In a little more than two hours, England humiliated India. It was the culmination of a remarkable revival which had seemed inconceivable a month ago.
England were on their knees at Lord’s, abjectly defeated, short of inspiration, bereft of method, clueless about how to win. But at 4.20pm on Sunday they dismissed their hapless opponents for 94 in 29.2 overs, after themselves adding 101 to their overnight total from 69 balls, to secure their third consecutive victory of the Investec series. The third day’s play in the fifth Test was disturbingly uncompetitive.
The margin of an innings and 244 runs was England’s fifth biggest win and India’s second biggest defeat. It was a difference which perfectly encapsulated the transformation of the sides.
One of them had returned from adversity to prevail with batting, bowling and fielding which exuded conviction and purpose. The other, seemingly unable to comprehend what was happening, responded limply and long before the inevitable end they had surrendered. Little white flags might as well have been attached to their errant bats. Considering the commercial acumen that is integral to Indian cricket, they could have had time to find a sponsor.
Every step of England’s progression in the last three matches has been matched by India’s regression. The side led by Alastair Cook knew that the loss at Lord’s had to be the last act of their decline. One more paltry performance and change at the top would have become irresistible, Cook’s position finally untenable.
But they dug deep, both the old-timers and the young bucks. The combination of experience and rawness suddenly sparked, Cook at last had a stroke of luck which he did not waste, and perhaps to their surprise they found what rewards an assertive style of cricket could yield.
Unaccustomed to long Test series, the tourists led by MS Dhoni had neither the will nor the wit to play their way out of trouble. Distracted by essentially minor matters, India were abysmal in applying themselves on greenish, sporting pitches.
England’s bowlers, confronted with such accommodating opponents, knew precisely how to strike and Jimmy Anderson, from the third Test on, was magnificent. His career by now has been long and distinguished but it is difficult to remember him assembling such a body of skilful work as he has managed in these three successive matches. Its effect on the rest of the attack (largely a work in progress) was powerful.
India’s last five completed innings in the rubber were 178, 152, 161, 148 and 94. In 1959, when India lost 5-0 in England, they had seven totals out of 10 under 200. But the world was a different place then, pitches were uncovered, and they did not have players who had travelled the world.
England, by contrast over the same three Tests, assembled totals of 569 for 7, 205 for 4, 367 and 486. They went at a reasonable lick, well above three runs an over, sometimes above four. There was an urgency about them that had been mislaid in the preceding eight months. There was the sense of a project slowly coming together.
The siren calls which demanded Cook’s dismissal or resignation after Lord’s have been extinguished. Former captains have been forced to admit they were premature or wrong, but it is perhaps important to indicate that they did not necessarily seem misguided at the time.
Cook’s form has returned, with three fifties in four innings but a 26th Test hundred still eludes him. He now has to wait for a chance to end that particular drought until next April, when England play their next Test series in the West Indies. Do not suppose that his deserved elation at yesterday’s victory was not accompanied by a frisson of wonder about when the next century will arrive.
This stunning turnaround only enhances the rich promise of next year’s Ashes series. No one in the England dressing room will make the mistake of assuming that Australia are now quivering in their boots but equally Australia will not err on the side of thinking that their triumph is a formality.
India were beaten on the first day at The Oval. From a position of 90 for 9 in their first innings, given how they had competed in the previous two matches, it was all but done then.
The proceedings on the third day went along by now familiar lines – and then some. England came out slugging. Joe Root swiftly reached his fifth and most accomplished Test hundred and then went on an unstoppable run spree in which he was gloriously aided by Stuart Broad.
India had no luck. Even when they thought they had Root out, bowled off inside edge and boot, replays showed that Ishant Sharma had bowled a no ball. In the first hour, 98 runs were added.
If the tourists’ work for the day began badly, it was swiftly to become worse. Before rain interrupted play for an hour, they had lost their openers. Murali Vijay was beautifully fooled by Anderson with an in-swinger and Gautam Gambhir was run out after setting off for a single that was never remotely on.
Resistance came there none. The middle order, from which so much had been expected, came and went. Cheteshwar Pujara, who still looks as if he could have done so much more, was also foiled by Anderson, Ajinkya Rahane edged Broad and saw Gary Ballance take a brilliant diving catch low at slip.
It was late but it was indubitably the catch of the series. And it pointed up another significant difference. England caught their catches and India did not.
For once Dhoni did not hang around, for once Virat Kohli did, though it was only ever a matter of time and he gave Chris Jordan the first of his four quick wickets. There was another needless run-out and the match finished with a fast straight bouncer which Sharma had no hope of negotiating.
India have to decide if Test cricket matters at all to them. For England, this could be the start of something. It is a pity they have to wait until next April to begin finding out, though with 17 Tests in all next year they will soon know.