Manchester, 2014: India won the toss and batted first. Under dark, grey skies, James Anderson and Stuart Broad swung the ball on a string, and within no time the visitors were reduced to 8/4, bowled out for just 152 runs. There was no coming back from that point, and MS Dhoni’s team duly lost in three days.

When touring overseas, preparation and team strength help make a challenge, but only up to a certain point. Invariably you come under the pump, and alien conditions get overbearing. It happened with India at Old Trafford that day, and the series was gone.

On Monday, in Mohali, England endured their worst day on this tour yet. And now, they stand on the brink of losing this Test. The series could be a foregone conclusion too, thereafter.

Their performance was surprising, given how they had put India under pressure in Rajkot. And then in Visakhapatnam, they had wrestled from a near-similar position in the first innings as here. In fact, in that second Test, it was only the pressure of a 200-run first innings’ lead that proved the differentiator even as England fought deep into days four and five.

Questionable captaincy from Cook

Here, the matter of first innings’ lead was yet to be decided. As such, it made for staggering wonderment. Sample this. England did not open the bowling with James Anderson. Instead, Alastair Cook put on Chris Woakes and Moeen Ali first up.

It is easy to see why a visiting captain would do so – to maximise his advantage with both pace and spin. But, when the second new ball is four overs old, and the lower order is getting ready to get settled again, do you hold back your best bowler?

It was an inexplicable move, befuddling even. In what world could Ali cause more trouble to Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja than Anderson? It is a simple question, and there is only one possible answer to it. Even so,the same was not forthcoming from Cook. Meanwhile, the two batsmen got set and India chugged along.

This move single-handedly represented the day England experienced. They were listless in the mental aspect like never before in the series. They appeared to be going through the motions on the field. Not lazy or lethargic mind you, but there was no urgency about their business that they had to put pressure on the Indian lower order. That they had to take wickets, and make sure the lead did not get too big.

By lunch, India were already ahead by 71 runs.

“You have to control the scoring rate at some point. So we tried to bowl to their weaknesses instead of strengths. It is about using different options in different phases of play. I thought it worked really well,” said Jonny Bairstow, after the day’s play.

Why didn’t England attack?

Yes, it did, but on day two when Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara were batting together. That in-form duo could only score at 2.5 per over, and within that passage of play, England duly won the contest. They worked on the batsmen’s patience and triggered a collapse in the middle order.

This tactic does not work against the lower-order batsmen however, because they are not looking to attack the bowling. As good as he may be, Ashwin cannot bat like Kohli. Jadeja cannot push through like Pujara. Jayant Yadav is not a top-order attacking batsmen. Their sole purpose – since Kohli left at 204/6 – was to play for time and get India ahead by as many runs as possible.

England’s big mistake was to give them all the time they needed, instead of attacking and making an effort to force out wickets. And this is where Jadeja shone through.

A lot has been said about his contributions with the bat, and most of it has been a tale of unfulfilled promise. When he had first come into the Indian Test line-up, back in 2012-‘13, Dhoni had looked at him as an all-round solution, a key to playing five bowlers, especially overseas. His domestic record – three first class triple hundreds – formed the backbone of this ambition, perhaps even more than his bowling prowess.

To this day though, that aim remains unfulfilled. Dhoni has already retired from Test cricket, and his successor has found that all-rounder in Ashwin. Now, even Jayant Yadav has come up as a possible solution, making giant strides in only two Tests, particularly in the third-spinner role.

Jadeja lets his bat do the talking

It has left Jadeja in no man’s land, part of the team purely as a left-arm spinner, a dangerous one albeit. His evolution as a batsman was stagnating, restricted to the odd contribution, and the rare aggressive half-century that too on a confidence boosting parameter. Like in Kanpur, against New Zealand, when Kohli delayed the declaration in the second innings, and allowed Jadeja to get to his second Test half-century.

The skipper had explained how it was an investment for the future. That one day the team management expected him to buckle down and play a knock of real import. Perhaps, one similar to his maiden fifty at Lord’s in 2014, where he had impacted the game and turned it for India. On Monday, Jadeja repaid that faith.

“I average 53 in first class cricket. It is not my first innings where I have made 90 runs. It is just that I was trying to give myself time, and I was not in a rush. I realised it was coming slowly off the pitch, and there wasn’t much turn. So if I settled down, I knew that after 60-70 balls, I could up my scoring rate,” he added.

With a lead of 134 runs that they carved out for themselves, India’s spinners looked to be bowling on a different pitch. Cook did not appear as the world-class batsman he is, but looked as if he was Ashwin’s favourite bunny. Ali and Ben Stokes found him too hot to handle as well.

With doubts over injured Haseeb Hameed’s further participation in this match, at 78/4 and with 56 runs still in deficit, the writing is already on the wall for England. They would do well to look at the bright side though. It can only go uphill from here.