Moeen’s all-round contribution seals series win for England
MOEEN ALI finally broke India’s resistance as England sealed the Specsavers series with a 60-run win after a titanic struggle in Southampton.
The world’s No 1 team pushed England into the penultimate evening of the fourth Test, thanks to a century fourth-wicket stand between Virat Kohli (58) and Ajinkya Rahane (51).
But Moeen (4-71) took his match haul to nine wickets, and India lost four wickets for just 13 runs soon after tea to give England an unassailable 3-1 lead with one match to play.
India’s target, one they have exceeded just once in their history to win outside Asia, was 245 after England were bowled out for 271 in their second innings.
Kohli, especially, and Rahane made Joe Root sweat, but Moeen dismissed both, on an increasingly helpful pitch, in a total of 184.
An eventful morning always appeared in the offing and, in gloriously cloudless conditions, so it proved as first England lost their last two wickets for 11 runs.
Stuart Broad edged the first ball behind to go for a golden duck and put Mohammed Shami (4-57) on a hat-trick for the second time in the innings.
Sam Curran prevented that at the start of the next over, only to fall four short of his second 50 of the match, run out despite a dive in for a chancy second.
This fluctuating contest was therefore perfectly set, but India were soon undermined by the loss of early wickets.
KL Rahul was undone by low bounce, bowled on the backfoot defence by Broad, while James Anderson – who had been strangely wicketless through the first innings – soon ended his wait to get in on the action when bagged two in four balls.
Cheteshwar Pujara could muster only five, following his unbeaten century on Friday, caught leg before when pushing forward.
Then in his next over, Anderson had Shikhar Dhawan edging some swing to be well-caught by Ben Stokes at third slip.
The lunchtime talking point was yet to come, though.
Kohli had just nine to his name when he survived in a moment of controversy after England opted for an lbw review.
Technology depicted Moeen’s off-break hitting in line and going on to leg-stump, but third umpire Joel Wilson interpreted an Ultraedge as Kohli’s bat-on-ball saviour – despite an apparently synchronised impact with the front pad.
Rahane also had a marginal es- cape on 12, given out lbw to Curran on the field but handed a lifeline by DRS which demonstrated a finger-nail protrusion of the front pad outside off-stump.
A frustrated England could then only muster one wicket in the afternoon session but, crucially, it was the one they craved above all others.
The session was an exposition of cricketing skills as bat countered ball, despite the hazards of spin, occasional variable bounce and footmarks for Moeen and Adil Rashid, and reverse-swing for Anderson.
Kohli dealt with the lot, reaching his 114-ball 50 with just his third boundary, until Moeen got one in the perfect place to spin, bounce and take the glove for a catch at short-leg.
Hardik Pandya lasted just three balls into the evening, be- fore fencing a catch low to second slip off Stokes and, suddenly it seemed, everything depended on Rahane.
Rishabh Pant tested England’s nerve briefly with a counter-attacking cameo of two boundaries and a lofted six from just 12 balls.
But he holed out to deep cover off Moeen – and once Rahane went to the off-spinner too, lbw deep in his crease after a 147-ball 50 which contained a solitary boundary, England were at last on the home straight.
It was not Moeen, on his return after being dropped in Christchurch in March, who struck the final blow, however, but his fellow comeback kid Curran.
The Surrey bowler captured the 14th lbw verdict of the match as Ravi Ashwin was last out to hand the hosts a memorable series victory.
Played vital role for England on his Test return against India with both bat and ball.