Despite a slight wobble, England completed the formality of victory easily enough on the fifth morning to stand on the brink of a historic series victory.
A superb performance from England with almost everyone contributing, even run out specialist Ian Bell, whose stylish 28* not only removed any possibility of a hilarious failure but also saved the 51allout television, which was under threat from some aggressive handling of the remote. As in the UAE earlier in the year, the two seamers/two spinners balance of the attack looks to have all the bases covered. In particular, Steve Finn’s pace, aggression and fabulous good looks complemented the others perfectly. We’ve certainly not seen the last of Stuart Broad, but regaining his place for the million games against New Zealand won’t necessarily be a straightforward affair. And neither should it be – the likes of Onions and Bresnan are genuine options.
Of course, the quality of the attack means nothing if the batsman fail to do their job (see UAE, 2012 tour of). Here for the first time, the top order all contributed. Cook and Pietersen’s knocks were no surprise but Nick Compton’s composure at the top of the order has been a huge bonus, along with some much-needed runs for Jonathan Trott. Plus Samit Patel continues to tease us at number six, getting in, looking good and then getting out. He’ll have one last chance to stake a claim; in the more seamer-friendly conditions that England will be playing in for the next twelve months Jonny Bairstow looks a more likely number six.
The real discussion about this game is, of course, about India and where they go from here. Having spent most of the 90s watching it happen, we ‘re well aware that seeing your side celebrate not quite losing by an innings is a sure sign of things being wildly awry. Unfortunately for India the current situation isn’t a short term problem, indeed it’s any number of long term problems that have been ignored for some time.
India’s batting in this game was pathetic. Sehwag is fine as long as the opposition don’t have a propensity to bowl genuinely decent deliveries at him while Gambhir is in a long term run of poor form and managed to undermine decent starts in both innings with excerpts from the Owais Shah book of running between the wickets. And Tendulkar, well, we feel we’ve made our views fairly clear on him. Virat Kohli is a fine prospect but a series top score of 20 would embarrass future Test centurion Graeme Swann, let alone a Test number five. Add in Yuvraj (just not very good and picked mainly for sentimental reasons) and MS Dhoni (just not very interested) and you have a whole mountain of problems.
Of course, like all decent sides, India have responded to their batting problem by looking to change the bowling for the final Test. Zaheer Khan is the main fall guy, which seems to be more to do with him being old and knackered than any sort of plan. Twelfth man Harbhajan pays the price for spilling some drinks and also misses out, along with Yuvraj.
It’s hard to see India producing a better performance in Nagpur. Although, having said that, they’ll struggle to produce anything worse, even with a couple of new faces. This side is lacking heart (having essentially given up in their last three series against England and Australia), commitment (their fielding stinks like whatever it is that’s died under the 51allout sofa) and manages to suffer from both a lack and surplus of leadership at the same time. The feeling remains that this is a watershed moment in Indian cricket. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – it took the 2006/7 Ashes for England to finally grasp that Geraint Jones just wasn’t very good – but it certainly suggests that things may get worse before they get better.