India's captain Virat Kohli, Axar Patel, Rishabh Pant and Mohammed Siraj hold the trophy.(REUTERS)
India's captain Virat Kohli, Axar Patel, Rishabh Pant and Mohammed Siraj hold the trophy.(REUTERS)

Lock, stock and three spinning barrels as India crush England for 3-1 Test series win

  • New world No.1 India put England out of their misery on Day 3 of the final Test to win the series 3-1 and qualify for the World Test Championship.
PUBLISHED ON MAR 06, 2021 08:02 PM IST

Ben Foakes, England’s wicketkeeper and a decent player of spin, used the depth of his crease to flick a Washington Sundar ball to the on side and ran a single. Simultaneously, all the spectators present at the Motera on Saturday clapped; the wash of applause soon drew hysterical laughter. For, England’s second innings total had reached the 100-mark when a three-digit team score had seemed an uphill task about an hour prior, which was the tea break.

Sarcastic applause is perhaps not a great reflection of a professional team’s abilities. But the England dressing room would’ve happily taken that snark all day over the louder and more mirthful celebrations that broke out in the stands 35 runs later. This time around, and just before stumps on Day 3 of the fourth Test, the visitors had been put out of their misery—not just from this Test but from the series as well. Joe Root’s side had been comprehensively thrashed 3-1 by Virat Kohli’s fantastic spinners in R Ashwin and Axar Patel.

It was all rather poetic at the end. The last Englishman to fall in Dan Lawrence—his 50-run vigil ending with a pegged back off-stump that soon turned into a souvenir—gave Ashwin his fifth wicket (5/48) of the innings, moments after bowling partner Axar Patel had taken five himself (5/47). Patel, who made his debut in this series, finished with 27 wickets in three matches and Ashwin ended with 32 in four. That’s 59 out of the 80 English wickets to fall in the series, all of which ensured that India not only qualified for the World Test Championship final against New Zealand in Lord’s, but also regained the No.1 position in the Test rankings.

Not a bad day’s haul, which further relegated the fact that England had won the first Test of the series into the recesses of everyone’s memory. Kohli even called that loss a “hiccup” during the presentation. “The first game was a bit of an aberration in the way we played as a team,” said Kohli. “The toss became very crucial because of the way the pitch played in the first two days. I don’t think the bowlers were in the contest at all.”

On that flat pitch in the first Test, England scored 578 runs. Since then on spinning wickets, England’s batsmen scored over 200 in just one out of seven innings. That was in the first innings of this Test, 205, which was a marked improvement for England from their awful numbers—178, 134, 164, 112 and 81. But that upgrade in runs had absolutely no bearing on the final result, or even on Root’s ignominy at the post-match presentation, where he admitted he and his side had been thoroughly “outplayed” in the bygone month of Test cricket.

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“The last three games have been very testing for us and we haven’t been able to match India—so huge credit to them,” said Root. “It’s really important that we become a better side for this experience from this series and that we keep looking to evolve and move forward. For that we got to be honest with ourselves and be realistic about things.”

If Root and his men are indeed honest with themselves, they will know that it wasn’t just the designs on the pitches in Chennai and Ahmedabad—the two venues for the series—that did them in. If Ashwin’s hundred at No.8 proved that in Chennai, Washington Sundar’s unbeaten 96—again at No.8—reiterated the point on the morning of the final day of the series. Sundar swore by it. “To be honest, the pitch was very good to bat on. Today when we were bowling also we thought that the wicket was good to make runs. If you could apply yourself, then definitely you could succeed.”

For all practical purposes, the day only began once Sundar was stranded four short of what would’ve been a debut hundred, those runs giving India a commanding 160-run lead. And it was evident rather quickly into England’s reply that they were going to succumb to an innings defeat, after Ashwin had bowled his very first over. “I have no words to describe everything that has happened in this series,” Ashwin would say later. Zak Crawley and Jonny Bairstow were just as speechless, but for all the wrong reasons.

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In the first innings, Kohli had held Ashwin back until the 20th over—teasing England with a long spell from the pacers instead. On Saturday, he was in no mood to toy with the kill. Ashwin was brought on for the fifth over of the innings and by the final ball of that over, he found himself on a hat-trick. It was as easy as that. Off his fourth ball, a straighter one clipped the outside edge of Crawley’s bat and landed safely in Ajinkya Rahane’s palms at slip.

In walked Bairstow and out walked Bairstow, after a drifter in line with the stumps turned and all England’s No.3 could do was glance the ball at Rohit Sharma at leg gully. It was his third duck in four innings in Ahmedabad, and sixth score of zero in his last eight innings versus India, stretching back to the Trent Bridge Test of 2018. Root survived the hat-trick ball and even scored a few runs, but with two spinners in the form of their lives attacking in tandem, it was never going to last too long.

Their modus operandi has been a treat to watch—once one spinner draws blood, the other swoops in for the feast. This is what happened on Saturday too. After Ashwin took the first two wickets, Patel ran through the next three—Dom Sibley, Ben Stokes and Ollie Pope. The first of them was a freakish dismissal: Sibley swept the ball hard into Shubman Gill’s kneecap at short leg, from where the ball looped into Rishabh Pant’s gloves and England were 20/3.

That quickly became 30/4 when Stokes, just four overs later, threw his wicket away with a lap sweep down Kohli’s throat. Root, who had watched in horror from one end, began picking up the pieces with Ollie Pope. Until this partner ran down the track to Patel and ran past the ball as well, India’s ever-improving Test wicketkeeper flicking off the LED bails. While India’s win was never in question at 65/5, Root held the answer to whether the home team would be required to bat again.

That answer was a resounding no. Two balls after Pope departed, so did Root. And to get rid of him, the team had turned once again to Ashwin, who got the first ball of his tenth over to skid on and it thudded into the backfooted England captain’s pads. Out said the umpire and, later, DRS. Thank you very much said Ashwin and collected his high fives, his free hand already on the Man-of-the- Series trophy. There were still four England wickets left at this point, but even they must’ve known walking in that they were just there for Patel and Ashwin’s ballooning statistics.

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