Awaiting the last rites
A summer that began so promisingly for England's new coach, Peter Moores, is now destined to end in disappointment. A rare home series defeat - England's first since 2001 - is signed, sealed and three days from delivery, after an Indian batting performance of rare and ruthless uniformity. It was capped by a maiden Test century at the 151st attempt from a rapturously received Anil Kumble, but on a dry and slightly dusting surface, Kumble's primary role is yet to come. England have nothing but dignity to salvage, and as they showed in similar circumstances in Lahore two winters ago, even that may prove too much to ask.
It is not the denouement that Moores might have imagined after the leisurely honeymoon of the first half of the summer, in which he picked up three wins out of four against West Indies and the lion's share of the drawn first Test at Lord's. But now, as he fronted up to the media for the second day in a row (a prospect that would have been anathema to his predecessor, Duncan Fletcher), he had only his optimism to fall back on. Fortunately, his reserves of positivity have not yet been drained.
"We've got to dust ourselves down and fight really hard to stay in the game," said Moores, repeating his sentiments of the previous evening. "As a sportsman if you say that you can't win a game, then that's not a good mental place to put yourself. With three days left, of course all three are possible. Obviously it's stacked in India's favour but there are six sessions gone and still nine to go. If we win all nine sessions, we're in with a chance, but to get anywhere near India we've got to bat for two days."
In truth, England's fortunes never recovered from the loss of a crucial toss on the first morning of the match. There is plenty time yet for them to be drowned under the sheer weight of runs that India have now amassed, but it still seems a shame that a series that had been so close for two matches should now be veering towards a rout on the strength of an incorrect call. The match that this now most closely resembles is the corresponding fixture on India's 1990 tour, in which India amassed 606 for 9 on a pristine pitch and England escaped with a draw thanks to David Gower's career-saving 157 not out.
England capitulated in Lahore in 2005-06 because they were a team at the end of an era, still high on Ashes success and unconcerned with saving their dignity in a far-off land and in front of a smattering of spectators. This time their predicament is subtly but markedly different. With winter tour places up for grabs, Moores appealed to England's batsmen to put their own interests first - for the greater good of the team.
|In truth, England's fortunes never recovered from the loss of a crucial toss on the first morning of the match. There is plenty time yet for them to be drowned under the sheer weight of runs that India have now amassed, but it still seems a shame that a series that had been so close for two matches should now be veering towards a rout on the strength of an incorrect call|
"Everyone's motivated because it's the last Test of the summer and we're playing to try and save the series," said Moores. "All the batters are going out to get a score, for themselves and for the team, and one thing that's in our favour is the speed you can score at. The outfield's very quick and the wicket is very good. The batters are looking forward to having a go on it, so we'll just see where we get to."
For all Moores' positive vibes, the morale of England's cricketers is unlikely to be fluttering from the flag-poles. Ryan Sidebottom, the luckless pick of the attack, is nursing a side strain that required an MRI scan, and then there's Matt Prior, still smarting from his shelling of Sachin Tendulkar, who compounded that gaffe by reprieving VVS Laxman as well this morning.
"It was unfortunate, and he'd be disappointed," said Moores. "But he kept alright after that. I thought he gloved it nicely but it's been a tough day, mentally challenging. Matt got stuck in and kept buzzing for everyone else. The keeper's the centre of the whole thing and you've got to try and keep that buzz going. It's a tough one, but he's got to dust himself down like everyone else, and get some runs.
"You never really say you're just in it to save the game," insisted Moores, but this time he's kidding no-one. The series has gone, and all that remains is the administration of the last rites.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo