Fourth Test v India 2016-17
After a brief respite, the two sides reconvened in Mumbai, a city where England have won more Tests than anywhere else in India. Both teams made two changes to their line-ups. For England, the injury to Haseeb Hameed meant that the selectors decided to call up Keaton Jennings from the Lions tour, rather than using either of the two batsmen who had fallen short earlier in the tour: Gary Ballance and Ben Duckett. There were few who complained about this – after all, the Durham opener had been the leading runscorer in the First Division last summer, and many felt he had been unlucky to miss out on selection in the first place. The South African-born player thus became Alastair Cook’s 14th opening partner. He still has four more to go to equal the England tally of Graham Gooch and Len Hutton.
Given that neither Zafar Ansari (injured) and Gareth Batty had set the world alight, and Liam Dawson had barely arrived, the selectors decided to change the balance of the bowling attack, moving to four seamers and two spinners, rather than three and three. It was hoped that the extra pace and bounce at the Wankhede would be more conducive to pace than spin. So Batty was out, and in came Jake Ball, after his fellow Nottinghamshire paceman, Stuart Broad, failed to recover sufficiently from his injury. For Steven Finn, it was a further disappointment on a tour that has brought him little else thus far.
India also made two changes, both enforced by injury. Lokesh Rahul replaced Ajinkya Rahane, coming in as opening bat, allowing Parthiv Patel to move back into the middle order. And Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who was so effective in English conditions in 2014, came into the side instead of Mohammad Shami.
Cook again called correctly, and he went out to bat having promised that England would be more positive this time round, and would not allow the Indian bowlers to get on top of them. So it proved, as he and Jennings put on 99 for the first wicket in just 25.3 overs. Cook’s uncharacteristic dismissal, stumped on 46 when he charged past one from Ravindra Jadeja, was ample evidence of that new attitude. When he reached 19, Cook became only the sixth batsman to score 2000 runs against India, and the first to do so for England.
By tea, England were 196 for two, and Jennings was 103 not out, becoming the 19th England batsmen to score a century on debut (the eighth opener to do so, and the fifth to achieve the feat on his first day of Test cricket). Intriguingly, three of the previous four England batsmen to join this list – Andrew Strauss, Cook, Matt Prior and Jonathan Trott – were also born in South Africa. Soon after the break he was out for 112, the highest ever score by a debutant opener against India. It was a hugely impressive start to his career, and suddenly England find themselves with an embarrassment of riches at the top of the order. His dismissal came just two balls after Moeen Ali had gone for 50, and when Jonny Bairstow was out soon after for 14, England had slumped to 249 for five, with Ravi Ashwin taking four of them.
Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler saw England through to the close, adding a further 39 runs in a day that ended evenly balanced between the two sides. An early flurry of wickets saw England fall to 334 for eight, but Ball came out to join Buttler and the pair put on 54 together, with Ball making 30 of them. Buttler was last man out, for 76, as England finished on 400. Ashwin ended up with six for 112. The other four wickets went to Jadeja.
England struck early when Moeen bowled Rahul for 24, but the rest of the day saw Murali Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara make serene progress, adding 107 for the second wicket to take them up to 146 by the close. But on the second ball of the third day, Ball got one to cut back and Pujara left it, only to see it crash into his stumps. That was as good as the morning session got for England, as India’s skipper Virat Kohli came to the crease to a hero’s welcome from the biggest crowd of the series to date. By lunch, he had gone past 4000 career runs, and 1000 in the year, and looked set to add to both totals. Meanwhile, Vijay had reached an eighth career century, his first on the ground and his third against England.
Soon after lunch, Vijay drilled a low full toss straight back to Adil Rashid, as England began to fight back, with India slipping from 262 for two to 307 for six. During that period, Kohli was dropped by Rashid off his own bowling, and (with Cook off the field) Joe Root brought himself on and took two wickets in an over. The game was still in the balance at tea, on 348 for six.
England removed the dangerous Jadeja early in the evening session, but Jayant Yadav kept Kohli company for the rest of the day, and it was during this period that the game seemed finally to tip in India’s favour. Kohli reached three figures, his 15th Test century and his third against England and his first on this ground. It has taken him only 89 innings to get to this total, the same as for Sachin Tendulkar, with only Sunil Gavaskar having reached the milestone in fewer innings (77). By close of play, his Test average stood at more than 50, just like his average in LOIs (52.93) and T20s (57.13) – no other batsman has ever achieved this feat. He could have been out again, after James Anderson forced an edge with the second new ball, but Root dropped a relatively straightforward chance. Otherwise, it was a batting masterclass.
Just to make England’s misery complete, late on a clear edge from Jayant wasn’t spotted by Bruce Oxenford, but England had used up their reviews with two poor claims. At the end of day three, India were 451 for seven, and England knew they would not only have to roll over the tail very quickly, but they would then have to bat superbly if they were to have any chance. As it was, the superiority of India’s spinners – Ashwin in particular – and Kohli seemed sure to push them towards another victory.
By lunch on the fourth day, any doubts as to the outcome had disappeared. Kohli and Jayant added 128 runs in the session, during which time the Indian skipper reached his third double century, the first of which came as recently as July, and gone on to surpass his previous best score of 211. Only Michael Clarke (four) has scored more double centuries in a year, and Kohli joins Don Bradman, Ricky Ponting and Brendon McCullum on three.
Jayant duly completed his maiden Test century after lunch, but fell soon after for 104, having become the first Indian No 9 to score a hundred. His partnership of 241 with Kohli was India’s highest for the eighth wicket. His captain didn’t last much longer, finally out for 235, caught in the deep off the bowling of Chris Woakes. With 640 runs in the series, he has scored more for India against England than anyone else, beating Rahul Dravid’s record of 602. His challenge for the final Test will be to make 133 runs there to set an all-time record for the country. After he’d gone, the end was not long delayed, as India were all out for 631, a massive lead of 231, and the biggest score they had ever made against England at home. Rashid was England’s most successful bowler, with four for 192 – the third most runs conceded by any England bowler, behind Ian Botham (three for 217) at The Oval against Pakistan in 1987 and Ian Peebles (six for 204) also at The Oval against Australia in 1930.
England’s first-innings hero Jennings was out first ball, and in the half-day’s play that remained England lost a further five wickets to close on 182 for six. Root batted beautifully for his 77, but he needed to score another hundred on top of that. Cook fell victim yet again to Jadeja; Moeen looked to be batting too high when he was out for a duck; and Stokes was so unlucky when a sweep shot bounced up off his boot to give a simple catch. The day closed with Bairstow unbeaten on 50 and nightwatchman Ball trudging back to the pavilion, caught behind off Ashwin.
It took only eight overs to remove the last four wickets, as Ashwin scythed through the lower order. On average it takes him 14 overs to pick up his first wicket, and in this innings it was Stokes who was first to fall, after 14.3 overs. When England were all out for 195, he had bowled 20.3 overs and had figures of six for 55. It was his 24th five-wicket haul in just 43 Tests, with only Harbhajan Singh (25 in 103 Tests) and Kumble (35 in 132 Tests) above him for India. It was also his sixth six-wicket haul in the year, something only Muttiah Muralitharan ever achieved, in 2006.
The win, by an innings and 36 runs, was decisive, but for all the criticism that headed England’s way, it should be remembered that India is a side on a 17-match unbeaten run (equalling India’s record in 1985-87), during which time they have won 13 Tests. They have also won their last five series, equalling another record for the country. However, the scale of England’s defeat can also be highlighted by the fact that they became only the third team to score 400 or more and then lose by an innings, the last being Sri Lanka in Cardiff in 2011.
England now head to Chennai on Friday, looking to salvage something from this exceptionally challenging tour. Once again, there have been questions raised about Cook’s captaincy, but sometimes one has to face the facts that England have been beaten by a much better side, which has surely been the case in this series.