Victory confirmed a 3-1 series win for India and consigned the tourists to a third defeat in a row, all by glaring margins. A 2021 programme started with promise, as three straight wins were picked up – two in Sri Lanka and the first of these four – before an abrupt change in results.
That this loss in Ahmedabad was rounded out inside three days makes the sting even greater off the back of last week’s two-day hammering at the same venue all the more dispiriting. The England captain was assured that the build-up to this fixture was one of reflection and learning from the mistakes made.
But after India were bowled out in their first innings of for 365, boasting a lead of 160 following England’s first effort of 205 after winning the toss, their second of 135 all out was packed with familiar errors. All 10 wickets fell to spin, as Ravichandran Ashwin (five for 47) and Axar Patel (five for 48) ran riot again.
“It was disappointing,” said Root of the conclusion. “Credit does have to go to India, again they’ve out-skilled us. They batted on that wicket very well, showed us how to bat on that wicket. And similarly today with the ball they were excellent.
“We’ve just got to keep working together to try and find ways of being better in similar conditions in the future. So yes, it was a frustrating way to finish this game. There were periods of time throughout when we felt very much in the hunt but credit to Rishabh Pant (101) and Washington Sundar (96 not out), that partnership was outstanding [the pair put on 113 to take India into the lead]. The way Rishabh bats makes it very, very difficult for bowlers to build pressure and set fields sometimes. When he pulls out a reverse sweep to a guy with 600 Test wickets, it’s quite a skill and quite a brave move to do.”
On the face of it, India coming from behind for a 13th consecutive series win at home reflects on their enviable strength. They were missing key men throughout, such as spinning-allrounder Ravindra Jadeja along with quicks Umesh Yadav and Jasprit Bumrah.
But after England went 1-0 up with a 227-run victory, set-up by a mammoth 578, their batsmen have fallen well short of those standards. A malaise evident when you look at the series tallies.
Root, whose 218 formed the brunt of that effort in Chennai, finished with 368 overall. Ben Stokes coming in second with 203. The next highest averages after Root’s 46 are four in the 20s. Two of them – Jos Buttler (27) and Moeen Ali (24.50) – played a Test each.
“I don’t think we reacted to the change in surfaces as well as India did,” said Root. “They exploited them better and found ways of managing the turn. That’s played a factor.
“I do think there have been periods where we’ve found ourselves at parity and India managed to grab them. Generally in the lower scoring Test matches that is the difference.
“Having India 100-odd for five in this game, or when Rishabh Pant walked out at four down, we had a real opportunity to make that count through some wonderful bowling in the early stages. He managed to win that important hour of cricket. That partnership with Washington was very good and he’s such a difficult player because he hits the ball in unusual areas. Their experience of these conditions as a whole probably just outweighed us and was a big difference in this series.”
Root also refused to lay blame at England’s rest-and-rotation policy, part of the reason why Buttler and Moeen appeared just once. Brought in to ease workloads on multi-format players in a year that features 17 Tests and a T20 World Cup, along with the five T20s and three ODIs against India and the Indian Premier League in the next few months, it meant at no point were the visitors able to put out a full-strength XI.
“We’ve said all along that making sure that players are looked after and that their welfare and wellbeing is paramount,” he said. “We’ve got to follow that through. I think we’ve done that very well. It is difficult, of course as a captain you want all the players available all of the time. But in the current climate it’s just not possible. We’ve tried to go about it as best as we can. We’ve also got to look at cricket this year as a whole package.”
A fuller, detailed debrief will take place over the coming days and weeks. Both as a team and as individuals within a relatively inexperienced team who have experienced their first major shellacking. The experience of these few weeks, Root hopes, will be a lesson to all.
“I think the guys have to embrace what’s happened. They have to understand it and be realistic. There are areas we can get better at. We would be stupid to come away from this trip and say ‘it was the extreme conditions, the ball was spinning and skidding on, and it was impossible to bat’. That would be the wrong attitude. We need to come away from here and say ‘you know what, there are lots of things that we can get better at’.”