Out-fought and out-thought
It's not for nothing that England's victory in India four years ago is recalled as one of their outstanding series wins of all time. Conquering the "final frontier", as Steve Waugh memorably dubbed a Test tour of India, is among the stiffest challenges in the sport, and when the barricades are manned with such frightening pride as Virat Kohli's men produced, the task becomes exponentially harder. But what was it about Kohli's leadership that lifted his team to another level? Alastair Cook's candid admission that his team may have "stagnated" in the past 12 months was telling. The half-chances that went begging, the half-formed innings that were given away cheaply, the tangible lack of intensity that engulfed many of their longest stints in the field. Few England captains could have beaten India with the tools at Cook's disposal, but several would surely have dredged greater levels of attrition out of his battle-weary troops. Is it time for a change of leader? Cook's body language in defeat would imply that it is.
England's spinners were always expected to be the weak link of the attack, but no-one quite expected India's seamers to boss their head-to-heads too. England were undermined by injuries - Stuart Broad was never fully fit, while James Anderson might have wished he'd cashed in on his doctor's chit after going wicketless in the last two Tests - but the relentless hostility and excellence of their Indian counterparts was inspiring to behold. Mohammed Shami produced the most blistering spell of the series, a ferocious new-ball bouncer barrage at Mohali that shredded England's resistance on the final day, but even Umesh Yadav - whose eight wickets at 58.00 don't look too rosy at first viewing - produced 143 overs of tireless yakka that ensured England's rest-cure from the spin onslaught was anything but. England thought they'd seen a glimmer of a strategy when utilising reverse-swing to good effect in Bangladesh, but their failings were never better expressed than at Mumbai, when the selection of four seamers echoed their famous faux-pas at Calcutta in 1992-93. Then, as now, it proved a wrong-headed strategy.
Defeats are an increasingly regular feature of Test cricket, especially away from home, in this era of faster run-scoring and fewer draws. But nevertheless, there are some wince-inducing take-aways from England's drubbing in India. The whitewash may have been avoided thanks to that long-forgotten winning draw in Rajkot back in November, but India's 4-0 scoreline is handsome retribution for one of their own most notable humiliations of recent years, the 4-0 loss in 2011 when England themselves rose to No.1 in the world on home soil. Indeed, the hashtag #scoresettled was trending on Twitter in the few hours after the final victory. And, only days after becoming the third team in history to lose by an innings after posting 400 in the first innings, England did it again yesterday with bells on. To lose by an innings after winning the toss and posting 477 is almost beyond belief. And to do so after shipping six wickets for 15 on the final afternoon of the tour reeks of surrender.
Exposure of the super-tail
It should have been one of England's strengths - an allrounder-laden middle order comprising the likes of Moeen Ali, Ben Stokes, Jonny Bairstow, Chris Woakes and Adil Rashid (who appeared as low as No. 10 on occasions in this series). Such lower-order riches could have been a vital means to fulfil one of Cook's stated ambitions at the start of the series - to bat long and deep, and ensure that England never left themselves short if ever they got a good crack at the conditions, which they did - astonishingly - on four occasions out of five, thanks to a rare run of good form at the toss. And it all looked pretty cushty in the first innings of the series, when Moeen and Stokes produced a pair of centuries in an agenda-setting total of 537. However, India's own tail proved even tougher to break down, not least their frontline spinners, R Ashwin, Ravi Jadeja and Jayant Yadav, who racked up 751 runs between them at 46.94. All three were instrumental in the crushing accumulations that turned the Mumbai and Chennai contests upside-down. England, by contrast, couldn't shake the feeling that too many lines of defence diluted their overall resolve.
Nineteen players, including replacements, were named for England's winter tour, but even if they have all been fit by the end of the trip, at least four and arguably more of those players were simply unfit for selection. The aspersions that have been cast on Jack Leach's bowling action are a convenient excuse for his non-selection, but in his absence, the Surrey pair of Zafar Ansari and Gareth Batty proved far from adequate back-up. Steven Finn remains utterly devoid of confidence at the highest level, while Jake Ball was anonymous in his two outings at the end of the tour. And then there's the fiasco of England's top-order batting. To have any hope of competing with India, England needed to know their best XI by the time they arrived in Rajkot, which meant getting it right in Bangladesh as well. Instead, they emerged from that tour with two passengers in their top three. Gary Ballance's passive crease-bound technique left him all but strokeless during two dismal Tests, while Ben Duckett's open-stanced pinch-hitting had the same impact when confronted with a world-class opponent in Ashwin. As a consequence, Jos Buttler's claims were overlooked until the series was already slipping away, while Keaton Jennings might never have been blooded had it not been for an injury to England's find of the winter, Haseeb Hameed. The overall impact was to lessen the sum of England's parts.