WITH the verve and skill of proper champions, England swept India aside. It took an age for a chink in the door to appear but when, inevitably, it did, England charged through it gleefully and unstoppably.
Kept waiting for almost three increasingly anxious hours while the great Sachin Tendulkar and, more improbably, the less great Amit Mishra compiled the tourists’ highest partnership of the series, it was all over in another 79 minutes. Seven wickets fell for 21 runs in 94 balls. India did not exactly open the door wide but nor were they putting their shoulders to it as the hinges came off.
From a position where it looked as if the summer might end disappointingly, England won the fourth Test by an innings and eight runs and the series 4-0. They were formally awarded a bejewelled mace for being the No 1 team in the world after the match.
Throughout the morning and the early afternoon they could have done with it to assist in breaching India’s defences. In the end the bowling, led by Graeme Swann but given vital assistance by Stuart Broad, England’s man of the series, and Tim Bresnan, was sufficiently and predictably potent.
It was Bresnan who slightly diluted the joy of the spectators for whom the perfect combination on the fifth day of the final Test of the summer was another England victory complemented by Tendulkar’s 100th international hundred.
Another nine runs and he would have had it. The stage seemed set, not least because he insisted on offering chances which England kept spurning, or the umpires kept giving him the benefit of the doubt. It was not vintage Tendulkar but it seemed to be written in the stars. And then Bresnan sent one thudding into his pads as the great man played across it. Twice in recent overs, England had been denied lbw appeals which might have been upheld, now the Australian umpire Rod Tucker bravely raised his finger.
Brave because not only was he sending on his way the world’s most legendary batsman within sight of a historic landmark which the entire crowd wanted to witness, but also because it was not one of those nailed-on, bang-to-rights leg befores. Replays, however, showed that it would have grazed leg stump.
Mishra’s neatly composed innings had been ended in the previous over when England were just beginning to despair but this was in effect the terminal blow. There was no stomach for the battle after it, not with what was now before India with eyes blazing and tails up.
Down they went one by one. It was as though they sensed England were irresistible anyway so it was hardly worth trying to do anything to repel them. Swann, who had taken four wickets in the series before the final match, took six wickets in the innings. Give the man the tools in the form of a surface to operate on and clearly he will do the job.
Let it not be forgotten that India began this tour barely a month ago as the world’s No 1-ranked side, who had not lost a Test series for three years. It is a status and a billing they have patently failed to justify.
If this has been unsatisfactory in terms of the quality of the contest, it does not quite take account of England’s sense of purpose and conviction. They have not just defeated their opponents, they have marmalised them, by 196 runs, by 319 runs, by an innings and 242 runs and by an innings and eight runs - and this after three times inflicting innings defeats on Australia last winter.
In some ways they may have created a sense of expectancy which they could come to regret. But this England have become a formidable side which was no better exemplified than by the manner in which matters progressed yesterday.
Tendulkar, make no mistake, wanted a hundred. He might have craved it for personal reasons but in gathering it he might also have prevented the whitewash (these things are important in cricket). Mishra is no dud with the bat but he was a revelation.
Chunky, squat right-handers both, it was easy to tell who was the man weighed down by the prospect of making history. Tendulkar was uncertain in his foot movement and had the outside edge of his bat passed three times in the first hour, once by Jimmy Anderson, twice by Broad. But pass it, it did.
Before long, Tendulkar had passed 50 for the 112th time in Tests and Mishra for the second. But on 70, with Swann at last finding prodigious turn, Tendulkar prodded a spinning ball off inside edge and pad to Cook at short leg. It went fast but it was a good height and it was catchable, but it hit Cook on the chest.
After lunch, the great man might have been lbw twice to Swann and was also put down by Matt Prior when he misjudged a straight one off the back foot. Nothing surely could stop him.
England kept their composure - just. Mishra, who had not put a foot wrong and had played an appropriate shot to each ball, was then deceived brilliantly by Swann, playing down the wrong line. It was a wicket but not the one England wanted.
They had only to wait another four balls as Bresnan made an indelible impression on the afternoon with the first ball of a new spell, and of course knew it immediately. Tendulkar was nonplussed, presumably wondering what on earth Mr Tucker was playing at, interfering with divine intervention, but he had to go.
Suresh Raina has turned into a walking wicket and was swiftly lbw (though harshly as it happens), MS Dhoni followed one from Broad, as Broad knew he would, RP Singh gave Broad a brace of players known by their initials in three balls and Gautam Gambhir’s second grotesque innings of the match gave Swann his fifth wicket. The sixth came an over later and 262 for 3 had become 283 all out. It is what happens when you are playing the best team in the world.
Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.