At least the end was quick. Thirty-three minutes was all it took for India to wrap up the four remaining English wickets on day five in Mumbai, as the tourists became only the third side in Test history to score 400 and then lose by an innings. It was a comprehensive thrashing which underlined India’s superiority in the most emphatic way imaginable.
The star of the show, once again, was Virat Kohli. To find a mere superlative to describe his performance in this Test – indeed, throughout the series – runs the risk of being sued for understatement. Time and again, just as England found a foothold, the genius of Kohli pulled his side back to his terms before leading them merrily away into the distance. He is a player operating on a different plane, a cricketing alchemist.
The ICC rankings may still be headed by Steve Smith – no, really, they are – but there is no doubt as to who the greatest batsman in the world actually is. Today there are batsmen, and there is Virat Kohli.
But what of England? A three-nil thumping - so far - doesn’t lie, but the tourists will at least leave India with a better understanding of their strongest side going forward. The emergence of Haseeb Hameed and Keaton Jennings has given England stability and choice at the top of the order, with Hameed likely to partner Alastair Cook, Jennings slotting in at number three and Joe Root moving back to his preferred position at number four for the summer. Jos Buttler has done more than enough to regain his long term place in the Test side, too, and the serious firepower he will add to what is already a powerful middle to lower order is a thrilling prospect. England will also hope that in the summer Tests, Adil Rashid can build on what may prove to have been his breakthrough series with the ball.
A question mark has been left over the future of England’s captain, however. Having seen off the vultures circling his captaincy in 2014, Alastair Cook has again found himself in the spotlight for the wrong reasons. After admitting in an interview before the series that he has been considering his future, it may be sooner rather than later that the baton is passed.
Speaking after the game, Cook admitted that although his feelings on the captaincy had not changed, he had “some questions” to discuss with Andrew Strauss, England’s Director of Cricket, at the end of the year.
While attempting to blame his captaincy for England’s failure is ludicrous – there are far more significant reasons than that – Cook has not had a great series by his standards, particularly by those peerless stats he has returned on the sub-continent over the years. Barring the century in Rajkot, he has had an indifferent time with the bat, but it has been his on-field captaincy that has been most scrutinised, with his tendency towards over-cautiousness again apparent.
Cook came in for particular criticism over the timing of his declaration in the first Test after England ran out of time in their pursuit of what would have been a precious, deserved - and potentially lone - victory. Unfairly so: Cook was quite right in ensuring the game was safe before asking the hosts to bat again as a target of below 300 would have been eminently chaseable, particularly with the IPL-honed firepower within the Indian ranks.
It has been a different matter at other times, however. In Mumbai, Cook’s defensive inclinations allowed England’s advantage to slip as India began their first innings reply. With 400 on the board there were runs to play with but England did not go on a sustained attack. With deep mid-on and mid-off set early Cook’s intentions were clear, and Vijay and Pujara milked easy singles as they played out the remainder of day two in comfort.
That lost momentum was never properly regained. Added to a caution bordering on reluctance when it came to using particular bowlers and it is no surprise that England found it difficult to exert sustained pressure on their opponents.
Compare and contrast with the fortunes of Joe Root. Bringing himself on to bowl with Cook off the field, the vice-captain was rewarded with two wickets in four balls including danger-man Ravichandran Ashwin. The cricketing gods pick their moments well.
"I think Joe Root is ready to captain England," Cook said later. "He is a clued-up guy and he has the respect of everyone in the changing room."
"You never know until you actually experience it and everything that comes with the England captaincy. You are thrown in at the deep end and you kind of sink or swim. Nothing can prepare you for it."
“He has not got much captaincy experience but that does not mean everything."
Let’s not read too much into the events of the last few weeks. England is still a very good side. Losing in India to a team at the top of the ICC rankings, and undefeated in a home series since 2012, is no disgrace. There were a variety of reasons for the loss, but sadly, one net result is that it is time to refresh the on-field leadership of the England team.
Cook’s recent comments sound like those of a man who has lost a little of the desire that he had before. He has nothing more to prove as captain, and freeing him to focus on his batting as he moves into the latter phase of his career will benefit everybody.
Root will be Cook’s successor. Barring a handful of games for his county, he has little captaincy experience, but then neither did Cook when he succeeded Andrew Strauss. Although he insists that nothing has changed, there is a palpable sense that Cook has had enough. The line of succession for Root is being prepared and Chennai may well prove to be Cook’s swansong as captain.
A fresh approach at the helm and a newly unburdened and refocused Alastair Cook at the top of the order can only strengthen England further.
Fast. Lite. Innovative. Shareable. Download our HW Cricket app!