Washington Sunder’s dream was torn asunder. For the second time in three matches, Test centuries played peek-a-boo with him. In the first innings of the first Test, he was left stranded on 85. On Saturday at Motera, Sundar was on 96 not out when he ran out of partners. Ishant Sharma and Mohammed Siraj got out to Ben Stokes inside three deliveries, much to the youngster’s disappointment. In the grand scheme of things, though, it didn’t matter much, as India won the fourth Test by an innings and 25 runs after England were all out for 135 in their second innings. A 3-1 series victory took the hosts to the ICC World Test Championship final.
During an informal conversation today, Sunil Gavaskar was recounting some fascinating stories from his playing days – Jeff Thomson bowling like a wind on a greasy SCG pitch and marking a cross on Chetan Chauhan’s forehead… Before going to his felicitation that BCCI had arranged to honour the 50th anniversary of Gavaskar’s Test debut, the batting maestro was talking about his erstwhile opening partner’s courage who sadly passed away last year. Centuries were unkind to Chauhan. He got to 80-plus and 90-plus scores but never reached three-figures in Tests.
Washington is only 21 and the way he has arrived on the Test scene, a proper career is expected. Along the way, hopefully, he will get a lot more opportunities to score centuries in the game’s purest format. Then again, it’s not easy to score hundreds batting at No. 7 or No. 8. Through his maturity and runs in pressure situations, Washington has proved that he would be comfortable batting up the order as well if required.
He is a glorious driver of the cricket ball. His technique is solid. He plays the pull shot well. He has a lovely forward stride and shows the full face of the bat. Against some Dom Bess deliveries, Washington, however, didn’t bother to go full-stretch. He just stood and walloped, as he did to a full-toss from the off-spinner, getting a six to the straight boundary. It’s a travesty that Washington hasn’t been picked for Tamil Nadu in the Ranji Trophy for the last three-and-a-half years.
In Brisbane, he had stemmed the rot and turned despair into winning hopes. In Ahmedabad, he stood tall on the heels of a top-order collapse, first playing second fiddle to Rishabh Pant during a 113-run seventh-wicket partnership and then taking the lead, as Axar Patel also dug in and added 106 runs for the eighth wicket. Axar was run out on 43, which in turn denied Washington his maiden Test hundred. His reaction to the disappointment was commendable, the way he acknowledges the crowd’s applause.
“Our bench strength is extremely strong and that’s a good sign for Indian cricket. When the transition happens, the standards won’t fall and Rishabh and Washy’s partnership showed exactly that in a crucial juncture of the match,” Virat Kohli said at the post-match presentation.
Washington is the embodiment of India’s depth. He was asked to stay in Australia after the white-ball internationals to bowl at the nets. He wouldn’t have played Test cricket if Ravindra Jadeja were fit. Now he is a shoo-in in the Test squad if not in the playing XI.
Depth is what England lacked. For example, they didn’t have anybody in their ranks to fill in for Jos Buttler. Not that Buttler’s presence would have changed the outcome of the series, but his impact batting and improvisations were supposed to be an antidote to the Indian spinners’ unfettered dominance. England had to score 160 runs in their second innings to make India bat again in the final Test. They were bundled out inside two sessions. Their failure had an air of inevitability. Once again, against Axar and Ravichandran Ashwin, some of their batsmen looked like a fish out of water. Both Axar and Ashwin bagged five-fors. The latter took his series tally to 32 scalps to get the Man of the Series award. Axar finished with 27 wickets and four fifers in three Tests. So tame was England’s effort that Kohli didn’t even bother to use Ishant Sharma in the second innings. Siraj bowled just four overs.
Two dismissals highlighted England’s batting disintegration. Ashwin bowled an off-break to Zak Crawley that pitched on the middle stump, spun across the batsman and brushed the pad for four leg byes. Two balls later, when Ashwin pushed one through the air, Crawley played for the turn and edged it to Ajinkya Rahane at first slip. Yet again, an England batsman fell to a non-turner.
Jonny Bairstow departed the next ball, a tossed-up one from Ashwin that turned from the middle stump. Bairstow, as if in a trance, just followed the delivery. He hung back, closed the bat-face and gave catching practice to Rohit Sharma at leg slip.
Even Stokes, after fighting his guts out for the first two days, seemed to have thrown in the towel. He was so early into the sweep to an Axar delivery that Kohli at leg slip had already started to move sideways. The India captain was expecting a catch and the extra bounce ensured that Stokes gave one. Joe Root was playing well. But an error of judgment cost him his wicket. Playing forward to that Ashwin delivery probably would have saved him.
England would take Dan Lawrence’s half-century as one of the very few positives from this game. Batting at No. 7, Lawrence gave a good account of himself in the first innings as well. There was a marked improvement in his batting compared to how he played on a Chepauk turner in the second Test.
England’s fight evaporated in this game once Pant took the attack to them. In the series’ context, they raised the white flag as soon as the ball started to turn sharply.