James Anderson took his last opportunity of The Oval Test to claim a famous piece of history as he completed England’s 118-run victory by becoming the world’s most successful pace bowler ever.
Anderson had laboured in vain throughout the final day of the Test summer, but was still going strong deep into the evening and clean-bowled India tailender Mohammed Shami to conclude England’s 4-1 Specsavers series success.
As the middle-stump cartwheeled backwards behind Shami, it was a moment of course which also took England’s all-time leading wicket-taker past Australia great Glenn McGrath to stand alone in fourth place on the all-time Test wicket takers standings with a career tally of 564 – the most for a fast bowler.
England had to hold their nerve to close out their win after KL Rahul and Rishabh Pant had threatened a world-record run chase.
Anderson was billed as the headline act, in search of the one wicket he still needed.
But until his late, late intervention, it was opener Rahul (149) and Pant (114) who lit up a slate-grey final instalment before England bowled India out for 345.
The assumption was that soon enough someone, if not Anderson, would break India’s resolve and deliver England’s victory.
It took much longer than almost everyone expected, but eventually the ‘someone’ turned out to be Adil Rashid – who dismissed Rahul and Pant in successive overs after tea.
By then, thanks to a sixth-wicket stand of 205 in just under 45 overs, India had given themselves a chance to chase 464 – and therefore surpass the previous-best of 418 for seven by West Indies against Australia in Antigua 15 years ago.
Rahul’s defiant and stylish 118-ball hundred set the tone, and 20-year-old Pant demonstrated his precocious shot-making talent with 14 fours and three mighty sixes in his maiden century from one delivery fewer than his partner.
India’s efforts were all the more remarkable after Anderson and Stuart Broad had reduced them to two for three the previous evening – in an innings which contained a combined one run from four specialist batsmen.
Heavy cloud cover greeted the morning resumption, and persisted almost throughout.
But if that appeared to be in England’s favour, an increasingly flat and slow pitch was not.
Broad was reportedly bowling through the pain of a rib injury, after being hit while batting on day one by Jasprit Bumrah.
Rahul and Ajinkya Rahane took their stand to 118, and it was only the latter’s mistake against Moeen Ali – a miscued sweep off the toe-end straight to midwicket – which gave the hosts a belated opening.
In the next over, first of a new spell for Ben Stokes, debutant Hanuma Vihari was caught-behind – trying to drop his hands on a short one.
India were 121 for five, but Rahul still had an appetite for runs and took toll of both Moeen and Stokes as he raced through the 80s and 90s with a series of swashbuckling shots.
The last was a back-foot slap past mid-off for his 16th boundary to reach his fifth Test hundred – and as Pant got the same bug through a wicketless second session, he completed his century even more emphatically by smashing Rashid high over midwicket for six.
India were 298 for five at tea, with 166 more runs needed in 33 overs.
But if history beckoned at that point, it did so only briefly.
Joe Root persisted with the old ball and Rashid, who rewarded his captain and fellow Yorkshireman with exaggerated turn from round the wicket to lift the off-bail past a bamboozled Rahul.
An over later, Pant was gone too when another attempted big hit found the hands of long-off.
From then, it was about England closing out the victory.
Anderson would have had his record-breaking wicket, in his 19th over, if Jonny Bairstow had gathered a diving catch low to his left when Ravindra Jadeja edged.
It therefore fell to Sam Curran to take two of the last three wickets – before Anderson finished the job in fairytale fashion for the second day in succession, after his great pal Alastair Cook had ended his career with a century here too.