Victory in the first T20 match has created an opportunity for India to redeem some lost pride on this tour of England. But even if both white ball series are won, the flop show in the Edgbaston Test will rankle for a long, long time.
For a major part, the Test looked to be India’s for the taking. But it surprisingly surrendered with below par batting and bowling in the second half of the game.
With this loss went the chance to win the rubber which had stood 2-1 in India’s favour when the series, suspended last year because of Covid fears, resumed last week.
To put salt on wound, India were docked two points in the World Test Championship ratings and also fined heavily for not meeting the required over rate.
Having recovered from a wobbly start thanks to a swashbuckling century by Rishabh Pant and a solid, watchful one by Ravindra jadeja, India took firm control of the match till the first half of the fourth day before things started going wrong.
The pitch had no real devil in it on the fourth day, but Ben Stokes, using the short ball to telling effect, precipitated an extraordinary collapse, picking up four wickets for next to nothing in a searing burst which brought his team strongly back into contention.
Had India batted till the end of the day, not only would the lead have extended to 400-plus, but would also have eaten into time and overs available to England in the run chase. A draw was good enough for India to win the series, and that should have been the main aim once England had forced their way back into the match.
Sadly, in the second innings, India’s batting lacked tenacity, wickets fell in a heap, and England suddenly found themselves in a situation to transfer the pressure on to the Indian team. Victory, which had looked improbable a day earlier, now looked distinctly possible. However, nobody could have expected it to be a cakewalk.
A target of 378 to chase in the fourth innings is not easy. Few scores higher than this had been successfully overhauled in the history of the game. Moreover, England had made 284 in the first innings, conceding a big 132-runs lead which suggested that even 300 might be difficult to score in final innings.
The pitch would have deteriorated further with time, and India also had in Ravindra Jadeja a world class spinner to support the magnificent pace trio of Bumrah, Shami and Siraj.
But England put all such compunctions to rest with a magnificent assault, getting to a win with plenty to spare. At one stage the score read 109 for three. England looked terribly vulnerable. But then Joe Root, his purple patch stretching well into a second year, and Jonny Bairstow, whose dazzling, counter-attacking batting had helped England beat New Zealand 3-0 a little earlier, got together in a sterling unbeaten 269-runs partnership that tamed India’s bowlers and quashed their ambition of winning the series.
Make no mistake, England were outstanding. Chief coach Brendon McCullum and captain Ben Stokes have infused fresh enthusiasm in the players, bringing in a fresh, aggressive approach which prioritises victory over all else. It’s a terribly exciting approach. With a fair degree of risk involved true, but so far it has worked brilliantly well for England. There can’t be much argument about methods when a team wins four matches out of four, all through superb, fourth innings run chases!
But as England played it didn’t make India’s defeat more palatable. True, there were some handicaps to overcome. Rohit Sharma was badly missed in batting and captaincy. KL Rahul’s absence further weakened the batting, more so since Virat Kohli’s form continues to be tepid. Yet there was still enough talent in the side to get the better of England especially after taking the handsome first-innings lead. The inability to exploit this advantage and seal the issue was the conspicuous shortcoming in India’s effort.
Post-match, a distraught Dravid bemoaned the Indian team’s recurring failings in the third and fourth innings of Test matches. This was not the first time India had come a cropper defending a score overseas. In fact, in the past 12 months, this was the fourth such occasion: starting with the defeat to New Zealand in the World Test Championship final last year when India were favourites, then twice in two Tests against a beleaguered, and relatively inexperienced South African side just about six months back.
When India pulled off the historic 2-1 Test series victory over Australia in 2021, it appeared that the team would be unputdownable. It’s more or less the same players who are playing Tests since, but the results overseas have been ungratifying.
All the focus in recent weeks, or the next month or two, will obviously be on T20 matches with the World Cup looming on the horizon which is logical. But this should not obscure the need to excel in red-ball cricket, which most agree, is the real test of calibre and character. This is where the hard work ahead for Dravid lies.