India’s push for overseas success to underline credentials as the top Test team this year has been given momentum by pace bowlers, but batsmen haven’t stood up, leaving far too much to the class and consistency of skipper Virat Kohli.
On Sunday, hope rose that they would pull off a great overseas Test win, in the fourth Test against England at the Ageas Bowl, only for most of the batsmen to be found out on technique and temperament, and confusion over how to deal with off-spinner Moeen Ali.
The result was a 60–run defeat in four days, handing England the series 3-1 with a game to spare. It dealt a cruel blow to Kohli’s dreams of extending a fightback with his masterful batting for the second overseas series in a row.
Moeen Ali captured four wickets, including the prize scalps of Kohli and his deputy Ajinkya Rahane before finishing with a match haul of nine, as India were 184 all out chasing 245 for victory, late in the final session on Day 4.
In South Africa, India’s chase in the second Test at Centurion evaporated once Kohli was out for five in the second innings. They went on to win in Johannesburg but it was a dead game, and the first of three overseas contests had gone.
On Sunday, India were set a difficult target in the fourth innings. Despite losing three wickets within nine overs, Kohli (58 – 130 b, 190 m, 4×4) and Rahane (51 – 159 b, 208m, 1×4) showed phenomenal application and technique to keep Moeen at bay on a dry, wearing pitch with rough for the spinner to exploit.
But once Kohli fell, just before tea, England sensed the opening. Rahane’s dismissal – both fell to Moeen – hastened India’s defeat with a day to spare, dashing hopes of leveling the series with a game left.
England knew only one man could prevent their wrapping up the series 3-1. Skipper Joe Root squandered both the reviews to get Kohli, off Moeen.
Kohli’s heart was in his mouth on nine but TV replays showed a faint tickle, suggesting bat before pad. England players were certain there was no bat. The second time, the impact was outside the line.
Kohli completed 500 runs for the series – 544 – but that will be small consolation as the rest of the batting fell away once the skipper fell to a bat-pad catch off Moeen, in his 17th over.
Pandya fell to Ben Stokes trying to defend this time and Rishabh Pant perished going all out in attack against Moeen. The off-spinner completed a remarkable comeback with a match haul of 9/134. He took 5/63 in the first innings.
Kohli and Rahane demonstrated how to tackle spin on a breaking pitch, picking the right deliveries to score off. But once the 101-run fourth wicket stand was ended, it was difficult for Rahane to complete the job without support from the other end.
India would rue their lower order batsmen throwing away the advantage on the second day and R Ashwin’s inability to cash in on a helpful pitch on Saturday.
Root was patient as Kohli and Rahane batted, and brought on Ben Stokes, who extracted bounce despite bowling slower due to a knee problem, providing two wickets.
England were dismissed for 271 early on the fourth day, getting last man Sam Curran run out for 46, leaving India with a difficult target. But their hopes of building on the momentum after the 203-run win in Trent Bridge when none expected India to rise from back-to-back defeats were dashed.
The Oval Test will be inconsequential for the series, and India will get to London wondering what would have been after losing two close games – they lost the first Test in Edgbaston by 31 runs.
There will be lessons learnt, but they had not forced the game when they had the advantage at 181 for four in the first innings.