Maybe narratives like Eden 2001 are written only once. If India had a faint hope of turning a corner in this Test, England duly crushed it by Saturday afternoon. Now, there’s a small matter of dislodging India’s last wicket pair and knocking off a double digit target.
R Ashwin and Ishant Sharma played out 75 minutes to take India 32 runs in front. Ashwin is 17 short of what could be a well-deserved second Test hundred. Yes, the knock shouldn’t obscure his abject bowling here but we’ll let that pass today.
In the end, it’s only fitting that a superior side will head to Nagpur with a 2-1 lead.
We’ve heard that in sports, as in life, the first step to progress is admission of failure and realisation of the fact that you haven’t been good enough. Since the Ahmedabad Test, the two teams have taken different routes. England were willing to learn, do the hard yards, and return a better team. India, during this period, longed for spiked decks and loyal curators. It’s not known if they had been urged to smooth out their skills first.
On skills alone, these Englishmen march away with the points. The England quicks extracted reverse, got deliveries to whiz past shoulders, made India block, miss and edge. None of this was once apparent when India even had the new ball.
And whatever happened to India’s batting that usually provides a healing touch during crises. Is it thus a surprise that we have struggled to win sessions, let alone win a day?
For once, India appeared refreshed on Day Four. They had winkled out the England tail quickly before the openers blazed away. Virender Sehwag, as usual, marched to his own beat, taking on the spinners. England had a lead of 200-plus but England’s close-in men, wary of Sehwag reducing the deficit quickly, moved back.
In between, Sehwag survived a chance at slip off James Anderson; Gautam Gambhir, too, was let off at short leg. Wearing his dancing shoes, Gambhir hoisted Monty Panesar over long on. The game seemed to be in a state of drift until Graeme Swann changed it all in the very first ball after lunch, getting one to rip through Sehwag’s defence.
With the field coming in, India went into a free fall. Before nicking a full ball to the wicketkeeper, Gambhir was involved in another tragicomic mix-up (with Cheteshwar Pujara this time). Ian Bell’s zipping throw from midwicket underlined what Rahul Dravid said on air: the difference between the two sides has been the agile legs on the field, especially when games move quickly on Days Four and Five.
And so, five wickets crashed for 36 runs. Sachin Tendulkar directed a Swann delivery, which didn’t turn, to slip; Yuvraj Singh and MS Dhoni, both consumed by James Anderson, couldn’t have squeezed more out of their skins than they were capable of.
Virat Kohli looked the most assured of the top-order bats. He exercised iron self-control and was watchful against the quicks to start with. Bell missed a takeable chance off Finn at short leg, but the tall quick had a definite plan against Kohli. After getting most of his deliveries to swerve in to him, Finn bowled one that deviated just a shade outside off drawing Kohli’s bat with it.
With nothing to lose, Ashwin parodied what India’s top-order has failed to do here. But how long could India’s tail have fanned the dying embers?