Ashwin administers CPR
India had their best session of the series yesterday morning. They sliced through the England tail, then, with Sehwag, reprieved by another slip-clanger in a series amply festooned with them, in increasingly Sehwagian form, and Gambhir, always fidgety outside off stump but positive against the spinners, managing to resist the urge to run out India's key batsman for the second time in the match just to see the look on everyone's faces. At lunch, they were 121 behind, with all their second-innings wickets in hand, and England, as England generally are, defending deep in the field, allowing a comfortable flow of runs.
One more session of Sehwag and the game would have been alive. One more session of both of them, and the game would have been fascinating. Instead, there was one more ball of Sehwag - insufficient time even for a fast-scorer such as the Delhi Now-Intermittent Destroyer to transform a game ‒ and 45 minutes of Gambhir, sufficient time for him to compensate himself for not doing the double on Sehwag by running out India's best batsman of the series instead, flirt with danger a few times, then drive stupidly at a good away-reverse-swinger from the hostile and dangerous Finn.
The game was in the bag. The rest of the Indian batting top seven promptly filled up the bag with bricks and dropped it into a local canal to put it out of its misery. Ravichandran Ashwin bravely dived it to save it, slapped it back into life, shouted "Stay with me, stay with me," desperately at it whilst giving it an unusually elegant bout of CPR, and left the game overnight in a hospital surrounded by its family, all aware that there is no real hope for it, but relieved that they were at least able to pay their last respects to it in a dignified manner.
England's bowling throughout this match has been of the same high class that it was throughout their period of dominance in 2010 and 2011, and even in their difficult winter in Asia early this year. It has been significantly improved by the two changes made since Ahmedabad. Anderson bowled faster than he has for some time, and with all his considerable reserves of skill and craft, and Finn again looked like a bowler who will discomfort and dismiss good players for the next decade. Swann despatched India's two remaining veterans with superb bowling, and Panesar, though not as good as in his previous three innings, continued to threaten and had some chances spurned. It was a searching cross-examination, and India cracked, admitted everything, and turned themselves in.
They were unable to cope technically - Tendulkar, Yuvraj and Dhoni were out playing defensively to probing but not unplayable balls ‒ or temperamentally. Sehwag was lured by a classic perfectly flighted, teasing, come-and-hit-me offbreak by Swann with the first ball after lunch. The batsman was drawn into an injudicious, poorly executed half-drive, and the breach was made. Gambhir and Kohli were the most culpable. Both had played themselves in to an extent, then, like dieting gluttons on day three of yet another new regime, dived for the cookie jar hoping no one would notice, tempted into needless drives at ignorable swinging balls when the situation required stricter control of their attacking urges. It was a woeful display against superb bowling on a testing but playable surface.
Indian top seven batsmen, in the 19 Test matches they have played over the 20 months since their World Cup triumph in April 2011, collectively average 33.99, and have scored 12 centuries in 246 innings (one every 20.5 innings). Over the previous 18 months, they played 18 Tests, jointly average 51.48, and scored 30 hundreds in 202 innings (one every 6.7 innings). Those numbers should be setting selectorial alarm bells clanging. Perhaps they are. Do the selectors know the security code to disable the alarm? Is there such a code lurking in Indian domestic cricket? Or do they like the sound of alarms, and are dancing along happily to its rhythmical honk?
In the stands at the Eden, the mood was exultant amongst the eternally vociferous if not always entirely melodious travelling England support. The home spectators, who had turned out in good numbers again and stayed to the end despite the hopeless match situation, were downcast, but did not turn against their team, and as soon as the Ashwin-Ishant stand began to take shape, there was rapturous acclaim.
When Ishant was out, he received a standing ovation more befitting a centurion than someone who had scored 10 off 55, but the crowd simply appreciated that someone had played with discipline and determination for them. When Ashwin brought up his half-century and spared India an innings defeat, the stadium roared as if there were 25 minutes remaining to save the match, not 25 minutes, dinner, a bedtime story, a snooze, breakfast, then 360 more minutes to save the match (assuming Mr Monsoon does not make an unseasonal one-day-only return to the city to do some media work or Christmas shopping).
The crowd in Kolkata has been predominantly young, generous to the opposition, and desperate for Indian Test competitiveness. At times when they have been given that competitiveness, they have been loud. I can only imagine what Eden Gardens can have been like with three times as many people watching India beat Australia 12 years ago in one of the greatest cricket matches of all time. There has been little hope for Indian cricket on the field, but plenty in the stands.
● Graeme Swann has now taken 70 wickets in 12 Tests in Asia, at an average of 26 - the third best average of the 16 non-Asian spinners to have taken 30 or more wickets in Asia, behind Richie Benaud (71 at 19) and Lance Gibbs (54 at 24). Of all the non-Asian bowlers to have taken 30-plus wickets on the continent, 16 of the lowest 17 averages are by pace bowlers, with Benaud, in third behind fellow Australians Alan Davidson and Graham McKenzie, the only exception.
● As of the start of play on the fifth day, Pragyan Ojha has been dismissed five times in the 406 balls he has faced in Tests ‒ once every 89 deliveries. Which makes him 46% harder to dismiss than Virender Sehwag (average balls per dismissal: 61). Albeit that he scores at 18 runs per 100 balls, which is a little less threatening to the opposition than Sehwag's strike rate of 82. Jacques Kallis' average innings length is 124 balls, Shiv Chanderpaul's 120 balls, and Chris Martin's 12.
● James Anderson in overseas Tests since the start of the 2010-11 Ashes: 13 Tests, 49 wickets, average 27, strike rate 59. In away Tests before 2010-11: 19 Tests, 52 wickets, average 43, strike rate 74.
Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on the BBC Radio 4, and a writer