What had seemed impossible a fortnight ago is beginning to look a formality. England swept aside India yesterday to win the fourth Test inside three days by an innings and 54 runs.
The winners were irresistible, the losers simply capitulated. The reversal of fortunes between these sides since the match at Lord’s last month has been extraordinary.
Then, England did not know where their next win was coming from. They were rudderless and ineffective, led by a captain who was being advised to resign from all sides. India had secured one of their most famous victories. They were confident and assertive, beating their opponents at their own game.
Since that abject defeat, England have won almost every session of play, barely able to believe how straightforward it has been as India have collapsed in mind and body. It is difficult to envisage any way back for the tourists now in the Investec series.
The progress of the third day was as inexorable as the first. As soon as India subsided to eight for four on the opening morning they were virtually out of contention and their second innings followed a similarly disastrous pattern on the third afternoon.
Faced with batting 61 overs yesterday to take the match into today with the remnants of Hurricane Bertha expected to be unleashed over Manchester, they lacked gumption, spirit and will. At one point they lost five wickets for 13 runs in 29 balls as batsmen played a series of foolhardy, careless stokes.
For the second match in succession the man inflicting most of the damage, tearing the heart out of India’s middle order, was Moeen Ali, who is making a nonsense of his supposed status as a part-time off spinner. As at Southampton 10 days earlier, he made India’s batsmen, brought up on turning pitches, look like callow apprentices against his wiles and cunning. In truth, all that Moeen did was pitch it up and made sure the ball turned. India did the rest. The way was opened up for him by Jimmy Anderson, under the weather but still far too much of a handful for the tourists’ top order. It was hugely embarrassing, especially as England were without Anderson’s opening partner, Stuart Broad, who was forced to leave the field after being hit on the nose by a bouncer while batting.
From the moment play started, England were firmly in control. The loss of much of the second day to rain had interrupted their first innings but not the admirable work of Joe Root and Jos Buttler. Root has been England’s most assured batsman this season, finding life at number five suits him.
Buttler made his second fifty in his first two Test innings, the only England wicketkeeper to do that. This innings was as equally impressive as his blazing 85 on his debut at Southampton. This time, he needed to knuckle down to play in an authentic Test fashion and he responded accordingly, leaving well and leaving all the fancy shots in the locker.
But he pounced on the bad ball, especially the half volley and anything with width, and his power remains breathtaking. Both became improbable victims of Pankaj Singh, who had waited 69.2 overs for his first wicket. The outpouring of jubilation for this gentle warrior when he had Root caught down the leg side was so great that it was as if he had taken all 10 wickets in the innings. Having waited so long, 14 balls later he induced Buttler to strike a slower ball to mid-off.
After lunch, England’s clear plan was to score quick runs before India started their second innings. Test matches cannot be played according to the weather forecast but the likelihood of storms today with rain tomorrow was so great that it was bound to affect thinking.
Broad hooked two sixes but in going for a third was beaten by the pace and bounce of Varun Aaron. The ball clipped the top edge of his bat and went between the grill and peak of his helmet, hitting him squarely on the bridge of the nose.
Blood flowed on to the pitch and after treatment, Broad retired, clutching a bandage to his wound. It was clear that he would play no further part in the day and shortly after went to hospital.
Broad’s absence made a three day win unlikely. India looked much more assured than they might have done at the start. The ball was swinging a little but not with the venom of the first day. Chris Woakes, given the new ball, in place of Broad, made the breakthrough when he had Murali Vijay lbw playing round an inswinger and India went to tea at 33 for one. Then came mayhem.
Gautam Gambhir was too late in trying to remove his bat from the last ball of an over from Anderson, and to the first ball of the next over, Cheteshwear Pujara was lbw missing a mildly turning off break.
Ajinkya Rahane drove a low return catch to Moeen’s right, Virat Kohli limply edged to second slip an away swinger from Anderson, Ravindra Jadeja was caught at slip off Ali. From 66 for six there was no way back.
India scored some quick runs hereabouts as Anderson left the field. Neither Jordan nor Woakes bowled with much verve and had trouble with their lengths. Still, it was only time. MS Dhoni was spectacularly caught at mid-wicket, Bhuvneshawar Kumar was run out mysteriously going for a second. Jordan eventually finished it in successive balls. England should make it 3-1 at The Oval next week.