It really was remarkable the way the Test series between India and England turned around. Joe Root and Co had achieved an impressive clean sweep in Sri Lanka earlier, they won the first Test in Chennai by 227 runs, they were full of confidence, and they also won two of the last three tosses against India. Yet, the scoreline at the end of it all suggests there was a massive gulf between the two teams.
India won the second Test by 317 runs, the third by 10 wickets, and the fourth by an innings and 25 runs. Despite the momentum England had gained at the end of the first Test in Chennai and all the promise they had shown, they hardly came close to avoiding defeat in the last three Tests.
This begs the question: Is the Indian team really that much better than England’s? Or, as coach Ravi Shastri pointed out at the end of the fourth Test, were India simply better at winning the crucial moments?
“The scoreline doesn’t reflect how close the series was,” said Shastri. “It’s like the series in England we lost 1-4 (in 2018). England had their moments this time and if they grabbed those we could have had a different result. Credit to our boys that they grabbed their opportunities.”
Off-spinner Ashwin Ravichandran, too, made a similar point: “Every time there was a challenging moment in the series, someone in our team put their hand up.”
England have a lot to ponder over after this crushing defeat. Root admitted their team selection could’ve been better, their rotation policy has been questioned too, and there is no doubt that their batsmen need to improve against spin.
However, as far as India are concerned, they can be proud of putting in another determined performance after their epic triumph in Australia. As Shastri and Ashwin suggested, India bounced back against England and kept their nose ahead in the series by finding key contributions at every stage.
Here’s a look at the standout performances that led to India’s series win:
Second Test: Rohit Sharma’s knock in the first innings
India had their backs to the wall at the start of the second Test. The players seemed tired in the opener after their heroics Down Under and they needed to respond immediately if they wanted to keep their hopes alive of reaching the ICC World Test Championship final.
And they got just the push they needed with Rohit hitting a masterful 161 off 231 balls after India elected to bat first. With Kohli walking back for a duck and the score being 86/3, Rohit got together with Ajinkya Rahane, who made a valuable contribution of 67, to convert his century into a big one to help the hosts get to a formidable total of 329. The pitch wasn’t the easiest to bat on but the right-handed opener mixed caution with aggression brilliantly to set up a series-leveling win.
“Rohit’s batting was incredible. His 150 on that pitch was equivalent to 250 on a true wicket,” said Kohli at the end of the series.
Second Test: Ashwin’s five-for in the first innings
With India having runs on the board, it was Ashwin who led the charge with the ball and picked up a five-wicket haul. Playing at his home ground, the ace off-spinner took the new ball and put the English batsmen on the back foot from the get-go.
Ashwin got good support from Ishant Sharma and Axar Patel as India bowled out England for just 134 to get a sizeable first innings lead. The pressure created by Ashwin with his immaculate variations went a long way in setting the tone for the series as England’s batsmen were beset with doubts which they never really recovered from.
Second Test: Ashwin’s knock in the second innings
As if his effort with the ball wasn’t enough, Ashwin went on to hit a memorable century in front of his home fans to put the result beyond doubt. India were in a spot of bother at 106/6 but Ashwin got together with Kohli, who played his best knock of the series (62 off 149), to hand the momentum back to India.
Ashwin started his innings aggressively and used the sweep shot to great effect, before consolidating by showing his impressive defensive technique against spin. And once he started to run out of partners, the right-hander upped the ante again and raced to his fifth Test century.
Third Test: Axar’s six-for in the first innings
This was just the second pink ball, day-night Test in India and no one really knew what to expect. England had the advantage of winning the toss and batting first but Axar’s phenomenal spell put India well on top by the end of the first innings of the match.
What worked in Axar’s favour was the skid he got due to the extra coating of lacquer on the pink ball. He joined the attack in the seventh over and removed Jonny Bairstow with his very first delivery. There was plenty of turn in the pitch but the left-arm spinner for the better of the English batsmen consistently with the arm ball.
Third Test: Axar’s five-for in the second innings
Axar backed up his performance in the first innings with another five-for in the second. This was the first international match at the newly-built stadium in Motera, Ahmedabad, and the 27-year-old ended up delivering an unforgettable performance at his home ground. He finished with best ever match figures in a day-night Test as England simply couldn’t handle his accuracy and lethal arm ball.
England got bowled out for 112 in their first innings but made a strong comeback by restricting India to just 145 as skipper Root bagged an improbable five-wicket haul. But just when it seemed there could be a tight finish to the game, Axar killed the contest by picking two wickets off the first three balls of the innings and triggered a collapse that saw England get all-out for a mere 81 runs.
Fourth Test: Removing set batsmen in England’s first innings
After the humiliation of the third Test, England’s batsmen put in a more sincere effort after Root won the toss again. Bairstow got a start after his pair in the previous game, Ben Stokes returned to form with a half-century, Ollie Pope put his head down to face 87 balls, and Dan Lawrence made an aggressive 46. However, India’s bowlers ensured that none of these batsmen could go on and get a big score.
It started with Mohammed Siraj returning to the attack and trapping Bairstow in front. Then, Washington Sundar landed the biggest blow by removing the well-set and dangerous Stokes. Before Ashwin won the battle with Pope again and finally, Axar made Lawrence lose his patience and get stumped. These breakthrough made sure England didn’t get the all-important big total batting first.
Fourth Test: Partnerships of Pant-Washington and Washington-Axar
India were in all sorts of trouble when Ashwin was dismissed and the score was 146/6. England led by 49 runs at that time and it seemed the hosts would concede the first innings lead and face an uphill task batting fourth. But from there on, India got two consecutive partnerships that turned the game on its head.
First, Rishabh Pant got together with Washington to add 113 runs, before Washington and Axar put on a 106-run stand. All three left-handers played invaluable knocks and ensured England were batted out of the contest. Pant showed tremendous restrain to notch up his third century in Test cricket, Washington showed his class as a batsman to dominate the bowlers, while Axar lived up to his potential as a batsman lower down the order. These three innings and two partnerships helped India get a lead of 160, killing the spirit of the England team.
There have been a number of positives for India in their back-to-back victories against Australia and England – two of the finest teams in world cricket. Their bench-strength seems incredible and the synergy between the players is unmissable. But perhaps, the thing that is most remarkable about the current Indian team is its mentality in the big moments.
What separates great athletes from the rest is their ability to raise their game under pressure, in crucial moments. They recognise the important phases of a match and find ways to get the job done. India, at the moment, seem to have that ability.
The core of this team has been playing together for a long time and along with some supremely talented youngsters, they have the big moment mentality to win more than they lose. This wasn’t always the case till a couple of years ago but as the Test series against England showed, Kohli and Co seem ready to dominate consistently.