How Test cricket exposes you ruthlessly and swiftly if you take your foot off the pedal. India's top-order batsmen forgot to stitch together partnerships. Their lower order failed to show the spine and mental strength displayed by Sam Curran for England with the bat. India's leading spinner, the only one, failed to dominate England on wearing pitch with huge pockmarks.
All the good things that India did collectively to win the Trent Bridge Test evaporated in the warm and balmy air in Southampton over the last few days. Virat Kohli tried to put a positive spin in the end, but India had lost the series 3-1.
Kohli admitted that England deserved to win this Test, and the series, because Joe Root's men were relentless, something India were not for extended period of times. Although Ashwin's ineffectiveness remains a talking point, the more significant weakness for India this series has been the failure of their openers. Shikhar Dhawan and KL Rahul had shown application in Nottingham where they played out the first hour, thus allowing the middle order lead by Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane to capitalise in both innings.
Here Dhawan and Rahul failed twice after giving hope that they had turned the corner. Although Rahul was defeated by a grubber from Stuart Broad on the fourth day, in the first innings he had failed to counter Broad's seaming in delivery, his Achilles heel for a while. Dhawan, too, would berate himself for playing shots at deliveries in both innings he could have played differently. In the second innings, the problems were compounded by Pujara being defeated by James Anderson's inswing.
Kohli agreed that the batting group's failure to support Pujara and inflate the lead eventually hurt India badly. They did take a 27-run advantage, but that was too slender. That, Kohli said was a "big moment" his team lost. "It's very difficult to recognise key moments in the first innings of a Test match," Kohli said. "But they turn out to be very big moments in a Test match eventually in the course of the whole game."
Kohli, who made 46 in the first innings, chased a wide, fuller delivery from Curran and paid the price. "After I got out, I myself felt that had I batted for longer that day the lead could have been bigger. But even after that we thought we could get a couple of more partnerships and extend the lead if possible. Eventually Pujara had to play a blinder to get us to a lead of 30-odd. So that's the only thing that I feel could have extended our lead a bit more in this first innings."
England, despite the victory, have several of their own issues to contend with. Yet they came out on top and Kohli said that was because England were "brave" in "tougher" situations. Kohli said that was the difference between the two teams.
Another significant difference between the two batting units has been the weaker contributions from India's lower order, especially in the two closely-fought Tests here and at Edgbaston. Unlike Curran, who has two fifties, an average of 50 and is the third-highest run-scorer this series, despite having played three of the four Tests, India have failed to get similar returns from Hardik Pandya, their main allrounder. Pandya has one fifty so far, but has been poor otherwise. Kohli underlined that fact saying India need to learn from Curran, who has played "fearless" cricket.
"It's quite handy to have guys who can strike the ball well in those positions because you literally have nothing to lose and once you get a partnership going, it can get frustrating for the opposition. every team feels like that, when the lower order gets runs, you don't likes seeing that. They have guys who are fearless down the order, they back their skills, they were braver in tough situations than us, they were more confident about what they wanted to do in tough situations, and that's why they won this Test match. Those contributions lower down the order have been significant as far as this Test goes and the one Birmingham as well. I would like to congratulate Sam Curran. He has been a nice find for England."
Despite the series loss, Kohli felt India made England earn the victory and that is something he would tell his players to take forward in the final Test, which starts at The Oval on Friday. Asked if 3-1 was a fair reflection for the series, Kohli felt, it would be crude to measure the efforts put in by his team in terms of a "scorecard".
"You understand that cricket is not always defined by the scorecard - that's just a thing to look at. You might be 3-0 up in a five match series, and the opposition manage to win the last two and say it's a close series, but you know it's actually not close. But when you're going see-saw in every game apart from Lord's, I would not count that, then you understand that it was a competitive and hard fought series victory for England. We definitely pushed England to earn a victory and they played better cricket than us for longer periods. That's why they won the match."
However, in the end, Kohli did concede that India are yet to learn to "cross the line" which they failed to do at Edgbaston and here, losing by 31 and 60 runs respectively. "We can look at the scoreboard and say we were only 30 runs away or 50 runs away, but we have to recognise that when we are in the midst of the situation, and not later. We know that we have played good cricket, but we cannot say again and again to ourselves that we have competed. When you come so close, there is an art of crossing the line as well, which we will have to learn.
"We have the ability and that is why we are getting close to a result, and we have belief in that ability. But when a pressure situation comes, how we react to it is something we have to work on a bit, something everyone is ready to work on that. We are not feeling that in the last Test we will not play with intensity. We still have one opportunity to improve our mistakes and to learn to capitalise during pressure situations."