Alastair Cook and his men drank, spilled and finished the champagne very early in their victory lap. In the corporate boxes, flute-glasses filled up till the coolers ran empty. The fans in high spirits weren’t in any mood to take their liquid stock home. In all, there might have been just one uncorked bottle of bubbly at The Oval late on Sunday evening. It was in the hands of Bhuvneshwar Kumar — India’s Man of the Series. Defeated men do get drunk but not on sparkling wine. India needed something much stronger.
India had lost this Test long before the final ball was bowled. England had won the game in the first hour-and-a-half of play on Day One. Today, at 4:30 pm, they scribbled the last entry – Ishant Sharma c Moeen Ali b Chris Jordan 2 – on the score sheet. Like in the first innings when India collapsed to 36/5, today it took James Anderson and Stuart Broad a little more than 60 minutes to reduce India to 46/5. After that it was just about the formality to ‘dot the three i’s and cross that one t’ of the word ‘humiliation’.
India 94 all out in 29.2 overs meant the innings and 244-run defeat and the 3-1 series loss came early. That lone win of the tour last month seemed ages ago. Those Lord’s memories were lost in the mess of the 266 runs debacle at Southampton, the innings and 54-run innings surrender at Manchester and the two and a half days rout here.
Nothing worked for India this Sunday. In case someone had missed the series, the final day’s action summed the very obvious gulf between the two sides. In the two sessions of play, India showed that they not only can’t bat, can’t bowl and can’t field but also can’t fight, can’t apply and can’t change. They have failed to old mistakes. Cook would change his game from backfoot play to frontfoot play by spending extra hours at the nets during the series. The Indians, not believers of slogging it out at training sessions, couldn’t iron out their flaws.
For most of the morning the bowlers and the captain weren’t anywhere close to being on the same page; they weren’t even part of the same book. So when Dhoni would pack the leg-side with fielders, the bowlers (read Varun Aaron and Ishant Sharma) would focus on the off-side. Outfielders (read Stuart Binny and R Ashwin) would take their eyes off the ball. At this point, Dhoni looked more helpless than disgusted. Joe Root (149*) looked like he could do no wrong with the bat. He, along with Stuart Broad (37), ensured that India needed to score 339 runs to make England bat again.
Watching England on the field made India’s flaw more prominent. Anderson and Broad, unlike the Indians, were at the peak of their skills. They would pitch, swing and seam the ball the way they willed. Most importantly, they could read the minds of the Indian batsmen. They asked tough questions. It was a grilling with no ‘good cop’ around. A couple of balls that Broad bowled to Virat Kohli summed up the struggle of the Indian batsmen.
The first ball came in sharply and hit Kohli’s forward moving leg. The umpire didn’t agree with Broad’s appeal, who believed he had a clear case of leg before wicket. The next ball, however from virtually the same spot, went towards the slips. It was the combination of such balls that had muddled the Indian minds. They continued play the guessing game when facing England’s new ball bowlers, who saved their best for India’s top order.
Anderson came up with two gems to get rid of Murali Vijay and Chesteshwar Pujara. The opener falling to the ball that swung in and the No.3 was beaten by the one that straightened. At the same time, the English slip fielders raised the bar once again. Gary Ballance’s stunning one-handed catch, diving to his left to dismiss Ajinkya Rahane, was the kind that marketing men use to hype up a Test series. And there were spectacular throws that resulted in the run outs of Gautam Gambhir and Varun Aaron. For large chunks, India looked like a hastily arranged Weekend XI, rather than well-prepared Test pros.
Dhoni, the man who has been standing among the batting ruins during the slide of the last three Tests, too finally gave up. The fifth ball he faced, a short and rising one from Chris Woakes, brushed his bat and hit his body, before safely falling into the hands of the short-leg fielder. That was the last body blow Dhoni and India could take. It took about 10 more overs for the series, and the ordeal of watching a one-sided contest, to end.