Southampton: Indian batting once again wilted miserably under trying circumstances as a relentless England recorded a comfortable 60-run victory in the fourth Test to take an unassailable 3-1 lead in the five-match series.
Chasing a tricky target of 245, India were bowled out for a paltry 184 on the fourth day on a pitch where survival wasn’t a problem but run-scoring definitely was.
India have never chased a target of 200 plus outside the sub-continent in the past three decades, and the script didn’t change this time round. What will hurt Virat Kohli and his men most is the fact that they were beaten by one of the weakest teams in recent times.
An ageing bowling attack of Jimmy Anderson-Stuart Broad along with off-spinner in Moeen Ali (5/63 and 4/71) tormented the Indians just like they did during the 2014 series.
Under Ravi Shastri’s coaching, India have now lost Test series in all those countries, which are considered to be tough places for touring teams. While the Indian coach has repeatedly stressed about being a good travelling side, save Trent Bridge Test, there hasn’t been indications enough to show that Kohli’s team is ready to beat the best when conditions are alien.
Under Shastri-Kohli duo, India have lost in Australia (where MS Dhoni captained in two Tests), in South Africa and now in England. The inconsequential final Test will be played at the Oval from 7 September.
It was never an easy chase but what baffled all and sundry was the irresponsible batting by the middle and lower order, who gave up without a semblance of fight after a 101-run fourth wicket stand between skipper Virat Kohli (58, 130 balls) and his deputy Ajinkya Rahane (51, 159 balls).
Once Kohli was snuffed out by Moeen with a delivery that turned and bounced sharply to kiss his glove into the forward short-leg’s hands, India’s challenge was as good as over.
From 122 for 3, India slumped to 163 for 9 in the next hour with none of the batsmen showing willpower to fight. To Moeen’s credit, he used the rough well and got more purchase from a slowish track than Ashwin, who had wasted an opportunity to give his team the required cushion in helpful conditions.
Both Kohli and Rahane were taken through classical off-break where Moeen tossed it up and also got the deliveries to spin back sharply. Rishabh Pant (18) proved his critics right as he failed to curb his impetuosity, going for rash-lofted shot to be holed out by the only man in the deep.
Hardik Pandya (0) is far from finished product as far as all-round capabilities are concerned and he couldn’t negotiate Ben Stokes’ swing. Ravichandran Ashwin (25) did put up a fight in the end but that wasn’t enough with Sam Curran dismissing him to win the series for England.
The writing was on the wall when India were reduced to 22 for three in the first hour with KL Rahul (0), Shikhar Dhawan (17) and Cheteshwar Pujara (5) being dismissed cheaply.
Rahul got a wicked delivery that kept low knocking he stumps back. Pujara got one from Anderson that came back sharply while Dhawan was out in his now customary fashion poking it to the slip cordon.
Dhawan’s mode of dismissal showed that he hasn’t learnt one bit about his shortcomings against the swinging deliveries outside the off-stump, which has repeatedly brought about his downfall.
With 113 runs in 8 innings, time is running out for Rahul, who might be benched in the next Test. Ditto for Dhawan, who might find his Test career coming to an abrupt end with only 158 runs in six innings so far.
With Prithvi Shaw in that dressing room and Mayank Agarwal waiting in India, the current set of openers are living on borrowed time. Kohli and Rahane then showed as to why they were a cut above rest.
They were prepared to wait for loose deliveries and grind it out in a workmanlike fashion. Kohli got a slice of luck when TV replays showed that he was plumb leg before but TV umpire Joel Wilson’s howler provided him with a reprieve.
Rahane on the other hand had dead batted most of the deliveries hitting only one boundary in the process. Both played Moeen with a lot of caution. However, once Kohli was dismissed, it was an uphill task for India from thereon.