Kolkata: The just concluded Test series may have been billed as a battle between the two rival skippers, Virat Kohli and Joe Root for the best Test batsman’s mantle, but the Indian spinners had the last laugh to script a 3-1 win and qualify for the final of the inaugural World Test Championship (WTC) final at the Lord’s in June. Kane Williamson’s New Zealand, who had sealed the other spot much earlier on points, await them in what could be an interesting contest.
A piece of cold statistics will sump up how much influence was wielded by the senior off-spinner Ravi Ashwin and debutant Axar Patel, the left arm spinning allrounder who came into the squad as an after-thought as Ravindra Jadeja failed to recover from his finger injury. Together, they accounted for a whopping 59 of the England wickets to fall in a four-Test series with Ashwin taking 32 of them and Patel finishing with 27.
Ashwin, who had re-discovered his mojo right from the series Down Under, was just three wickets shy of the legendary leg break bowler Bhagwat Chandrasekhar’s highest tally by an Indian bowler against England (35), which came in a five-Test series in 1972-’73.
Patel, a left arm spinner alright but by no means of the orthodox variety, used his partially slinging action and variations of pace to stun the cricketing fraternity with a record - he now has the most wickets in a series for a debutant. He bettered the haul of 26 by Sri Lanka’s mystery spinner Ajantha Mendis, which he took during a home series against India’s much vanuted batting line-up in 2008.
Patel took yet another five-wicket haul as India thrashed an innings England by an innings and 25 runs in the fourth and final Test match on the third day at the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad.
“I think the confidence helped me. I got wickets in the first game and kept on carrying the confidence,” he said after the match. “I only bowled faster ones more often in the previous games but here we needed to vary our pace.”
Patel, who took four wickets in England’s first innings, dismissed Dominic Sibley, Ben Stokes, Ollie Pope, Ben Foakes and Dominic Bess. Ashwin claimed the remaining five wickets to emerge as the highest wicket-taker by a long chalk in the series.
In what turned out to be an extremely challenging series for the batsmen, barring the first Test where Root had crafted a patient double century, it turned out to be contest as to who could survive the turning wickets better. Rohit Sharma, who displayed a new-found patience and hunger in these conditions, stood out with a masterly 161 in the second Test in Chennai and was the topscorer for India with an aggregate of 345 runs. Rishabh Pant would run him close with a superb counter-attacking 101 in the final Test, without which there could have been a twist in the tale.
While Kohli could not live up to his reputation barring a gritty half-century in the second Test, others rose to the occasion - be it a timely century by Ashwin, two extremely useful innings by Washington Sundar or a defiant 43 by Patel.
Sundar, who ran out of partners on Saturday to be left stranded on 96, said: “To be honest, the pitch was very good to bat on. Credit to [James] Anderson, [Ben] Stokes for getting assistance on this surface, they bowled really well. The wicket is still good to bat on. If you apply yourself, you can score.”
England (1st innings) 205 all out
India (1st innings)
Overnight 294 for seven
W. Sundar Not Out 96
A. Patel Run Out 43
I. Sharma lbw Stokes 0
M. Siraj b Stokes 0
Extras (10b 6lb 3nb 0pen 0w) 19
Total (114.4 overs) 365 all out
Fall of Wickets : 8-365 Patel, 9-365 Sharma, 10-365 Siraj
Bowling: Anderson 25 14 44 3; Stokes 27.4 6 89 4; Leach 27 5 89 2; Bess 17 1 71 0; Root 18 1 56 0.
England (2nd innings)
Z. Crawley c Rahane b Ashwin 5
D. Sibley c Pant b Patel 3
J. Bairstow c Rohit Sharma b Ashwin 0
J. Root lbw Ashwin 30
B. Stokes c Kohli b Patel 2
O. Pope st Pant b Patel 15
D. Lawrence b Ashwin 50
B. Foakes c Rahane b Patel 13
D. Bess c Pant b Patel 2
J. Leach c Rahane b Ashwin 2
J. Anderson Not Out 1
Extras (4b 8lb 0nb 0pen 0w) 12
Total (54.5 overs) 135 all out
Fall of Wickets : 1-10 Crawley, 2-10 Bairstow, 3-20 Sibley, 4-30 Stokes, 5-65 Pope, 6-65 Root, 7-109 Foakes, 8-111 Bess, 9-134 Leach, 10-135 Lawrence
Bowling : Siraj 4 0 12 0; Patel 24 6 48 5; Ashwin 22.5 4 47 5; Sundar 4 0 16 0.