Hat-trick of embarrassments

India lose series 1-3 after a swift, painful, gutless surrender in the second innings

Hat-trick of embarrassments

From the balcony, the Indians watched with brooding faces the sight of English players performing a victory lap around the Oval in front of cheering fans.

For seconds, their minds would have been transported to the Lord’s. There they were victorious, up in the series 1-0 and all set to knock England flat. Their world was brilliantly lit. But since then, their tour spiralled from one disaster to another. At Southampton, they lost by 266 runs. At Manchester, they were brushed aside by an innings and 54 runs.

On a sunny Sunday evening, that horror sequence reached its logical conclusion – an innings and 244-run defeat to hand the five-match series 3-1 to England. Once England, resuming from their overnight 385 for seven, raced to 486, courtesy Joe Root’s stylish fifth hundred (149 n.o.), to build an innings lead of 338, India needed to show tremendous determination to save this Test.

But their batsmen showed neither technique nor temperament to battle the England pacers, capitulating for 94 in 29.2 overs on the third day of the fifth Test. There, simply, was no fight and it was tragic.

The abject submission began with the dismissal of M Vijay, India’s highest scorer in this series with 402 runs. Vijay was careful outside the off-stump, leaving alone the danger balls carefully. But he forgot about the threat James Anderson’s inswinger could pose. Anderson caught the Tamil Nadu right-hander plumb in front with an incoming delivery and he was pumped up.

Gautam Gambhir’s needless run out added to India’s misery. Gambhir set off for a non-existent single only to be waved back by Cheteshwar Pujara. Chris Woakes’ throw from short mid-wicket hit the stumps before Gambhir slid his bat into the crease, and to make it worse rain began to pelt down immediately.

A little more situational awareness was expected from someone who has played more than 50 Tests. 

It, perhaps, was a meek end to Gambhir’s Test career. The left-hander was a grim fighter and he went out without any fire. India went to lunch at nine for two and things became bleaker for them in the post lunch session that started 30 minutes behind the schedule of because of rain.

Pujara and Virat Kohli showed some fight despite being not comfortable against Anderson and Stuart Broad. They were beaten several times outside the off-stump but looked determined to stay in the middle. 

It needed a gem from Anderson to dislodge Pujara. Pitched just outside the off-stump, Anderson’s outswinger took a healthy edge off Pujara’s bat en route to Jos Buttler behind the stumps. It was a sensational exhibition of seam and swing bowling from a master craftsman.

Throughout this series, Kohli has been at the receiving end of the fury of England bowlers and fortune’s cold hands. But this day, it seemed that Kohli has finally turned a corner. Broad trapped him in line of stumps with a delivery that nipped back but umpire Paul Reiffel nodded off Broad’s animated appeal for a leg before. Soon, Woakes spilled a return catch chance, and the feeling grew that this was going to be Kohli’s day, finally.

However, Chris Jordan ended all such hopes. Jordan found the outside edge of the Delhiite’s bat with a lovely outswinger that nestled in the safe palms of Alastair Cook. Rahane then fell to Gary Ballance’s superb catch at third slip off Broad.

The ball was on the path to Ian Bell at second slip, but Ballance realised it was going to fall short and reacted instantaneously to grab a sharp low catch. Indian slip fielders must watch the replays of that catch to learn about reflexes and anticipation.

India’s last hope of extending the fight to another day was skipper M S Dhoni but Woakes did him with a bit of extra bounce, a rising delivery took the edge of his bat and Sam Robson at short leg did the rest.

Dhoni walked back with a shake of head, and India’s last vestige of chances too accompanied him out of the field.

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