One Test down with one to play is an unusual place for England to find themselves in over the past 30 years. I can think only of four times they have managed to square a series at home from that position – each time at the Oval: against West Indies in 1991 in ‘the legover’ Test, versus South Africa in 1994 when ‘you guys are history’, in 2003 also against South Africa with the return of Thorpe and Martin Bicknell’s treasured, long-overdue, last hurrah and in 2019 to tie but not regain the Ashes by virtue of Jofra Archer’s six-for, No-Pants’ 94 and four apiece for Messrs Broad and Leach in Australia’s second dig.
They have done it once away, too, back in 2006 at Mumbai from 1-0 down against India. They did it from a seemingly impossible position too – Michael Vaughan was injured and wouldn’t be back for more than a year, Marcus Trescothick was back home ill, Steve Harmison was lame with a shin complaint while Simon Jones and Ashley Giles also absent with the injuries that would ultimately end their international careers. But Andrew Flintoff, the stand-in for the stand-in captain, cleared his throat and bellowed: ‘Love is a burning thing/ And it makes a fiery ring/ Bound by wild desire/ I fell into a ring of fire.’
England channelled Johnny Cash all the way to victory – Andrew Strauss made a 5 1/2-hour hundred in the first innings, Owais Shah made 88 on debut, Flintoff hit three sixes and six fours in making 50, while Shaun Udal took four wickets in India’s second innings and a certain Jimmy Anderson took four in the first … against a batting line-up including Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Yuvraj Singh and MS Dhoni.
However bleak the outlook seems, however stretched the resources and however short the team fell in the preceding Test – for a 10-wicket defeat in Ahmedabad last week read a nine-wicket loss in Mohali 15 years ago – there is always hope that the fire can go wild again.
I would pick the two best spinners – Leach and Bess – give Anderson the new ball with one of either Archer, Olly Stone or Mark Wood and stick Burns back at the top of the order and trust him to find a way. I’d also give Jonny B the gloves and bat him at No7 because, although high risk, he has more chance of a game-changing innings than Foakes who is, by miles, the better keeper but has fewer strokes. Join us for the team news and toss at 3.30am AKA Silly o’clock as we continue this long night’s journey into day.