The end was swift and ugly. Within 30 minutes England had lost their last four wickets and India had won by an innings and 36 runs, an almighty thrashing for the tourists, which meant that the series belonged to India most emphatically with one more Test to come. Yet within that half an hour there was still time for some unseemly exchanges between Jimmy Anderson, England’s No11, and a few senior Indian players, most notably Ravichandran Ashwin, the home side’s destroyer in this Test, who claimed another 12 wickets.
Upon Anderson’s arrival at the crease umpires Erasmus and Oxenford had to intervene like beleaguered entertainers at a childrens’ party that had somehow gone horribly wrong just before it was time for everyone to go home. It seems that the trigger for all this had been some comments by Anderson, that were not overly flattering about the Indian side, in Sunday night’s press conference as reported in the papers and on the websites.
Gone are the days when cricketers claim never to read the papers or the websites (those days never really existed, of course). But perhaps it would be better for the game if they kept up that pretence. It was an unedifying and unnecessary way to end a captivating match. Clearly there are scars still open after all the recent Tests between these two countries and in certain quarters there is no love lost.
Afterwards the two captains did their best to be gracious in victory and defeat and to minimise the spat in the middle.
Virat Kohli even raised a smile when he observed, “For the first time there I was trying to calm everything down”. Does it matter? Or is this merely the extension of good marketing – after all it works nicely in boxing? Yes and no respectively.
Before the Test there was much talk from the MCC World Cricket committee about standards of behaviour on the cricket field and their eye-catching proposal to introduce red cards. They stressed that the impetus for this was triggered by reports of increasingly poor behaviour at club level rather than in international cricket. Yet there would have been millions watching the final scenes at the Wankhede Stadium, where the umpires were suddenly pressed into action as peacemakers, and many of those onlookers are bound to conclude that it is absolutely fine to imitate how their heroes behave in Test matches when they play their own cricket. Maybe that is why it matters.
That episode aside, the match was a triumph for Ashwin, who has been promoted to vice-captain for the Chennai Test, not because of his feistiness but because of Ajinkya Rahane’s absence through injury. Perhaps one delivery summed up how Ashwin is in complete control of his game. It was propelled towards Jonny Bairstow, who missed the ball by about two inches and was lbw.
Ashwin has seldom used his carom ball in this series, a special delivery propelled from the front of his hand, which acts like a leg-break. It is harder to control but on a pitch that is turning consistently it has a deadly effect if it is on target and not recognised by the batsman. This was precisely the case when Bairstow was on strike.
Here was a brilliant piece of deception, a testament to the fact that Ashwin’s confidence is now sky high. The carom ball aside, Ashwin has varied the pace and flight of his off-breaks with increasing certainty; all the while there has barely been anything to hit. He now has 27 wickets in the series and it is hard to avoid the impression that he is hungry for more in Chennai. He is now inside the minds of most of England’s batsmen.
If Bairstow was the victim of a gem of a ball then the others fell, leaving Jos Buttler horribly stranded, simply because it was all getting too much. Ashwin bowled Chris Woakes; Adil Rashid holed out meekly as did Anderson, whereupon hands were, thankfully, shaken.
For England the trip to Chennai, which was enduring a cyclone delivering heavy rain on Monday, will be a sombre one after they have been so comprehensively outplayed. Alastair Cook was candid about the difficulty of handling a team devoid of top-class spinners like those in his possession in 2012, Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann – no one seemed to quibble about his tactics or bowling changes then.
There remains an inflexibility about England’s approach, which sometimes borders on tunnel vision. Somehow Rashid was asked to bowl 28 consecutive overs on Saturday – Mark Taylor seldom demanded that of Shane Warne – and surely there was obvious merit in changing the batting order in the second innings after Moeen Ali had bowled 53 overs. Here was a chance to experiment with Buttler at four.
The papers and websites will be full of speculation about Cook’s future as captain – and now the players of both sides have a bit of extra time to read about that if they wish.
There may well be a good argument to change in 2017. But, quite correctly, nothing will happen until January after Cook, Andrew Strauss and, presumably, Trevor Bayliss have had an honest discussion about the future and who would be the best man to lead the team out at Lord’s against South Africa in July. Any change should take place this January or in January 2018 after the next Ashes campaign, not sometime in between.
For the moment there is enough on Cook’s agenda; it will be quite a task to conjure a good performance out of his squad in Chennai later this week, especially since India’s captain and new vice captain are unlikely to be in the mood for any soft-peddling.