If Alastair Cook and Haseeb Hameed frustrated the Indian bowling attack in two sessions of Day 4 of the Visakhapatnam Test, the hosts ensured that they hit back at the visitors in style by triggering a collapse typical on final day pitches in this part of the world.
In the end, it turned out to be yet another instance of win-the-toss-win-the-game for skipper Virat Kohli, and even though he faced resistance tougher than what he had against South Africa and New Zealand earlier, a crushing 246-run victory in the second Test put his team on course for extracting revenge for their humiliation in their last two Test series' against Alastair Cook's men.
The final day began with Joe Root facing the Herculean task of guiding his side to an improbable draw, with the prospect of chasing the 405-run target down on a Day 5 Vizag pitch being out of question. That being said, the visiting side had shown enough spirit after conceding a 200-run first innings lead to give the impression of taking it right down to the final over of the day.
Ben Duckett failed to tackle Ravichandran Ashwin's leg-spin for the second time in this match, and may have very well vacated his place for Jos Buttler heading into the next game. Unlike the previous occasion — one that gripped the surface, straightened and hit his off-stump — he tried sweeping a long-hop this time, only to get a thick inside-edge followed by a deflection off his thigh pad to get caught by Wriddhiman Saha. Moeen Ali's stay at the crease did not last too long either, edging a short one from Ravindra Jadeja to Kohli at leg-slip, as England lost their fourth wicket with 101 on board.
While the wickets fell at one end, the leading Indian spin duo kept building the pressure on the dangerously consistent Root at the other end, appealing for nearly everything and sticking to a line outside off in order to unsettle him. Ben Stokes, having beaten the odds in the first innings to top-score with 70 runs, was foxed by a beauty from Jayant Yadav, before Mohammed Shami snuffed any residual English hopes by trapping Root leg-before on 25. A desperate review did not save him on this occasion.
At 115/6, with wicketkeeper-batsman Jonny Bairstow losing out on the support of Root and facing the prospect of batting with the tail, all that remained was mere formality on India's part to clean the rest of the batting order. In the end, it took a couple of leg-before decisions off Jayant's bowling to dismiss Stuart Broad and James Anderson off consecutive deliveries, and wrap things up for the hosts in style.
Talking about the build up to England's collapse on the final day, Kohli did pull things in his team's favour by winning the toss once again, after the blip at Rajkot. While winning the toss was an added advantage for the hosts, they could not have put the Englishmen on a chasing game for the remainder of the match without some key individual performances, including ones that helped them pile a 455-run first innings total.
That Kohli was streets ahead of everyone else with the bat is hardly a talking point anymore. The extraordinary form that he has enjoyed this year has made a century too commonplace for journalists and pundits to praise. Yet, we would be failing in our duty of talking about the game if we did not give Kohli full marks for making the difference with his scores of 167 and 81, taking charge of the innings after the early failures and answering all the questions posed by the likes of Stuart Broad and Adil Rashid to ensure the Indians always remained in the hunt. The support that he got from Cheteshwar Pujara in the first innings (that developed into a 226-run stand for the third wicket) set the foundation for the strong first innings score on the board.
The task for him would have been a little easier if the opening combination did their job. While Murali Vijay struck a brilliant century at Rajkot along with Pujara, he failed to replicate it at Vizag, as did KL Rahul, whose return to the Test fold in this match meant Gautam Gambhir's exit after two Test appearances.
Getting dismissed for scores of 0 and 10 in his comeback match might not necessarily threaten Rahul's position as the first-choice opener, but does raise questions on his match-readiness, especially in the manner in which he got dismissed in the two innings — fending a bouncer that he could have avoided in the first, before getting the finest of edges outside the off-stump line in the second, off Broad's bowling on both occasions.
The other worry for the hosts heading into the next Test will be the failure of Ajinkya Rahane in sustaining himself in the two innings, with his technique against the spinners on this surface coming under the scanner. After needlessly poking at an Anderson outswinger just before stumps on Thursday, he produced a somewhat improved show on Day 3 to help pull the hosts out of the muck after a series of early dismissals. That he edged a leg-cutter from Broad to Cook in the slips for an uninspiring 26 off 65 balls hardly helps his case.
After the nightmarish second innings in the first Test, in which Cook deflated their confidence with an astute 30th Test ton, the Indian spinners were back in business on a track that turned into a rank turner on the final day.
While the likes of Ashwin and Jadeja regained their talisman, with the former grabbing eight wickets aside from the valuable runs from the bat, the pacers did their bit in getting some of the most crucial wickets, whether it was Shami setting Cook up in the first innings, or Umesh Yadav removing Bairstow at the stroke of lunch on Day 3.
But the biggest takeaway for the hosts is probably the emergence of bowling all-rounder Jayant Yadav, who got a lucky break in this game after Amit Mishra's disappointing outing in the series opener. After getting a sole wicket in four overs in his one-day debut at the same venue last month, this game was Yadav's chance to fully showcase his abilities at the highest level. The four wickets (including three in the second innings) as well as 62 runs with the bat might read a tad underwhelming on paper, but were vital for the situations they were produced in.
That he drew words of praise from senior members Kohli and Ashwin at the end of the match will only bolster his confidence for the remaining games.
"For a young guy to come in and tell his captain the field he wants, the line and length he would bowl, it shows he knows what he is doing. I'm really happy for him," Kohli was quoted as saying at the post-match press conference.
"His work ethics are great and I wanted him to do well. Has a strong temperament. He is very calm and is prepared to learn. Nothing hurried about his action. His contributions in both the innings have been fantastic," were Ashwin's words of praise after the fall of the last English wicket of the match.
The all-round dominance showed by the hosts at Vizag has sent a strong message out to the opposition camp, though England's persistence and the likelihood of them bouncing back harder sets things up nicely for the upcoming battle at Mohali. As Kohli stressed after the match, they cannot let complacency take over at this stage, for Cook and Co have bounced back after an initial loss in both their previous meetings. With momentum firmly in their favour over the next four days, India need to iron out any remaining wrinkles in their performance if they are to maintain their winning ways.