At Mumbai, December 8-12, 2016. India won by an innings and 36 runs. Toss: England. Test debut: K. K. Jennings.
November 1988 was a time before the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the creation of the Spice Girls. It was also the last time India had played a Test at Mumbai without Sachin Tendulkar. To judge by the intermittent chants of his name, and the T-shirts worn in the crowd, the reverence in his home town had not dimmed. But the spectators had room in their hearts for a new champion.
As Virat Kohli turned to salute them on the fourth afternoon, after an imperious 235, he had produced a performance fit to rank with Tendulkar himself. This was Kohli's 41st international century. And if Tendulkar's round 100 remained a world away, Kohli - born three weeks before that 1988 Mumbai Test - has the desire and skill to get close. George Foreman once fought five bouts on one night. Here, Kohli confronted six frontline bowlers over two days, dismantling them all in compiling his fourth Test century of the year, and third double. He wowed in glorious technicolour, with serene straightdrives, dextrous sweeps and meticulous placement; in stifling heat, he also scampered twos throughout his 515 minutes at the crease. It was the measure of a cricketer who gauges his fitness not against team-mates or opponents, but the world's best athletes.
Earlier in the year, he discovered that his body-fat percentage was nine, among the lowest for any cricketer, and set his sights on tennis star Novak Djokovic's 7.5. England's attempts to unsettle him - three of Kohli's first eight deliveries were bouncers from Ball - proved futile. This was, he reckoned, his second-best Test innings, behind his audacious 141 at Adelaide in December 2014. A Sunday morning stroll to the Oval Maidan, with Kohli 147 not out overnight, confirmed his silky late cuts were inspiring a new generation.
And yet he was only one of two Indian giants on show. With 12 wickets, a product of subtle variations, a shrewd cricketing brain and remorseless accuracy, Ashwin took his series haul to 27. England had not merely encountered the world's pre-eminent batsman and bowler in these conditions: after dominating a draw in Rajkot, they had been treated more brutally with every Test. It didn't help that their selection was again awry, as Cook admitted. Having picked a spinner too many in Mohali, they overcorrected, picking a spinner too few and a bowler too many. Ali and Rashid were in tandem from the eighth over and, when England fielded for the duration of the third day, Woakes bowled only three overs, even as Rashid bowled 28 straight.
England could rue sliding-doors moments, too. In the first innings, they looked refreshed - most of the players had gone to Dubai between Tests - and made good on their promise to greet India's slow bowlers with renewed intent. After becoming the first England batsman to score 2,000 Test runs against India, Cook was even stumped, charging Jadeja's third ball, having played positively for 46. And debutant Keaton Jennings made almost as powerful an impression as the man he had replaced, Haseeb Hameed, now watching in the stands where he was nursing his newly operated little finger. Jennings made a jittery start - he was dropped by Nair in the gully before he had scored - but he was compact and unruffled, and proficient on the cut, pull and drive.
Despite concerns about how another left-hander would cope with Ashwin, he repeatedly unfurled his reverse sweep, using it to bring up his century - the first by an England opener on debut since Cook, at Nagpur, a decade earlier, and only the fourth by an England batsman on his first day of Test cricket, after W. G. Grace (1880), George Gunn (1907-08) and Billy Griffith (1947-48). The only shame was that the moment escaped his parents: Alison and Ray - the former South Africa coach - were holidaying in Mauritius, where their hotel lost power for an hour when he was on 96. Umpire Paul Reiffel was also absent, having been hit on the back of the head at square leg by a gentle return throw from Bhuvneshwar Kumar halfway through the day. He was taken to hospital with concussion, and third official Marais Erasmus stepped in for the rest of the match.
During a 94-run partnership with Ali, Jennings lifted England to 230 for two - from which they should have made 450. But, two balls after reaching an enterprising half century, Ali fell slog-sweeping Ashwin; when Jennings prodded to gully two balls later, India had a route back into the match. Like Cook and Ali, Bairstow was complicit in his own downfall, top-edging a sweep to deep backward square. And, after England had slipped to 334 for eight, it required Buttler's most mature Test innings - a mix of nimble footwork, reverse sweeps and judicious defence - and freewheeling from Ball to lift them to 400. It felt a touch over par: no side had lost at the Wankhede after making more than England's 347 in 1992-93. But Kohli did not care.
Incongruously, given what transpired, England threatened a first-innings lead. On the third afternoon, after Root - briefly in charge while Cook was off the field - had burgled two wickets, India were 307 for six. Eight runs later, Rashid enticed Kohli, on 68, into a drive; he mistimed it back to the bowler's left hand, but survived. It was not England's only error. Bairstow had missed a stumping off a Rashid googly when Vijay had 45; later, from the fourth delivery of the second new ball, delayed until the 130th over, Root spilled Jayant off Anderson at second slip on eight. The three chances cost a combined 354.
In Australia three years earlier, England had been mocked for their copious support staff; The Sun harangued the 61 "guilty men", including 29 non-players, involved in that disastrous tour. Now, they could be accused of a shortfall. They lacked a specialist fielding, wicketkeeping and spin-bowling coach; consultant keeping and spin coaches had been used earlier in the tour, but both left before this Test. Desperate for a breakthrough, Cook frittered away his reviews. And when Jayant, on 28, edged Ali to Bairstow down the leg side, umpire Oxenford failed to spot it. Kohli, who was having a better game than the officials, gleefully performed a mock review signal. England's humiliation was far from over. Kohli accelerated effortlessly: his first 50 took 111 balls, his second 76, his third 59, his fourth 56, and his final 35 another 38. He finished with India's highest score against England (for eight days at least), beating Vinod Kambli's 224 at the Wankhede in 1992-93, as well as the highest score by an Indian captain, and - for the first time - a Test average above 50. Jayant, meanwhile, compiled a maiden Test century, the first by an Indian No. 9.
They added 241 for the eighth wicket, another Indian record, and two short of the overall record against England, set at Adelaide in 1907-08 by Roger Hartigan and Clem Hill. Having expected their own lower order to be an advantage, England were again left ruing the depth of India's batting. As the stadium revelled in India's omnipotence, Jennings's golden duck - a victim of Bhuvneshwar's late swing - was suitably chastening. Given the quality of the bowling, Root and Bairstow later showed chutzpah as they swept with power and intent to force Kohli on the defensive. Yet, beyond their stand of 92, England's innings betrayed the effects of India's relentlessness. It was absurd that Ali, fresh - or not - from bowling 53 overs, was batting by the 12th over at No. 4, with Buttler down at No. 8 because Ball was used as a nightwatchman. After a sparkling 77, Root misread Jayant's length, before Stokes was caught at slip when a reverse sweep rebounded off his boot.
The fourth day ended when Ball edged Ashwin behind, leaving England 182 for six. Most had expected a quick kill on the final morning, yet few envisaged quite how quick. A blur of raucous appeals and beguiling bowling from Ashwin - especially a wondrous carrom ball to snare Bairstow - secured India the series with a spell of six for seven in 37 balls either side of stumps. Ashwin even had the pleasure of riling Anderson, forlornly walking out at No. 11; at a press conference the previous evening, Anderson had the temerity to suggest that home conditions disguised the technical flaws England had exposed in Kohli in 2014. In this game, criticising him was not the done thing.
As Ashwin and Kohli led India's victory lap, the spectators unperturbed that the final day had lasted barely half an hour, there seemed a wider significance. Crowds were excellent throughout, even though the absence of Ajinkya Rahane - who broke a finger facing pre-match throwdowns - meant a Mumbai Test lacked a local player for the first time. TV executives talked giddily of the "Virat effect", with audiences up a quarter on the series with South Africa a year earlier. Suddenly Test cricket in India seemed altogether more vibrant. If the format's raison d'eˆtre is as a bastion of excellence, undiluted by the constraints of time, the ideal was embodied, once again, by India's two totems, leaving
boisterous supporters little reason to feel nostalgic for the age of Tendulkar.
Man of the Match: V. Kohli.
Tim Wigmore is a freelance journalist and author of Second XI: Cricket in its Outposts