India vs England: Alastair Cook’s captaincy under scrutiny again with visitors struggling

When Joseph Conrad was writing his seminal work, The Heart of Darkness, he spoke in detail about seeing something that horrifies you and being unable to look away. He called it “the fascination of the abomination.” Anyone who has any affection for English cricket would have known what Conrad meant as the fourth day of the Mumbai Test unfolded on Sunday. It was a slow-motion, bullet-time car crash that the Wachowskis would have been proud of. It was harrowing to see a team that has so much potential being so brutally exposed.

The chief-tormentor in this Test, and in this series, was Virat Kohli who marched his way to a career-best 235. Such is Kohli’s ability perhaps it would be wise for a Roman Auriga to stand next to him while he bats and whisper “remember you are only a man” in his ear while he takes guard. Certainly, his god-like status in the eyes of the adoring public in the Wankhede stadium was obvious; they screamed his name just as they had when another famous number four batsman had been plundering runs from hapless bowlers.

 India vs England: Alastair Cook’s captaincy under scrutiny again with visitors struggling

England's captain Alastair Cook, Adil Rashid and Joe Root discuss strategy on the fourth day, AFP

England were physically and emotionally drained going into Sunday’s play, by an hour into it they were an assortment of quivering wrecks. While conceding hundreds of runs to Kohli is to be expected, England would have not banked on Jayant Yadav making a Test century batting at number nine, the first Indian to ever manage that. His partnership with Kohli was worth 241 runs, and it was this stand that broke England’s will and deprived them of any chance of victory.

Both Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid bowled more overs in India’s mammoth innings of 631 all out than they ever have in their first-class careers. Moeen sent down 53 overs, Rashid 55.3. Between them they took six wickets at the cost of 366 runs. By comparison, in England’s first innings, the two leading Indian spinners took 10 wickets at a cost of 221. Ultimately, that will be the difference between these two teams in this Test, and in this series.

Kohli’s ridiculously good masterclass was phenomenal to watch, but you win Tests by taking 20 wickets. The reason India have done that regularly in this series is because of Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and, to a lesser extent, Jayant. On Saturday night, Joe Root was saying that if you took out Kohli’s runs things would have been closer. Ignoring the daftness of deleting the performances of one player to try and even things up, even without Kohli India would have won this series because they have better bowlers in these conditions. That was something that Parthiv Patel said during this match, although he did it without much tact.

Once again, Alastair Cook’s captaincy will be questioned, and once again that examination of his qualities as a leader will be completely justified. The last time Cook’s role as captain was brought under serious scrutiny, during the aftermath of the disastrous Ashes tour of 2013/14, it began to impact his batting. Then, as now, Cook is far more valuable to this team as a man scoring hundreds than as a captain in the field. If he has to go as captain, the end of this series will be as good a time as any. Or he can wait until the summer to do a tearful resignation during a South Africa series, something that has become traditional for England’s Test captains since 2008.

India’s total was the second highest they have managed against England, the only bigger total being the 664 they managed at The Oval in 2007. No team has ever lost a Test after an innings of 600 or more, and the chances of England setting up a win looked even more remote when first-innings centurion Keaton Jennings was dismissed for a golden duck to the second ball of the innings. England were facing the prospect of being just the third team to ever lose a Test by an innings having made 400.

Two quick wickets for Jadeja to dismiss Cook and Moeen left England at 49 for three. Joe Root played the kind of counter-attacking knock for which he has become so famous as he made his way to 77. He was proactive and happy to sweep and reverse sweep against the spin and out of the rough. It was pretty clear with the amount the ball is turning that eventually a ball would be too good for him, so he quite rightly decided to make runs while he could.

Root combined with Jonny Bairstow to put on 92 runs to take the game into a fifth day, but he could not make it all the way to the close. Jayant trapped him LBW for 77. England will spend their Sunday evening dreaming of pulling off a great escape on Monday morning. If they can get erase India’s lead, every run they score is one India will need to get. That will help in their pursuit of a theoretical draw.

India have a minimum of 90 overs in which to claim the last four England wickets and knock off any target. England have shown throughout this series that batting in the second innings on turning pitches is something that they are not very good at. It will take a hundred from Bairstow and serious support from everyone else for this to be anything other than a series-claiming victory for India. Even then it probably wouldn’t be enough. India have just been too good.

Updated Date: Dec 11, 2016 20:31:26 IST