Following an encouraging performance in our one and only warm-up match, we faced off against the mighty India in the foothills of the Himalayas.
We lost the toss and not surprisingly were made to field. Opening batsmen Mayank Agarwal and Rohit Sharma soon took the hosts to 50-0 with little fuss. It’s fair to say that by the time India had collapsed to 55-3 then 90-4 at lunch, a fuss was being made!
All-rounder Zidane Thomas (1-23), entrusted with the new ball following the omission of talisman Alexandre Riviere, made the breakthrough by pinning Agarwal (35) LBW. Teenage spin sensation Mehdi Qadri, fresh from wickets in the tour game, then had Sharma (16) caught behind by Marwan Leroy in his first over. Debutant Louis Petit also struck straight away to announce his arrival to Test cricket in sublime style. The distinctive slow-left-armer claimed the wicket of India captain Virat Kohli for a seven-ball duck as his maiden Test victim… and who should be the catcher? Only his twin brother Enzo!
Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane steadied things briefly before the Qadri/Leroy combo was at it again to account for Pujara (19).
After the interval, things never got any better for the hosts as they plunged further into the abyss at 135-9. Rahane (13) was ousted by Petit (15-3-28-2) courtesy of sharp work by Smith at slip before Vihari (15) was exquisitely caught by Zvonimir Pitko. Pitko, who has already proven himself to be a handsome fieldsman, was positioned somewhere between silly mid-on and mid-wicket. It was an outrageous take.
Our skipper, Xavier Le Tallec, was demonstrating astute tactical nous having been forced to field first. Risabh Pant (8) was another to succumb to rampant spin sensation Qadri before Ravi Jadeja (22) bedded in. However he was needlessly run out to curtail any fight back from the home side. Ravi Ashwin made a hard-earned 4 from 27 deliveries before edging Martin (1-43) to Chevalier who held the sort of catch that proclaimed “When it’s your day then it’s your day!”. Ishant Sharma (7) and Jasprit Bumrah (13*) frustrated briefly to haul the score to 153 before Qadri (5-56) bowled the former to record the first Test five-wicket haul in our nation’s history.
We then made a tidy start in our attempt to gain a first innings lead before Chevalier (14) edged a brute of a ball from Bumrah to third slip. That left us 24-1 before Petit and Smith really got our innings going. The pair had compiled 43 when India reviewed an LBW appeal against our opener. Despite clear evidence that Petit (29) had got bat on ball the decision was incorrectly overturned. We were 67-2 with drinks upon us and me spewing my cafe au lait!
After beverages we continued to build but regularly had our progress checked. Smith (26) was caught at slip off the bowling of Ashwin and Pitko (13) was turned inside out to be caught at mid-wicket off Ishant Sharma. Thomas (7) struck a maximum only to fall the very next ball. Thomas is developing a habit of batting for a fun time but not a long time. It’s such a waste provided his talent and on this occasion was a naive dismissal so late in the day. From 83-2 we’d stumbled to 136-5 at close of play on a wicket frenzy first day. Come day two a lot would rest on the shoulders of set batsman Youssef Rizvi, fresh from a century in the tour match.
On the second morning Rizvi and Marwan Leroy raised their partnership to 53 before both succumbed to the spin of Ashwin. Having contributed a fifty of his own, Rizvi (57) nicked behind to gloveman Pant before Leroy (42) was trapped on the crease LBW. Rizvi will feel that he could’ve left alone the ball that did for him and Leroy was gutted to fall short of a half-century. When the seventh wicket went down we’d accumulated 200 exactly.
Skipper Le Tallec and debutante Louis Petit upped the score to 268 but the return of Ashwin immediately (And by that I mean immediately!) accounted for Le Tallec (37). It was a welcome contribution from the skipper however after registering only 9 runs in four innings against England. The partnership had lifted our lead to in excess 100.
Qadri (6) didn’t last long. He was LBW to Jadeja and an optimistic review didn’t save him. Last man Louis Martin joined his namesake Petit and batted stoically to help build a frustrating (For the Indians!) last wicket stand. Petit, dropped by Pujara on 44, brought up a half-century on Test debut to go with his excellent bowling display. 299-9 and the lead upto 146 were the details at lunch. At the time, both team’s innings had lasted exactly 60 overs!
After the break the innings was soon curtailed by Ashwin (6-51) when he bowled Martin (7) around his legs but not before we’d passed 300. 302 all out with Petit unbeaten on 53 and a healthy lead of 149 meant that India’s batsmen had plenty of work to do.
India’s openers set about that work and amassed 24 runs without alarm at which point Zidane Thomas outright dismantled Rohit Sharma’s (15) stumps with a ferocious Yorker. It was a magnificent riposte by Thomas after being subjected to online vitriol overnight for his failure with the bat and having experienced an expensive first few overs with the ball. He had however made the vital first breakthrough for the second time in the match. India recovered though to reach 92-1 at tea, 57 from parity.
Agarwal and Pujara pushed on to put India in the lead and extend their partnership past 150 before Thomas intervened once again. He lured Agarwal (93) forward to edge a full delivery to Smith at slip. Smith didn’t need to move and India lost their second wicket with the score on 179, effectively 30-2.
There was then a mid-match patch, the replay function wouldn’t work properly, a deadly virus outbreak, screaming kids and Le Tallec (Well me!) dropping a catch off the bowling of Thomas. India were 211-2 at the conclusion of day two and well placed 62 in the lead.
On day three captain Kohli passed fifty at better than a run-a-ball and Pujara, having lingered in the nineties, brought up a determined and potentially match-defining ton. Having combined for 105 Kohli (70 off 71) was casual when running a third and was dismissed courtesy of a direct hit all the way from the boundary by action man Thomas. Soon after that, Pujara (113) had his middle stump uprooted by Pitko’s (1-15) part-time medium-pace. 315-4 and India 166 in the black was the equation at lunch.
Old habits died hard for India as Vihari (7) was inexplicably run out in just the third over of the middle session. Though gloveman Marwan Leroy ultimately effected the run out, it resulted from yet another throw from that man Zidane! The wicket of Vihari came in a Louis Martin over and in his next the opening bowler tempted Pant (1) into an expansive drive that he dragged onto his stumps. India had slumped from 284-2 to 332-6 but the lead was up to 190.
Rahane and Jadeja resisted before Thomas (3-110) finally claimed his third wicket… better late than never! Despite a hint of leg-side about it Jadeja (19) declined to review having been adjudged LBW. Ashwin (2) then feathered behind off a reinvigorated Martin (3-93) before Big Louis knocked over the stumps of key man Rahane (53).
Just as Sharma (6*) and Bumrah (7) started to frustrate, they completed a run out hat-trick for the second innings. India had fought back superbly but then so had we. Having commenced their second dig 149 runs in deficit they’d gained a lead but collapsed horribly from 284-2 to 390 all out, effectively losing eight wickets for only 106 runs. Curiously, all wickets but run outs in India’s second innings fell to pace bowling. We required 242 to win a Test match for the first time in our nation’s history.
To only the second delivery of our defining run-chase Jean-Luc Chevalier (2) pushed at an inducing full delivery from Bumrah and edged behind to Pant. Enzo Petit and Gilles Smith however raced to a fifty partnership. Immediately upon doing so Petit was adjudged LBW to Sharma but with Chevalier already wasting a review Petit rolled the dice once more. Replays confirmed that the ball was destined to bounce over the stumps and Petit survived, providing some atonement for the appalling first inning decision that he’d suffered. Following said review, India introduced spin in the form of first innings tormentor Ashwin. One over later we were 56-1 at tea still requiring 186 more to send shockwaves throughout the world.
Petit and Smith moved their partnership onto exactly 100 when Smith (41) edged to short leg off the bowling of Ashwin. 102-2, 140 to win!
With 106 runs required Rizvi (22), having looked so at ease at the crease but already fatigued between the wickets, was slow to ground his bat and run out. It had the potential to be a sliding doors moment!
Following Rizvi’s fall, Petit put his foot on the accelerator but a field change distracted him and he heartbreakingly fell short of a ton, bowled for 94, Ashwin (2-64) the bowler responsible. A distraught Petit trudged off to a rapturous applause from fans of both sides but he knew deep down that he hadn’t seen his team over the line. Thomas joined Pitko with the score 167-4 but suddenly 74 more seemed a big ask. Thomas promptly despatched his first ball for six to relieve some tension. Getting stumped off his second delivery (Jadeja 1-36) however brought all that tension right back!
Pitko and Leroy (6) steadied the leaking if not quite sinking ship before Bumrah was brought back into the attack. Leroy’s eyes lit up when Bumrah (2-74) served up a short ball first thing but the young wicketkeeper got his attempted pull all wrong, only ballooning the ball skyward before the slip fielder took the catch when it came back down to Earth. 191-6, 51 still required to win.
From there, the ultra-composed Zvonimir Pitko and captain Le Tallec compiled fifty exactly to level the scores. Pitko (49*) was cruelly denied a fifty of his own but how fitting that our captain, Xavier Le Tallec (19*), should score the winning run.
The match had ebbed and flowed like all great Test matches should. We’d made history and President Macron was on the phone before the players had even left the field. Emotion ran high among the playing squad and support staff. Many a tear was shed. Meanwhile back home people danced in the streets of Paris, Nantes, Lyon and beyond. Cricket was headline news on French TV. Children in the parks of Lille, Rennes and Montpellier wanted to pick up a bat and ball. Cricket had entered the French psyche on an unimaginable scale as an ex-teacher, plasterer and more than one university drop out amongst others had put India to the sword and placed French cricket firmly on the map. Forget Platini, Mauresmo and Prost (Well don’t forget them!) and remember Qadri, Petit, Le Tallec and co. There’s a second Test in Delhi to come but for now let’s saviour victory in the Himalayas!
Disclaimer: Apologies for the image quality… long story, various excuses!