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Despite James Anderson reaching a significant career milestone, Ashwin's impressive performance led India to an innings victory over England.
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Despite James Anderson reaching a significant career milestone, Ashwin’s impressive performance led India to an innings victory over England.

On the day Jimmy Anderson ­celebrated mountain goat status, England’s expedition ended in outright failure, a harrowing second avalanche of wickets at the hands of India’s majestic spinners turning a tour of missed opportunities into a full-blown 4-1 thumping.

In some ways it summed up the trip as a whole, an Englishman snatching the top line when the hosts were the real deal. Although, in fairness, this was some rarefied air Anderson was breathing, becoming Test cricket’s first (and most likely last) seamer to reach 700 wickets when Kuldeep Yadav tickled an edge behind 13 minutes into play.

Similarly, it was unable to conceal the events on the third day, which took a turn for the worse and essentially fell apart. England, trailing by 259 runs after their disastrous start to day one against Kuldeep, were dismissed for 195 runs in 48.1 overs in response to India’s score of 477, resulting in a devastating loss by an innings and 64 runs. This defeat overshadowed their impressive victory in Hyderabad six weeks prior.

Anderson deserved a better performance than what England showed in their final outing with the bat on tour. The rest of the team seemed either crazed or jaded, making poor choices and struggling to keep their focus. Among the top seven players, only Joe Root appeared to be mentally engaged in the game, not just going through the motions. His calm and skillful 84 runs stood out among the other lackluster scores, although it was still not enough to prevent England from posting a less-than-ideal total of under 300 for the seventh time in this series, which has been played on relatively unchallenging pitches.

Rohit Sharma took in the satisfaction of Indian’s victory as he rested from the strain of scoring a century the day before. Meanwhile, Ravichandran Ashwin reached a milestone of 100 caps and delivered an impressive performance with five wickets for 77 runs on the day and a total of nine wickets in the match. This was a great achievement for the spinner who constantly strives for perfection.

However, Ashwin has achieved 516 Test wickets, and his family, who supported him from the stands, have witnessed numerous exceptional performances with fewer results. Most of his victims in this particular match were added to the list primarily, but it cannot be ignored that India, who have already secured their 17th consecutive home series win, fully deserved the victory.

Although there was speculation about the weakened state of the hosts, a continuous stream of skilled, determined batsmen made this issue insignificant. The main factor of change has been in the bowling; a top-quality home attack bolstered since the first Test by Kuldeep – who took seven wickets with impressive left-arm magic to become Player of the Match – and Bumrah, who claimed 19 wickets with fierce aggression as the lead bowler.

In contrast, England has attempted to achieve 20 wickets through the clever strategy of Ben Stokes, which has been successful only twice. While Stokes may not like looking back, his participation in the World Cup, which was a low point in England’s unfulfilling winter, and the resulting delay in his knee surgery limited his choices in this match. While his removal of Sharma on the second day after nine months was impressive, it also emphasized what could have been if he had been in top form.

Jimmy Anderson leaves the field after claiming his 700th Test wicket for England.View image in fullscreen

England fell short by five wickets in their attempt to even the score at 2-2, ultimately suffering four consecutive defeats instead. This kind of lackluster performance, despite strides made under Stokes, should prompt some discussions within the team about how to advance to the next level. It’s worth considering if the team’s bravado has led to an imbalance between risk-taking and reward.

The conversation that followed on the third day seemed worthwhile, even though the team lost five important batsmen for only 100 runs in just 23 overs, which was likely a result of exhaustion. It was surprising to see Ben Duckett attempt a shot that is not characteristic of an opener on just the fifth ball, and Ollie Pope’s frantic shot that resulted in a top-edge from a ball well outside the off-stump was also noteworthy.

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In between, Zak Crawley fiddled Ashwin to backward short-leg for a 16-ball duck, a tepid end to a decent tour of 407 runs but, given three scores in the 70s, one of altitude sickness also. And though Jonny Bairstow was belligerent, cracking three sixes and swapping words with Shubman Gill for apparently telling Anderson he should retire, an emotionally charged 100th Test was ended lbw playing back to a Kuldeep ripper.

Bairstow achieved his top score of the series, having surpassed 25 runs a total of seven times. With the potential return of Harry Brook in the summer, Bairstow’s success may be short-lived. This could also result in Ben Foakes being replaced, as he only maintained an average of 20.5. It’s possible that Foakes’ struggle to fit in ultimately led to his dismissal by Ashwin, who recorded his 36th five-wicket haul by getting Foakes out with a risky sweep shot.

Stokes didn’t have any luck either, avoiding two balls but ultimately getting out for two runs while attempting to hit an Ashwin slider. This was in stark contrast to Root, who remained a standout performer even as Bumrah, his main adversary in the series, quickly demolished the lower order. Root was eventually caught at long-on, leading to India’s celebrations, but he seemed to be the only one maintaining control of his performance.

It also spared Anderson being the last man out on a day he will eventually look back on with fondness. An attempt to make Shoaib Bashir lead the team off in the morning was a nice touch, too, even if the 20-year-old, fresh from a hard-earned five-wicket haul, insisted they do so together. Unfortunately, the batting that ­followed was similarly obliging.

Source: theguardian.com