Had I written this piece at the end of the 3rd Test, the title would have read, ‘India flatter to deceive’. Knowing India’s penchant for losing a Test immediately after winning one, I had mentally prepared myself for Southampton; I still strongly believe that had Jadeja taken the catch offered by Cook on 15, the story could have well be different; however, beliefs will not impact cricket statistics and England went on to build a mammoth first innings total of 569. The Indian reply, by Indian overseas batting standards, was not bad, but in the context of England’s huge first innings score, the Indian total of 330 was dwarfed. I remember Dhoni expressing concern at a lot of batsmen getting starts, and not going on to make big scores. Since that moment, Indian batsmen appear to have taken it on themselves to correct this concern, not by making big scores, but by not getting starts at all.
India were set a target of 445 in the fourth innings, and Murali Vijay set the tone for the shambolic performance to come, with a needless run out. What made the event even more unbearable was the fact that he made no desperate attempt to regain his crease – no fervent pumping of the leg muscles, no last ditch dive; just a regulation stretch which had him a fraction of an inch short. Out of India’s remaining 9 wickets, 7 of them went to spinners – 6 to alleged part-time/now specialist spinner Moeen Ali, and 1 to certified part-time spinner Joe Root. Indian players, considered to be among the best when it comes to playing spinners, were falling like nine-pins around them. Moeen Ali is a competent bowler, but even with no major variations like the top-spinner, doosra/teesra…etc. in his armoury, the manner in which he breezed to 6 wickets in the innings is a concern. The loss was dubbed as ‘abject’ by broadcasters and other media. If that was abject, I am sure they are now scratching their heads to come up with a superior terminology to describe the events of the 4th Test.
India were determined to force me to add ‘embarrassing’ to the article title right from the onset of the 4th Test. They were reduced to 8 for 4 at the end of 5.1 overs, and visions of a sub-50 score loomed large. India limped to 152 all out, thanks to healthy contributions from Dhoni and Ashwin; during the innings, India equaled the world record for maximum number of ducks in an innings (6) and the embarrassment was visually highlighted when the broadcaster’s mini scorecard showed Gautam Gambhir’s score of 4 as the fourth highest. Extras, unfortunately not part of the mini scorecard, would have won comfortably, with an aggregate of 12.
However, if it seemed that things couldn’t get worse, the embarrassment déjà vu struck back with a vengeance in India’s second innings as well. England made 367 in their first innings and India needed 215 runs to avoid an innings defeat. The match was more or less in England’s bag by then, with their only concern being the availability of Stuart Broad after being struck by a Varun Aaron bouncer. As things turned out, it was going to be a massacre even in the absence of their first innings bowling hero. India nudged along to tea for the loss of Murali Vijay, but the final session produced an embarrassing 9 wickets, resulting in defeat by an innings and 54 runs. The match was over in less than 3 days, even after more than half the second day was washed out due to incessant rain. Once again, Moeen Ali picked up 4 wickets and was also the chief architect of Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s inexplicable run out. A deeper analysis is not required, because the final session was a mere procession of players from the dressing room and back. I saw an interesting stat that India were 66-6 in both innings of the match. In Christianity, 666 is the devil’s number – this match was a definite tryst with cricketing hell for an Indian cricket fan.