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5th Test, Dharamsala, March 07 - 09, 2024, England tour of India
218 & 195

India won by an innings and 64 runs

Player Of The Match
5/72, 30 & 2/40
Player Of The Series
712 runs

Ashwin bags nine in his 100th Test as India cruise to innings win

England suffered another collapse to crash to a 4-1 series defeat in Dharamsala

Andrew Miller
Andrew Miller
R Ashwin holds up the ball after completing his five-for, India vs England, 5th Test, Dharamsala, 3rd day, March 9, 2024

R Ashwin holds up the ball after completing his five-for  •  BCCI

India 477 (Gill 110, Rohit 103, Padikkal 65, Sarfaraz 56, Bashir 5-173) beat England 218 and 195 (Root 84, Ashwin 5-77, Bumrah 2-38) by an innings and 64 runs
It ended in an avalanche of wickets in the foothills of the Himalayas, as England's bid to scale the heights on their tour of India descended into the depths of an innings defeat in Dharamsala, and an ignominious 4-1 series scoreline that - on this final, sorry evidence, if not the feistier fare that had preceded it - was an apt reflection of the enduring gulf between the sides.
At least James Anderson scaled his own peak, claiming his 700th Test wicket in the day's opening exchanges, to achieve an altitude that surely no other seam bowler will ever challenge. But it was left to another of Test cricket's most enduring performers to put his personal seal on a landmark contest, as R Ashwin - in his 100th Test - took his own tally to 516 and counting, with 5 for 77, his 36th five-wicket haul, as victory was sealed inside two sessions on the third afternoon.
Though magnificent throughout the match, it was during a mesmeric display before lunch that Ashwin unveiled his full sleight of hand. In that passage of play spanning 8.5 overs, and punctuated only by a crie de coeur from his fellow caps centurion, Jonny Bairstow, Ashwin claimed four of England's top six, including both openers for a total of two runs and their crestfallen captain, Ben Stokes, with the final ball of the session. Each victim was carved open in bespoke, surgical fashion - more of an autopsy, in fact, given the number of dead men walking straight into his extraordinary web of deceit.
Bazball, this was not. The literal confidence trick that had allowed England, in the campaign's opening exchanges, to over-reach their perceived limitations through sheer force of will has long since been banished - as much by the brutal one-upmanship of India's own batting onslaughts as by the skill of Ashwin, Jasprit Bumrah, Kuldeep Yadav and Co. And so, when faced with a daunting deficit of 259, after Shoaib Bashir had backed up Anderson's incision to close out India's first innings for 477 with his second five-wicket haul of the series, there was never any sense that a second Hyderabad miracle was in prospect.
England had overturned a 190-run deficit on that occasion, with Ollie Pope's 196 to the fore. This time, Pope became Ashwin's and India's third victim inside the first ten overs - caught off a top-edge as he flapped unconvincingly across an ill-judged sweep. And though Joe Root hung around like a faded memory to salvage some personal and collective pride, the cause had long since been lost by the time he was last man out for 84 - caught, fittingly enough, on the long-off boundary by Bumrah to hand Kuldeep the final wicket of a match that his first-day five-for had launched in India's direction.
If England were to have had any hope (and to that end, even their spin coach Jeetan Patel, optimistic to the point of delusion when speaking to the media at the midpoint in Hyderabad, had hedged most of his bets when speaking at the close of the second day's play) then it needed to have been invested once again in their openers, Zak Crawley and Ben Duckett, whose record of seven 45-plus stands in nine previous innings had been the one reliable manifestation of their aggressive intentions all tour.
This time, however, Ashwin was waiting, armed with the sharpest of scalpels as he took his share of the new ball, and from the outset, Duckett's defenceless game was gripped with panic. Faced with Ashwin's wicked control of seam and cut, he discovered in an early tangle of limbs that these were not conditions in which he could turn to his favoured sweep, let alone poke speculatively from the crease, as he did to his fourth ball of Ashwin's opening over. One delivery later, he came charging down the pitch to meet those wiles at source, but the bowler was just too canny for him. Ashwin dropped his length like a boulder to york Duckett three metres down the pitch, and knocked back his off stump with just two runs on the board.
Crawley, at this stage, was rather more preoccupied with surviving back-to-back maidens from Bumrah, including another unplayable cutter that nipped past his outside edge. But when Ashwin finally got to line him up for the first time in the sixth over, his first ball gripped and turned a full ten degrees back into his pads - enough to spook even the most composed of England's competitors on this tour. Two balls after that, a similar line and length outside off produced half the amount of spin, and Sarfaraz Khan at backward short leg was perfectly placed to pocket the deflection. After nine consecutive double-figure innings, Crawley's 407-run campaign had ended with a 16-ball duck.
By the time Pope's own skittish display had been unpicked, England's innings was in disarray. Enter Bairstow, puffing out his chest in the manner he had ordained for his own 100th Test, for a belligerently short-lived counterattack that epitomised the triumph of hope over expectation that has characterised so much of his eclectic Test career.
All of a sudden, Ashwin was back where he'd been at the top-end of the series, as Bairstow ditched the circumspection and chose instead to launch him for the hills. Anytime the ball was in his arc, it was out of the ground - consecutive slog-swept sixes in Ashwin's seventh over, and a third in seven balls soon afterwards, to give the impression that, yes, finally, Jonny was very much on.
Unfortunately for England, Kuldeep was on soon afterwards as well. And, just as he had derailed them in the first innings, so he was again in the wickets in his very first over, as Bairstow - not for the first time - found his left-arm angles too confounding to counter. He played back to a big twisting left-arm legbreak to be pinned on the back foot in front of leg. Umpire's call upheld the appeal, and Bairstow had to troop off for 39 - his highest score of a desperately unfulfilled series, in which he had reached at least 25 in seven of his 10 innings.
The least that could be said for Bairstow's campaign is that he gave it a go in the prescribed manner. Stokes, by contrast, suffered his fourth consecutive single-figure score, and just as in the first innings at Ranchi, his departure on the stroke of lunch left England five-down and bereft of purpose. That's not an accusation that is often directed at Stokes, but this latest dismissal - prised out by Ashwin's arm-ball as it skidded past his inside-edge - continued a pattern of distinctly cagey extractions.
Once again, Stokes' stride to the pitch wasn't half as convincing as his mechanics made it out to be; once again he flung his head to the heavens, as if to signal he'd been powerless to counter such genius - and, to be fair, this was the 13th time that Ashwin had got the better of him. But, as with so many of his middle-order colleagues, Stokes' series stats confirmed the extent to which he'd fallen short: 199 runs at 19.90, including 65 at 10.83 in the last three Tests.
Lunch had barely been digested before Ashwin had his fifth. Ben Foakes seemed to have settled in the opening exchanges of his stand with Root, only to be lured into the sort of rush of blood that has characterised his team-mates' displays, but not usually his own. Ashwin tossed one up outside his eyeline, and Foakes kneeled into a mighty yahoo across the line, only for the ball to bite and rip back through his gate.
At 113 for 6, Tom Hartley at least closed out his maiden series with another display of batting pluck, one that will surely give him an edge when the home season begins and England are back to selecting a solitary spinner. But after digging in alongside Root for 20 hard-grafted runs, he had no answer to the magnificent Bumrah, India's on-field captain with Rohit Sharma nursing a stiff back.
Bumrah's second delivery of his new spell snaked back into the left-hander's pads, trapping him so plumb in front that there wasn't even any point in a speculative review. Shockingly, it was Bumrah's first wicket of the match, an unfathomable delay given his rip-roaring spell on the first morning. But he didn't have to wait so long for his second. Two balls later, out came Bumrah's pinpoint yorker, to blast Mark Wood out for a duck. This time he did seek the second opinion, but to no avail. At 141 for 8, India were circling for the kill.
Root at least resolved to end his own campaign on a high. By playing late, and trusting his defence to a degree that none of his colleagues could ever begin to emulate, he began to tick along with the stealth and class of old, and had designs on bowing out with his second century of the series while Bashir was hanging out alongside him in a plucky 48-run stand for the ninth wicket.
But up popped Ravindra Jadeja, to bowl Bashir for 13 - not before the batter had caused some mirth by calling for a review - and with only Anderson for company, Root opted to roll the dice and lost. It was the fitting end in every respect, with Kuldeep rightly claiming the Player-of-the-Match award in spite of so many competing claims at the end of India's most complete team performance of the series. For if Ashwin was the man to capitalise on England's broken mindset, it was Kuldeep's unfathomable wiles that had cracked it in the first place.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket

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