England cricketIt will be difficult to find another turnaround of such horrible kind in cricket history. When India played the first test at Trent Bridge, they looked a better side than England until the tenth English wicket in the first innings created a new world record. When India won the second Lords test, they thought they had cut England to size. But since the first day of the third test at Southampton, the entire Indian squad became a ghost of their former self. Losing back-to-back test matches with loftiest of margins could not have been imagined on the day of India’s famous victory at Lords. In the last two games, Indian batsmen, bowlers and fielders acted out like utterly disinterested folks with their worst test cricket performances in recent history. As fate would have it, they reached their lowest batting depths in the fifth Investec test at Kennington Oval and lost it in less than three days, just to demonstrate that debacles at Southampton and Manchester were not merely chance occurrences.

On day 1, Alistair Cook did not hesitate to put India in after winning the toss. From his position in the slips, the England captain had been closely watching the Indian batsmen squirm against Anderson, Broad and other bowlers. In Southampton and Manchester, most Indian batsmen couldn’t hold the temptation of nicking the out-swinging deliveries and losing their wickets. Cook’s reward came immediately as Gautam Gambhir edged Anderson for a regulation catch to Joss Buttler. It was the first ball of the match for Gambhir and just as he had done at Manchester, Gambhir failed to justify the recall in place of Shikhar Dhawan. With zero against his name and an awful batting display, it could be curtains for Gambhir’s test match career. But why blame Gambhir alone? The other batsmen also failed to negotiate the heavily swinging deliveries from the England pace-men. The highly rated Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli too perished early. While Pujara looked slow in bringing his bat to meet an express delivery from Stuart Broad that rattled his stumps, Kohli was trapped leg-before to a ball from Chris Jordan. With Ajinkya Rahane scoring the innings second duck, India tottered at 28/4 after 16 overs. Dhoni entered the scene and while he watched Vijay, Binny and Ashwin also departing the crease, carried on defiantly to take the first innings score to 148. India had lost their 9th wicket for 90, when Varun Aaron was out but Dhoni and Ishant Sharma put on 58 for the last wicket to add some grace to the score. That Dhoni contributed 82 out of 148 speaks volumes of his solo efforts.

When England came on, they were cautious to begin with but soon settled into a rhythm and ended the first day with 62/0. On the second day morning Sam Robson departed early but Cook and Ballance added 125 for the second wicket. After Cook’s wicket, there was a kind of mini-collapse as Ballance, Bell and Moeen Ali fell in quick succession. But this was as far as Indian bowlers could go. The formidable Joe Root made the Indian bowlers look very ordinary. He mounted an assault that didn’t seem to stop. Finally, he remained unbeaten on 149 scored off 165 balls with 18 fours and a huge six. With support from Joss Buttler Jordan and Broad, England finished the first innings on 486, leaving India behind by 338. India’s plight became worse than the Manchester test and it showed in their second innings’ performance of 9/2 before lunch on third day. Vijay was outsmarted by Anderson, who bowled an in-swinger, just as Vijay tried to deal with an away-swinging ball. He found himself plumb in front as the ball struck his pads. Not the best of runners in the game, Gambhir ran himself out trying to steal a sharp single. After a rain-break, India’s batting woes were to continue unabated. The loss of confidence was evident in India’s approach as the batsmen found it torturous to stay at the crease for long. The misery finally came to an end as India were bundled out for 94 to present England a victory by an innings and 244 runs.

In a strange way, India’s loss proved to be a great help in England’s resurrection after the Lords Test. There were people, who had been baying for Cook’s blood and ouster of a few other players. Cook was performing poorly with bat and his captaincy had begun to appear pedestrian. But in less than a month, everything changed. Only Matt Prior got unlucky. If he had scored 50-odd runs at Lords, his test career would have got a certain extension. Ian Bell redeemed himself and Jimmy Anderson affirmed his credentials as a consistent wicket taker. It came as no surprise to anyone, when Anderson was named the player of the series. India had a solace of Bhuvi Kumar also being given the award of the joint player of the series. As India was consigned to dust, England staged a marvelous turnaround from the tag of laggards to champs in 4 weeks. It was cricket history’s speediest recovery and when Alastair Cook held the Pataudi Trophy, the million-watt smile on his face was wider than the margins of victory in the last three tests.