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Match Analysis

India's spinners deliver the sucker punch that England forgot to expect

All the best-laid plans of England's campaign couldn't prepare them for a day in the blender

This was the sort of day that teams visiting India dread. The kind they warn you about before you even set foot in the country.
It's the kind England have experienced plenty times before, including many of these players under a previous regime back in 2021. When a game you seemed to be getting along with just fine suddenly turns around and punches you in the face and robs you of your possessions.
It's nothing personal - this is just how Test cricket in India goes sometimes. And this England side experienced that for the first time on this tour, at the worst possible time.
On paper at least, they seemed well equipped to deal with it. You cannot necessarily ride out the storm of turn, variable bounce and relentless accuracy that surges towards you on such days. But if you have established a firm footing and are as proactive as reasonably possible - which this team are - you can ensure you come out the other side of the maelstrom relatively intact. Arriving on day three with a 134-run lead and just three Indian first-innings wickets left to take on a rapidly devolving pitch - the perfect surface for this kind of chaos - they seemed well insulated.
By Sunday evening, that paper was lost beneath the debris. India have already chipped 40 runs off their 192 target, and now have the fourth Test and the series within their grasp. After a moment behind closed doors to consider the trauma that had just unfolded, England's default optimism prevailed. The talk is that Monday has the potential to be another memorable day in this group's short history. Belief, right now, is a must.
England's faces told a different story, however, as they were rag-dolled in their second innings for 145. Shoaib Bashir's maiden five-wicket haul in professional cricket gave them a nice walk back into the dressing room earlier. Sure, Dhruv Jurel had almost single-handedly cut their lead down to 46, but that was still a decent buffer in these conditions.
The capitulation within 53.5 overs across the second session and most of the third shifted the mood, and sucked out what had been a well-earned air of contentment as far as where this match was headed 24 hours previously. The away balcony was a sea of furrowed brows, fixed stares, and kissed teeth, particularly from those who had just returned to the pavilion from the eye of the storm.
Ben Duckett and Ollie Pope were taken out in successive balls - the latter, who flayed 196 on a similar surface in Hyderabad, nursing a pair across just three deliveries in the match. Joe Root, having finished a masterful 122 not out the previous morning, was done and dusted for 11.
Zak Crawley, after a majestic 60, completely missed one from Kuldeep Yadav that turned through a vast gap between bat and pad. Ben Stokes, the talismanic leader of all this, was essentially LBW and bowled at the same time. Jonny Bairstow, chest out and up for a scrap, tamely lobbed the first ball after tea to short cover with what might actually rank as the worst shot of the tour. Just like that, a top six who have spent close to two months bracing themselves to fight against the tide in this manner found its magnitude too great to withstand.
The period that summed up the futility of England's endeavour came in an 11-over stunting of the flow of this match. Ben Foakes and Bashir, like protagonists in a post-apocalyptic novel, were thrust together by circumstance. Tom Hartley and Ollie Robinson had gone in the space of four deliveries to close out the 41st over.
England were eight down, the score (133) and lead (179) as it had been for the previous 22 balls. They had been brought to a standstill, their world itself, ironically, no longer spinning.
Foakes and Bashir, by their very nature, are survivors. Their routes into the team and sport, respectively, are evidence of that. As they travailed through the barren wasteland of this innings, Foakes foraged for a single an over, while Bashir's task was to keep out, at most, two out of every six deliveries.
They were neither any closer to a safe place that did not exist, nor escaping the inevitable. And it was typical of this sub-genre that Foakes, the protector, fell first. Three balls later, England were all out.
It is important to remember this was not simply a naturally occurring phenomenon. For the first time on this tour, England felt the full force of India's spinners and their ability make it feel like you're batting in a blender rather than on solid ground.
Go forward, go back, block, sweep, reverse-sweep, paddle or charge all you want. You're still getting cut up into a thousand pieces. R Ashwin and Kuldeep, five and four wickets each once it was all said and done, were the ones spinning the blades.
Ashwin, utilising what looks to be a more comfortable version of his action, finally posted his first masterclass of the series. The lesser-spotted carrom ball squared up Pope, and was used again to end Foakes' 80-minute vigil on 17 when a leading edge led to a return catch. Prising out Root LBW from around the wicket, whatever the furore it elicited from DRS sceptics, was high class.
Kuldeep, meanwhile, is bowling as well as he ever has done. Initially underused on a pitch both India and England thought would favour finger-spin, his left-arm wrist-spin from a shorter, flatter trajectory threatened all challengers. He seemed to be into the crease quicker, allowing greater purchase off the deck, which, combined with prodigious turn, did for Crawley when it looked like the opener was going to achieve his one-man mission of giving India a target beyond their reach. It ended Crawley's productive stand of 45 with Bairstow and opened the floodgates.
England can rue the moments they let slip. They were perhaps guilty of being too passive in the morning session, and if Robinson had caught Jurel on 59 - he went on to reach 90, with 41 added overall before the keeper-batter was the last man dismissed - they might well be favourites at this juncture.
Whisper it ... but could they have been more attacking? Easier said than done. Whatever your ethos, whatever your best-laid preparations, everyone has a plan until they find themselves on a challenging track against the best spinners in the game.
What will sting is England did not see it coming. And despite going toe-to-toe with India during large parts of the series so far, they may be about to watch it slip away with a Test to spare.

Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo