In what was already a forgone conclusion, England handed India a thoroughly commanding drubbing in the third Investec test at Southampton on Thursday. Coming back gloriously from their own poor performance in the second test at Lords, England dictated terms in all 13 sessions of play and ended the match with a deserving victory to level the series 1-1. England’s Captain Alistair Cook led from the front and came up with creditable performance both as the leader and also as batsman. On a wicket that didn’t have anything for the bowlers, Indians threw their wickets in both their outings and with bowling as their permanent weakness, allowed the Englishmen to rule over them in both innings.
It was clear on the second day itself, when brilliant batting by Ballance, Bell and Buttler broke the backs of India’s hapless bowlers helped England mount a commanding 569/7. There could be some Indian supporters, who would have rued the absence of Lord’s hero Ishant Sharma. But even these people were brought to their senses by the way England batsmen dealt with India’s bowling. No one should escape the reality that Ishant just got lucky the other day and without any malice to Sharma he did well to lead India to a memorable victory at Lords. But despite his one-off heroics, it cannot be forgotten that Sharma is nowhere near the class of Dale Styen nor does he have the mystical aura of Shane Warne, Muralitharan or Sunil Narine. Once Alistair Cook showed the way on the first day, every successive English batsman batted purposefully, save for Joe Root and Moeen Ali.
On fourth morning, Cook spared India the ignominy of the follow-on. With England batting again and winning the test, there won’t be much debate now as to the veracity of Cook’s bold decision. Though 445 was never an easy target with about 130 overs remaining, the only expectation from India was to offer some credible resistance. But that didn’t happen with India losing 4 wickets on the fourth evening itself. To begin at 112/4 on the final day was a bad omen in itself.
On the last day, except for the lone survivor Ajinkya Rahane, no other Indian batsmen made any attempt to stay at the wicket and made Moeen Ali look like Muthaih Muralitharan after Anderson had taken care of Rohit Sharma and MS Dhoni, both of whom fell for just 6 runs each against their names. When India had won at Lords, England batsmen in the second innings gave them a scare with Joe Root leading a gallant fight back. But there was no one in the India camp to do so on Thursday.
The last day began with Rahane yielding a maiden to Broad before Anderson removed Rohit Sharma, who sleepily removed his bat from an off-side delivery and got a nick, giving a joy to debutant Buttler and the bowler. Skipper Dhoni joined Rahane and spent some decisively uncomfortable time before departing the same way as Rohit Sharma. Buttler and Anderson were the beneficiaries once again. 120/6 was so far behind the 445-run target that it looked like a shame to the most die-hard Indian supporters. The paper tigers were back in the dressing room as Ravindra Jadeja joined Rahane. To salvage a bit of pride, the two of them added 32 for the seventh wicket before Moeen Ali struck. Jadeja converted a spinning delivery into a Yorker to bowl himself out. Moeen Ali claimed the next man Bhuvi Kumar after three balls as Kumar shaped for a defensive stroke and ballooned a catch to Anderson at Gully. Mohammed Shami was the next of Moeen Ali’s victim and an easier one at that. It was a straight ball, which Shami tried to block but the ball missed his bat and hit the stumps behind. But 154/9 had reduced the deficit to less than 300 runs. Last man Pankaj Singh lasted 7 balls, hit two fours and helped Rahane to cut the margin of defeat by another 24 runs. Moeen Ali claimed his sixth wicket of the innings as he bowled Pankaj Singh and India folded at 178.
While India lost the test by 266 runs, England redeemed themselves in many ways. First, they ended a winless streak in tests from August 2013 and next, their performance was so clinical that India was not allowed a single moment of superiority in the entire test match. Lastly, it turned out to be a perfect outing for Alistair Cook, who had come for a lot of criticism after the defeat at Lords. He emerged victorious in true sense with solid batting performance in both innings and his commanding leadership. In a way, Cook became a beneficiary of India’s sordid display and complete lack of commitment. Moeen Ali was England’s hero on the final day as six batsmen succumbed to his innocuous off-spinners.