Chirp war: India also win escalating swearing contest with England

Jasprit Bumrah was about to face his first delivery of the day from Mark Wood, but before he did he needed a little help. While Joe Root moved his field around, Haseeb Hameed stooped to tie the tail-ender’s shoelaces for him. It was the last tender gesture he would receive from an England player.

The first ball from Wood was a bouncer so fast it had passed Bumrah’s head before he had time to swat at it. James Anderson, fielding at third man, turned towards Ollie Robinson at fine leg and chuckled. The next wasn’t as high, but it was even faster. The speed gun registered 94mph and Wood, at the end of his follow through, registered a couple of thoughts on Bumrah’s batting style.

Wood had been missing when England first took to the field, still receiving treatment on the shoulder he had jammed on the boundary edge the previous day. Still, he worked himself up to top speed for Bumrah, England’s Public Enemy Number One. His third ball deflected off the glove and sent Jos Buttler the wrong way behind the stumps. Bumrah snuck a single to the non-striker’s end, where he discovered Joe Root, who had prepared some words of not-so-welcome.

Whatever goodwill existed between the teams in the first Test had run out on Saturday evening, somewhere in the middle of Bumrah’s 10-ball over of bumpers and oversteps. In contravention of the unspoken code of tail-enders, Bumrah had pounded James Anderson with short bowling. Anderson is a precious asset at the best of times, and in England’s straitened bowling circumstances he’s worth his weight in palladium.

And that is why the England captain, watching from the other end of that innings, left the field without a smile at the close of Saturday’s play, even with 180 runs and an asterisk to his name. On Sunday, Anderson’s own anger was still hot enough to fuel a nine-over spell, and spark a swearing contest with Virat Kohli. “This isn’t your [insert expletive here] backyard,” said the India captain, even if Anderson’s record at Lord’s suggests it very much is.

Virat Kohli
Virat Kohli looked like a general overseeing battle, who has measured the respective strengths of each side, and is confident of the outcome. Photograph: Glyn Kirk/AFP/Getty Images

The fires smouldered on through Monday, judiciously stoked by both sides. During the fightback from Bumrah and his batting partner Mohammed Shami, the entire India team marshalled themselves on their balcony, from where Hindi lipreaders detected some juicy epithets. Buttler got in Bumrah’s face enough that umpire Michael Gough put himself between them. By the time the first drinks break came around, the bottle-carriers in their high-vis jackets might just have been mistaken for security running out to break things up.

England should consider the fate of another team that recently tried to rile this India side. Tim Paine’s chirp to Ravichandran Ashwin, “See you at the Gabba”, earned its place in the Sledging Hall of Infamy when his team conceded their historic defeat to India at that very ground. This is an India side that knows how to play the intimidation game. Sometimes appeasement is the best option.

There was a sense that England had walked into a cunning trap, prepared by a master of mindgames. How else to explain the fact that Kohli sent his batters back out after lunch for just two overs, or the moment when Shami, at the striker’s end, casually stripped down to his underslacks and asked for a new thighpad? England’s players stood around looking suddenly redundant, as they waited for an accessory that took so long to arrive it might have been on its way from the Amazon warehouse.

Up on his balcony, India’s captain spritzed himself from a bottle of fragrance. He looked like a general overseeing battle from his castle on a hill, one who has measured the respective strengths of each side, and is assured of the outcome.

When he did return to the battleground, it was in blood and thunder, his cavalry of bowlers scything through England’s flanks. And when Buttler and Ollie Robinson looked like they might just stick it out to the close, the general rode in himself, to stir things up. One over ended with him wagging his finger at Buttler in a manner that will have taught England’s keeper that you don’t take on the alpha dog if you’re not prepared to back it up.

At the start of the fifth day’s play, the big screen had run through its usual roll of public information. “If you see anything that makes you feel uncomfortable,” said the announcer, “tell a steward.” England could, perhaps, have tried that. We’ll never know whether the serried ranks of green-jacketed supervisors could have done more to combat India’s tail-end batting, or to protect the top order from their new-ball bowling.

Either way, with the two teams kept physically separated by Covid protocols, there will be few opportunities for feelings to be soothed, or bridges mended, before the next Test. What war games can we expect at Headingley?

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