said. “He didn’t miss his length once.”
India, the world’s top-ranked test nation, may have lost the series 4-1 but could walk off with their heads held high.
Anderson’s two wickets in four balls on Monday, together with strike partner Stuart Broad’s first-ball dismissal of Indian run machine Virat Kohli, had left India on a precarious 2-3 and facing an impossible salvage operation.
Rahul, who began the day on 46 not out, reached his first half-century of the series in the day’s opening over, flicking Anderson off his legs for a boundary.
On a murky day and with the wicket offering little for England’s pace attack, he grew in confidence with Ajinkya Rahane also looking solid at the other end.
Their 118-run partnership ended when Rahane ballooned an attempted sweep of Moeen Ali to Keaton Jennings at mid-wicket having made 37. When Ben Stokes had Hanuma Vihari edging behind for a duck in the next over it looked bleak for India.
But Rahul went back on the attack with a flurry of boundaries off Stokes, accelerating from 78 to three figures in the space of nine balls, including a six over deep extra cover.
Pant took centre stage after lunch as he treated the Oval crowd to a sensational display of shot-making to become the first Indian wicketkeeper to make a century in England.
The fearless 20-year-old reached his maiden test century from 117 balls, reaching three figures with a huge six off Adil Rashid shortly before tea.
The onslaught continued after it as India dared to dream with the score on 325-5 and the partnership worth 204.
Rashid then bowled Rahul with a ‘wonder ball’ that pitched way outside, spinning back out of the rough and hitting off.
Pant struck 19 boundaries, including four sixes, but shortly after Rahul went he holed out trying to smash Rashid into row Z.
With India’s tail exposed, England took the new ball with 18 overs remaining but it was Sam Curran, not Anderson, who struck first to dismiss Ishant Sharma and Ravindra Jadeja.
Anderson then applied the coup de grace.