David Hopps (ESPNcricinfo)
India might have been transported to another world, a world so unfamiliar that their senses were befuddled, their physical prowess lost, their lifetime’s knowledge entirely inadequate. One by one their batsmen came and went as they underwent the third heaviest Test defeat in their history.
This is an Indian side built on immense wealth and hubris, which has become used to a feeling of power, which has come to view its early history as an aberration, yet they were poverty stricken against an England side once again relishing perfect swing and seam bowling conditions.
India batted as if they had no sense of time and place, but for the record on August 17, 2014, in south London, they foundered to 94 all out in only 29.2 overs. Against the same England side that was beaten by Sri Lanka in a two-Test series in May, India have insisted on five Tests crammed into six weeks and once the series turned they had no respite.
Less than four weeks ago, India secured an historic win at Lord’s to go 1-0 up in the Investec series. They have since been trounced three times: by 266 runs at the Ageas Bowl, by an innings and 54 on a relatively quick pitch at Old Trafford, and now by an innings and 244 runs.
England’s 3-1 series win was secured in a quite remarkable transformation. When it was indicated that Alastair Cook was a captain under pressure, it was clear that the media meant MS Dhoni; when the coaching influence of Peter Moores was questioned, obviously what should have been written was Duncan Fletcher. “We were laughing about it,” Cook said. “Everything we planned went perfectly.”
Not since 1977 have India been dismissed for less than 200 five times in succession. Since they made 178 in the second innings in Southampton, they have been dismantled for 152, 161, 148 and, finally, for 94 by an England attack that, as well it has bowled, must have viewed the disintegration as barely credible.
There were so many images that India will not want to recall, but their misery was encapsulated in the last act of the morning session when Gautam Gambhir, his Test career perhaps at an end, jogged off the outfield at The Oval in pouring rain seconds after pointlessly running himself out.
Gambhir, sent back by Cheteshwar Pujara after envisaging a suicidal single to short midwicket, was beaten by Chris Woakes’ direct hit, the last act in a short pre-lunch session of 6.1 overs which also saw India lose M Vijay, their staunchest batsman in the series, lbw to a lavish inswinger from James Anderson.
The rain relented to allow a restart at 2.30pm; by 4.30pm all that was left was the rigmarole of a presentation ceremony – a ceremony in which India had to watch Anderson, their bête noire, collect the Man of the Series award. India now have a week to regroup, or merely to measure out their life with coffee spoons as TS Eliot had it, before an ODI series in which they will still regard themselves as favourites, although such is their large turnover between Test and ODI squads that about half the squad are heading home.
In good times, Pujara and Virat Kohli have the talent and patience to bat for days. At The Oval, they could have fallen to virtually any ball. Pujara’s hands were strikingly low for such conditions to combat the rising ball; Kohli has looked fallible outside off stump throughout the series, a series in which India’s gilded young batsman has made 134 runs at 13.4. He has the talent to conquer English conditions, but this failure will sit heavily on him.
For six overs, Pujara and Kohli resisted, their stand of 21 the highest of the innings. Then Pujara pushed gravely forward at an outswinger, almost as if bowed in prayer, and edged to the keeper. Surprisingly, considering the mayhem that followed, it was Anderson’s last wicket, leaving him three behind Ian Botham’s England record of 383 Test wickets and no Test to make up the shortfall until the Caribbean next April.
Broad and Anderson bowled beautifully, Broad picking up Ajinkya Rahane five overs later. Gary Ballance’s brilliant diving catch at third slip, springing to his left to rescue a chance that might easily have fallen short, exemplified another gulf between the sides: India’s close catching had become increasingly atrocious.
That India’s candle was burning as if in pure oxygen was apparent when Dhoni followed in the next over, a push off his hip against a back-of-a-length delivery from Chris Woakes that was snaffled by Sam Robson at short leg. Cook, who has become more prone to attacking fields as England’s superiority has become apparent, must now reflect that they are rather fun.
And so, with India’s minds mangled, it went on. Of their last five wickets, four fell to Chris Jordan, the best of them his first as Kohli edged a fullish outswinger to Cook at first slip. Would such a celebrated player request a period in county cricket to address his failings?
Jordan followed up with two wickets in an over. There was a rebound catch for Ian Bell, knocked on by Ballance, to dismiss R Ashwin; a wanton drive by Bhuvneshwar Kumar, India’s Man of the Series, impressive at times with bat and ball, but ultimately brought to his knees.
Moeen Ali has bowled just one over in this Test, but India invited him to the party, firstly courtesy of Varun Aaron’s run out attempting a non-existent second run (the throw did not even have to hit direct from long leg) and, finally, a simple catch at silly point at Ishant jabbed blindly at a short one.
England’s lap of honour was sedate, a Sunday stroll – an appropriate pace because that is what their victory had been.
India’s embarrassment began with the ball as England racked up 101 runs in 11.3 overs to extend their first-innings lead to 338. Root, who had overnighted on 92, finished unbeaten on 149 from only 163 balls, his last 100 runs taking only 70 balls, evidence of how keenly he had wrested the initiative on Saturday evening.
Ishant bowled him on 110 only for replays to show he had overstepped; a succession of no balls on the second day by Ishant passed unnoticed. It is a rum system that only checks no balls when somebody takes a wicket, a nonsensical policy that has seeped into international cricket without any proper public discourse.
Broad, in his last Test appearance as England’s cricketing Goth, protected his black eyes and broken nose with a new helmet. India’s predictable short-ball strategy had about as much intensity as a school ballet practice. Aaron, whose bouncer hit Broad at Old Trafford, had the field for the short ball, but not the inclination. When Ishant fired in bouncers, they took off around 80mph.
Broad, even more gung ho than normal, struck 37 from 21 deliveries and when he was dismissed, gloving a short ball from Ishant, he should not have been as his bottom hand had been withdrawn from the bat. “This match could end today,” someone said. You did not need a degree in psychology to predict that.