England had their fourth seamer – Ben Stokes – banging at Virat Kohli on the evening of the first day. The Test ended around the same time on the second day. Spinners from both sides bowled the last 54.4 overs of the day taking all 17 wickets to fall. It now seems almost a tactical blunder for England to think that seam was the way to go in the Test.
In the end it wouldn’t have mattered even if England had an all-spin attack. They batted for 79.2 overs in both innings combined. Scoring 192 in total. As Joe Root pointed out, England were 74 for two in the first innings and then lost the last 18 wickets for 118 runs.
The result however, is not the story in itself. After the first session, England came roaring back and were in a position to dictate the Test.
"It's nowhere near over". A rather hopeful Zak Crawley spoke about England's chances after their lowest-ever first-innings total in India. "We could bowl them out for late 100s, early 200s. And if we can get any sort of lead on that pitch, we have a chance in the fourth innings".
Forget late 100s or early 200s, England bundled out for 145 in the first session. A pink ball Test and a collapse continued to be India’s story. They lost four for 43 against Bangladesh. Seven for 56 after Virat Kohli's run-out in the first innings in Adelaide. 36 all-out that followed is fresh in the memory. In this Test, India went from 114 for three to lose the last seven wickets for 31 runs.
It was seam that brought about some Indian collapses in recent times. Today it was the turning ball. James Anderson bowled four overs to start with. England did not require Stuart Broad or Jofra Archer at all. It was Jack Leach first and Joe Root later who reminded India of Nathan Lyon-Steve O'Keefe horror from four years back. Root has scored 56 runs in the last three Test innings. But, he wiped it off his mind by outdoing his entire bowling unit. Taking all the last five wickets to fall, Root got his first five-for in Tests. And for just eight runs. Thus earning a five-for for the fewest runs ever for a spinner. Five for eight was Josh Hazlewood’s bowling figures as well on that fateful morning.
Before Root, it was Leach who gave England the opening. Ajinkya Rahane now averages a modest 26.8 against spin in India since 2017. He failed to read the length today choosing to cut a ball at a good length. The ball caught him plumb in front.
Misreading the length became a communicable disease. Rohit Sharma has been India's best batsman in the series by a mile. After a comfortable 66, he moved to sweep a short ball from Leach. The ball bounced over his bat to have him dismissed LBW.
Root dismissed India's left-handers for fun. None of the all-rounders opened their account. Ravi Ashwin and Ishant Sharma tried to counterattack but did not last long. England were back. India needed their spinners to deliver once more. In the end, it was all too easy for them.
If not for a knee injury, Axar Patel would have been a fast bowler. How successful he would have been then will remain a mystery. But, the aspiration to be a pacer still makes him bowl faster than most spinners. His pace has proven to be the difference between him and other slow left-arm orthodox tweakers in this series. And, it makes the arm ball his most lethal weapon.
After what Leach and Root did to India, there was no chance pacers were bowling in the Test anymore. And they did not. In the first innings, Axar came out to bowl in the seventh over. He opened the bowling in the second.
After a six-for in the first innings, Axar spoke about how more lacquer on the pink ball helps it to skid more. The first over itself was a testament to it.
Within three balls, both Zak Crawley and Jonny Bairstow lost their stumps. Crawley stood back to a fuller one, Bairstow played for the absent turn. Crawley scored 53 in the first innings. The rest of the English batsmen combined scored the same. The numbers stayed intact after the first over of the second innings as well.
Root got England off the mark. Till the fifth ball of the second over, he was the one to take all wickets and score all the runs for the last hour or so. Dom Sibley hung around for a while but lost patience by the ninth over.
Stokes knew Ashwin was coming for him. He knew he did not have a lot of time. Heaves and reverse sweeps helped England erase the deficit. But, the inevitable followed. Ashwin hit Stokes' pads in the 18th over to dismiss him for the 11th time. Stokes did not choose to hang around for the customary review.
Axar's pace and the ensuing arm-ball neutralised Root's sweep shot. Kohli spoke at the end of the Test how it is impossible to sweep at his pace. Missing the straighter one, Root survived a close LBW shout in the 15th over. The third umpire - under pressure after an official complaint - chose to rule in England's favour. There was no need for a review after a dead duck LBW four overs later.
Ashwin eats left-handers on a toast. But, he might be equally happy to bowl to Ollie Pope all day. Beaten on either side of the edge on every other ball, Pope looked clueless. He played 15 balls against Ashwin. On eight of those, he played a false shot. In the first innings, he missed a straighter one from around the wicket. He played down the wrong line for a similar dismissal in the second innings. This time, Ashwin was bowling from over the wicket.
With three seamers, England not only had the wrong bowlers for the pitch, they also had their longest tail in a while. A full ball straight on Jofra Archer's boots gave Ashwin his 400th Test wicket. Getting there in 77th Test, he is only five Tests behind Muttiah Muralitharan.
The last three wickets fell soon. Axar finished another five-for while Washington Sundar got a wicket in the only over he bowled in this Test.
A target of 100 could have tested India. A target half that number had England going through the motions. Rohit and Shubman Gill chose not to hang around and finished the chase in 46 balls. Kohli said after the game that it was the most bizarre Test he has been part of. Well, he is not the only one.