India hit by their perfect storm
Let's make all the allowances first. This was possibly India's sternest test of the series. The pitch was damp, it was cloudy overhead, and clearly more happened off the seam than it did at Old Trafford. It behaved a lot like the Lord's pitch, but with James Anderson and Stuart Broad bowling much better than they did north of the river. This pitch against this attack with a slip cordon catching well - Joe Root manufactured one by standing halfway with a helmet on - would have tested any batting line-up in the world. And when he was in the moment, MS Dhoni fought bravely and deftly - taking blows on the body, farming the strike, refusing a single on 49 - and Ishant Sharma provided him unflinching support.
Yet you cannot overlook how India have not learned from their mistakes. And a side that refuses to correct its mistakes cannot hope to win a five-Test series. ODIs, yes. Short Test series, maybe. Not five Tests that will find you out at some point. And then it will keep exposing you ruthlessly. India have had no response to it. This is the last Test of the series, and India have not yet put their best XI on the field.
It was a noble thought, and a brave move on the part of Dhoni the batsman to play an extra bowler at the start of the series, but it was clear Stuart Binny was not the man. He might have saved them the first Investec Test on the final day with the bat, but that was not what he was picked for. His primary job was to bowl 12-15 good tight overs a day. He was not used in the second innings at Lord's, a Test he should not even have been playing.
Rohit Sharma, Binny's replacement, was dropped after he played a poor shot at the Ageas Bowl, but there has been no such finality with Gautam Gambhir. When he was asked about whether India are at a stage where they might want to say "to hell with the other opener", and go with an extra middle-order batsman, Dhoni basically said Rohit has hardly played any cricket in this series and it would not be right to have him come in "all of a sudden" for a big game. Binny had played two Tests, Gambhir one and Rohit one before this; yet the likeliest man to do a job sat out. Gambhir got out first ball.
You can tell Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli have got worse over the series, they are fighting the demons in their heads and their techniques, but they are getting out in the same manner. Pujara's back foot has not moved across all series, and suddenly out of nowhere for one odd delivery his bat comes down from wide. He has been missing straight balls. He has been either lbw or bowled 14 out of 37 times in his career, which, closing in at 40, is a high percentage. There has not been an improvement on that front.
Kohli was seen working hard on his batting in the nets, especially trying to get his back lift straight, but he is still chasing balls well outside off. It does not help that he has got out leaving twice; one of them, at Lord's, was a poor leave. Kohli and Pujara's continuous, and in some ways similar, failures will send them back with question marks against their credentials, and also the support staff's. It does not help that the schedule has not allowed them any time off to work on their games.
Their runs in the past helped gloss over the small things, but they, too, are being exposed now. Dhoni, who has shown fortitude with the bat and has come out of his comfort zone there, has been ordinary behind the stumps. He has not gone for catches between him and first slip. He stands upright as the bowler runs in. He is not athletic either. You wonder if the team has made peace with it, or if they have pointed it out to him and have worked on it without any effect. Who in the team can tell him that? We don't know.
So in the end you get a day that is the perfect storm. The pitch seams, the overheads swing the ball, you lose the toss, the opposition bowlers get it right for the best part of the day, Pujara is out there batting in the first over, Kohli gets a slightly tough lbw call, Root pulls off a blinder to send M Vijay back, and the brave Dhoni is stranded. Yet there is little sympathy for them. For this was a side that had turned up to take its last beatings. There are no knockouts, technical or otherwise, in five-Test series, or this series would have been called off at Old Trafford.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo