India’s lead at the top of the ICC Test rankings is so large that not even a 5-0 defeat by England will rob them of the No 1 spot. On the evidence of their capitulation at Lord’s, it is just as well.
The nail-biter at Edgbaston, where England won by 31 runs, seemed to have set up a memorable series, but conditions at Lord’s — and the skill of the home seamers — proved too much for a team reared on pitches that are either flat or conducive to spin.
With one or two exceptions, it’s the same when England go to India. On their last visit, in 2016-17, they were spun out by Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja and lost 4-0.
India trail England 2-0 in five-match series after losing by an innings and 159 runs at Lord’s
Yet India are supposed to be the best side in the world. To lose 20 wickets in 82.2 overs — the equivalent of less than a day’s play — was feeble by anyone’s standards.
In their defence, the weather gods seemed to have taken a bung from Joe Root. India’s first innings took place in conditions better suited to surfing than cricket, while the only bursts of sunshine took place during England’s reply on Saturday.
However excuses will get them nowhere as they seek to become only the second team in Test history — after Don Bradman’s Australians against England in 1936-37 — to win from 2-0 down.
It was easy to forget that most of the match-sealing sixth-wicket partnership of 189 between Jonny Bairstow and Chris Woakes took place under cloud cover.
Cheteshwar Pujara and co were left simply unable to cope with England’s impressive swing
The bottom line was that India’s batsmen were unable to cope with England’s late swing — Stuart Broad’s dismissal of Cheteshwar Pujara in the second innings was a classic of its kind — and their bowlers could not replicate it.
As much as anything, India were spooked by the spell Woakes produced to Virat Kohli after the long rain break on Friday.
Alone among the tourists, Kohli had passed 31 at Edgbaston, but was now worked over like a novice by Woakes, finally edging to second slip – and if the world’s best batsman couldn’t cope, how would the rest?
With Kohli making a modest 23 and 17 at Lord’s, we had our answer. Following totals of 274 and 162 in Birmingham, India managed just 107 and 130 here.
Virat Kohli’s side have found the path to self-destruction as they look to achieve a rare feat
Worryingly for their hopes at Trent Bridge, Southampton and the Oval, they have so far fared worse than on their two previous visits.
In 2011, when they lost 4-0, their average total was 255, and in 2014, when they lost 3-1, it was 254. Such numbers look like riches now.
It’s true that England’s seam attack looks as relentless as it has done for some time, with no let-up from Woakes and Sam Curran after Broad and Jimmy Anderson.
However the best teams in the world find a way. Right now, the only way India have found is the path to self-destruction.