Sunday, 10 August 2014

A dominant display

Sunday, 10 August 2014
Like London buses, after waiting nearly a year for a test win, two came along at once for England. And if the previous win could be described as emphatic, then this was even more so with India beaten inside only three days. Though just making it to the end of the day could have been enough for India - the weather forecast really looking that bad - they seemed to lose all fight in their second innings, falling apart on the way to an innings defeat.

On the second morning, India were actually the better team - winning what was arguably their first session since Lord's. The wickets of the nightwatchman Jordan and Bell fell in quick succession to Kumar, whilst Varun Aaron also troubled the batsman in his first match of the series, being rewarded with the wicket of Moeen Ali. England fell to 170/6, and with their lead only being 18 it looked like India might be able to get back into the match. Yet the pair of Root and Buttler managed to rebuild before the rain started to fall and brought a premature end to the day's play, England at 237/6. India weren't yet out of it, but the lead was edging closer to 100 and a platform was being set. The pair continued to build upon this progress the following morning, Buttler showing he is just as capable of building an innings as he is outright attacking, and both made it into their seventies before falling to Pankaj Singh. Pankaj had a luckless time on debut with dropped catches and dubious umpiring decisions denying him of his first test wicket, instead seeing him record the worst bowling figures by a debutant. His poor luck was continuing here as he repeatedly beat the outside edge with no reward, but when it did finally come - a glove by Root down leg, of all the ways to get it - it was warmly received by both sets of fans. Unfortunately for India, England now had plenty of runs on the board and after brief attacks from Woakes and Broad (Broad's innings cut short by a horrible blow to the face, leaving him with a fractured nose), England were all out for 367, a 215 run lead. On a pitch where the bowlers would always have a chance, it was a strong total and meant that only the weather was now likely to beat them.

In the second innings, India crumbled away just as easily as they did in the first. There was no 8/4 this time - and by the end of the innings there had been only one duck - but the end result was much the same, and this was without the man who had taken six wickets in the first innings. All the bowlers contributed - Woakes also finally taking a wicket after faring similarly to Pankaj in the previous match - with Moeen Ali this time being the leading light. With every passing match Moeen is looking more suited to test level, changing his pace to suit the conditions and getting a good amount of revolutions on the ball. The six in Southampton was followed up with four here, and helped 53/1 turn into 66/6 - leaving the game virtually over for India. Anderson also chipped in with a couple of wickets - once more removing Kohli for a low score, his disappointing run of form continuing with a series average of only 13.50. What was perhaps the worst shot came from Dhoni - a slog to midwicket only finding the flying Ballance. In many ways it typified India's failure, seeming to show they had just given up. More resistance came in another counterattacking innings from Ashwin, but India couldn't overcome their deficit before the last two wickets fell in two balls to Jordan. India all out for 161; an innings victory for England giving them a 2-1 lead in the series.

Can India come back from this? With the series still alive with a game left, it is not over yet and England came back from a similarly devastating defeat only last week. But now England's morale seems ever rising, as they look to continue their promising form. They are still a work in progress and questions do remain over some players - mainly Robson as opener and the pair of Woakes and Jordan as support to Broad and Anderson, who have looked a class apart in these past two games. Personally, I would like to see Finn return to the team as when he does get it right he is a bowler who can post a constant threat with his pace and steep bounce, and he has bounced back well in county cricket this winter after becoming 'unselectable' over the winter. For India though, the problems are mounting. The new generation of batsmen, barring Rahane and Vijay, have for the most part not lived up to their reputations, and the bowling has been mixed - Kumar successful but not able to do it all by himself, Sharma injured, others such as Binny and Shami tried and then dropped. The team selection has at times been questionable - Ashwin and Aaron not playing until this fourth test; Binny played but barely used; Rohit Sharma in and out for only one game. In all the off field drama regarding Anderson and Jadeja, India seem to have come off worst, perhaps letting it become too much of a distraction from the real action. England will be favourites to take the series at The Oval after two dominant victories, but it is still not time for India to give up yet.

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