The India-England Tests so far have not been about the visitors' steady decline over the last couple of months, as they have been about Virat Kohli's men further tightening their vice-like grip at home.
India's emphatic win over the Englishmen at Mohali — winning inside four days by a margin of eight wickets to grab a 2-0 series lead — was the latest example of the dominance that the hosts wield in their conditions, outplaying them in all departments (barring perhaps fielding).
Having reduced the visitors to 78/4 at the end of the third day after grabbing an unlikely 134-run first innings lead, the hosts had to sweat over established batsman Joe Root's wicket in the morning while tumbling the others one-by-one, and eventually managed to seal the deal in the middle of the final session, with Parthiv Patel hitting the winning boundary over extra-cover to send a wave of joy across the country.
As the dust settles after the events of a turbulent day, the emergence of the triumvirate featuring Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Jayant Yadav will surely be India's biggest takeaway from this match. Ashwin has for long been India's go-to man to get a breakthrough and dominate the opposition's batting order, with Jadeja forming a lethal pair with him that began with the South Africa Tests last year.
While Amit Mishra played an occasional partner-in-crime to the duo, Jayant's emergence in his debut series might very well have made him the third musketeer in the eyes of the team management, when one thinks of the road ahead in the remainder of the home Test season.
The trio not only covered up for the middle-order's errors with their half-centuries — which also happened to be the first-ever occasion of three Indian batsmen below No 6 hit 50-plus scores in tandem — but ensured that the hosts got a sizeable lead (134 after losing the toss not being an ordinary advantage by any means) by steering their score in excess of 400. This was then followed by equally consistent performances with the ball, as the trio chipped away at the English batting order with some crafty variations in line and length, assisted with some clever use of the conditions.
Barring leg-spinner Mishra, whose place in the side comes under threat with the latest development, the Indian cricket fraternity will be thrilled by the progress of Jayant, the all-rounder. His emergence bodes well for India not only for the remainder of the season that features four Tests against Australia and a solitary game against Bangladesh, but gives Kohli another asset in his core group that he will look to nurture for the years to come.
The other members of the bowling department, pacers Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav, also impressed with their performances. Yadav's fantastic spell of fast bowling in the post-lunch session would have made many a pace legend proud. Shami's use of the short stuff with the second new ball on Day 4 was nothing less than sensational.
Shami set Chris Woakes up with a bouncer to the helmet that took his protective padding off, before dismissing him with another snorter, this time along the leg side that caught him in a tangle and got a top-edge. The Bengal speedster though, was far from done, as he got Rashid a couple of deliveries later. This was a spell that reminded Indians fans who the nations's leading name in the pace department is.
Going back to the batting order, Ashwin and the rest of the lower-order's fightback helped patch up some careless batting by the Indian middle-order, which is yet to achieve consistency in this series. Ajinkya Rahane continued to attract brickbats with a weak technique against spin, failing to pick a googly from Rashid to depart for a six-ball duck. Even though the axe is unlikely to fall on someone as senior as him, Rahane is only increasing the burden on his shoulders with the lapse in form, and needs to post a strong comeback in the remaining Tests in order to redeem himself.
"The way he has batted in the past -- overseas and in Indian conditions and all formats of the game, he has been a successful player. Matter of couple of innings. Once he starts scoring runs, he will be back in form," teammate Cheteshwar Pujara was quoted as defending Rahane after Day 3.
In a lapse in the post-tea session on the third day, India lost the wickets of Pujara, Rahane and debutant Karun Nair in a rush of blood, suddenly collapsing to 156/5 from a steady position of 148/2. Nair, who came in place of the injured KL Rahul, which prompted Parthiv Patel to open the innings, struck a boundary in the fourth ball that he faced, before poor communication from captain Kohli cost him a hard-fought shot at Test cricket. The team might have been rescued by individuals outside the middle-order on several occasions now, but Kohli should not depend entirely on such acts as disastrous consequences await should the cavalry not arrive.
While Patel may not be a certainty for the Indian team should Saha return to fitness ahead of the Mumbai Test, he certainly played his part in setting up the win, with his unbeaten half-century in the second innings. The wicket-keeper not only anchored India's chase of the lowly target, but brought himself back in the selectors' radar with the knock, which was scored at a pace of more than a run-a-ball.
Meanwhile, captain Kohli continues to be the talisman for the Indians, proving his indispensability yet again with a half-century to remain streets ahead of the next set of batsmen in the run-scorers list. Even though he was not able to guide the hosts to a position of safety in the first essay, he exhibited his class yet again on the occasion.
The Mohali match however, will mainly be remembered for his spat with Ben Stokes, which started off with a spat after the New Zealand-born all-rounder's dismissal in the first innings, and escalated to another level after they started giving each other animated send-offs. Legends such as Sunil Gavaskar may have disapproved of the Indian captain's actions, but we can't really blame Kohli for losing political correctness occasionally, especially when pumped up in a series as high-octane as this one.
Last, but certainly not the least, captain Kohli has cast the toss factor — considered a crucial aspect for the conditions — aside with the victory. In the end, perseverance is what triumphed over luck as the hosts gave another solid reason to justify their occupation of the No 1 slot in the ICC Test rankings.
With the possibility of losing the series out of the equation after this win, the hosts will now look to give it back to Alastair Cook and Co regardless of the conditions. Given how the series has shaped up so far, a 4-0 doesn't seem outlandish. Knowing the manner in which captain Kohli and newly-appointed coach Anil Kumble function, there doesn't seem to be any likelihood for the hosts reducing their levels of intensity for the Wankhede and Chepauk fixtures. But for now, Kohli and Co can afford to party the night out in Chandigarh before getting back to the grind.
First Published On : Nov 29, 2016 16:16 IST