At Nagpur, December 13-17, 2012. Drawn. Toss: England. Test debuts: R. A. Jadeja; J. E. Root.
A Test match that felt like a throwback to a sleepier past produced a series result that was just as unfamiliar to the modern audience: an England win in India. The draw confirmed a 2-1 scoreline, and the sluggish rate of scoring over the five days on a desperately slow pitch mattered not a jot to the victorious Cook, who took the Man-of-the-Series award to boot. The fact that so much rested on the outcome lent a soporific contest a strange kind of tension.
Ultimately, though, England batted out their second innings in comfort, and there was something rather low-key - like a County Championship match petering out on a Saturday afternoon - about the conclusion, with hands shaken 50 minutes after tea on the final day. The result had been a formality for several hours as the Warwickshire pair of Trott and Bell stretched their abstemious partnership to 208.
And yet nobody predicted such a dry, dour contest. Following England's win at Kolkata, pundits expected the surface at Nagpur to generate a positive result, perhaps even inside three days. In truth, there was no meaningful precedent. Curator Praveen Hingnikar - banned by the BCCI from talking to the media before the game following the outbursts of his Eden Gardens counterpart - had relaid the topsoil earlier in the year; this was the first contest since. Hingnikar was more surprised than anyone that cracks in the new surface refused to widen under sunshine.
Dhoni remarked phlegmatically that the game could have continued for another three days and still ended in a draw. Pietersen described the first-day pitch as the least conducive to strokeplay he had ever encountered. Only towards the end of the match, as fresh grass allowed a little more pace, could batsmen feel confident about playing the odd shot. But by then England had no cause for urgency. Except against the new ball, both captains placed fielders for mistimed drives rather than edges, and it was not unusual for batsmen to shape to duck against deliveries that eventually reached them at hip height. The second day produced the most runs, 218; eight individual fifties were compiled from an average of 127 balls; three hundreds from 271. Timeless Tests of yore must have followed the same tempo.
India did not help themselves with an unbalanced selection. Putting all their snakes in one basket, they chose three specialist slow bowlers, plus Ravindra Jadeja, a left-arm spinning all-rounder handed a debut in place of Yuvraj Singh. Jadeja proceeded to bowl more overs (70) in the match than either Ashwin or Chawla, the legspinner picked in place of Zaheer Khan for his first Test since April 2008; a gap of 49 Tests between appearances was an Indian record. The selectors' error became clear during the game's opening spell, from Sharma, now the lone seamer, which brought two wickets. With no bite for their spinners, India were at least spared the threat of Steven Finn, missing because of a back injury when his height might have coaxed something from the surface. Bresnan, his replacement, made little impression, yet one England hunch on selection proved inspired, as the 21-year-old Yorkshire opener Joe Root - replacing Samit Patel, and unexpectedly chosen ahead of both Jonny Bairstow and Eoin Morgan - marked his own debut with a display of rare assurance in an unfamiliar slot at No. 6.
Cook himself suffered his only bad match of the series. After winning his first toss in six Tests as captain, he received two questionable decisions from umpire Dharmasena in a contest that left England repeating their support for DRS. Trott, though, could blame only himself, as he left a ball from Jadeja that went straight on, and Bell succumbed to a timid push to short extra cover, having matched Cook in taking 28 balls over a single. When Pietersen flicked to midwicket to end a restrained 73, the England first innings was tottering at 139 for five. But Root showed the temperament and the light footwork that had persuaded the management his technique would hold up against spin. Prior dug in to confirm his maturity as a batsman for all situations and, by stumps, England were an old fashioned 199 for five from 97 overs, having faced the equivalent of 80 overs of dot-balls.
Next day, the pair extended their stand to 103, and a relatively brisk half-century from Swann - his first in Tests for three years - took England beyond 300. Root's 73 came from 229 balls, in 11 minutes short of five hours, and he was furious with himself when a leading edge supplied a return catch to the inoffensive Chawla.
A total of 330 looked like par, but superb swing bowling by Anderson on the second afternoon defined the middle of the game. The third ball of the innings nipped in to expose Sehwag's leaden footwork. Tendulkar was then bowled via an inside edge by a ball keeping a shade low, a dismissal that stirred, rather than advanced, the debate about his future; it was a record ninth time that he had fallen to Anderson, one clear of Muttiah Muralitharan. A series of inswingers set up the left-handed Gambhir for the one going across, and the wicket of Jadeja was Anderson's 528th in all international cricket, equalling Ian Botham's England record. Pujara, meanwhile, had already fallen to a fine right-handed catch by Bell at short leg off Swann, although replays showed the ball had deviated from forearm rather than glove.
Crucially, Anderson had forced India - 87 for four at the second-day close - to consolidate when the state of the series required them to be positive. Kohli and Dhoni (to some surprise, he had promoted himself above Jadeja who, a fortnight previously, had become the first Indian to score three first-class triple-centuries) responded by taking 507 balls over a stand of 198, watching every one of them like hawks. Neither man had batted for as long in a Test before, with Kohli in particular fighting against poor form as well as his instinct to attack. He eventually departed straight after drinks in the final session of the third day, having completed his third Test hundred from 289 balls. But, excruciatingly, Dhoni fell for 99, run out by a direct hit from Cook at mid-off as he attempted a desperate single. It was his first risk of the innings, an unthinkable liberty had he been on 98 or 100. The pressure of being in the nineties for more than an hour had finally told.
With time of the essence, India's approach on the fourth morning was baffling. Ashwin initially chose to turn down singles to keep Ojha away from strike, and only 29 runs came in the first hour - which suited England - before Dhoni declared four runs behind. England had merely to avoid mishaps, and never allowed themselves to be fazed by their slow progress. Cook had one run to his name from 46 balls by lunch, while Compton hit a single four in 134 deliveries before being adjudged leg-before despite an inside edge (although the ball flew straight to gully, so he was out one way or another).
The afternoon roused passions as Trott, in typically single-minded pursuit of runs, opted to hit a boundary off Jadeja from a ball that had slipped from his hand on to an adjacent strip. Although Trott was within his rights, other batsmen might have allowed the umpire to call dead ball. At the close, Ashwin suggested it had been unsporting. Before then, India had suffered more frustration, when Trott survived a strong (but unproven) appeal for a catch behind off Sharma. Ashwin later threatened to run Trott out at the bowler's end for backing up too far. But Trott remained steadfastly Trott, his self-absorption tailor-made for the situation. By the time he flicked Ashwin to leg slip to depart for 143, made in 405 minutes, England's lead had advanced to an impregnable 306. It proved the only wicket to fall on the final day. Bell ended a 403-minute innings with 116 not out - his first Test hundred in India - tired but satisfied, while the home crowd were generous but resigned. England cracked open the beers, and began to think of Christmas.
Man of the Match: J. M. Anderson. Man of the Series: A. N. Cook.
Close of play: first day, England 199-5 (Root 31, Prior 34); second day, India 87-4 (Kohli 11, Dhoni 8); third day, India 297-8 (Ashwin 7); fourth day, England 161-3 (Trott 66, Bell 24).