Kolkata: In the end, what was amazing was not how easily England won, but how close India might have come to winning had their batsmen given their bowlers a decent target to bowl at. England, needing just 41, took the thorny path to victory which came within the hour and by seven wickets on the final morning of the third Test at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata on Sunday (December 9).
Alastair Cook, run out for the first time in the first innings was stumped for only the second time in the second as the spinners rendered less foolish with every wicket the question on India's lips in the morning: "What is the least number of runs India need to make to get the visitors to panic?"
Virender Sehwag had laid out the strategy at the end of the fourth day: "God can help." But there were no floods, or earthquakes; nor did Eden Gardens suddenly disappear from the face of the earth. The inevitable came to pass, with only Ravi Ashwin continuing to show the spine so lacking in his team-mates. He was unlucky to miss the century he so richly deserved, finishing unbeaten on 91, refusing singles when the field was spread out and hitting boundaries, two of them, when the field came in.
That there are at least 5000 optimists in Kolkata was established even before play started with that many spectators in the stands. There were bunches of youngsters screaming "India, India" and waving the national flag as if in anticipation of victory rather than with any thought to defeat.
These are the die-hards the Indian team let down by their attitude and approach to the game at the highest level. Teams win and lose, the better ones winning more often. But so long as the battle is fought hard and there is no flagging of effort, there can be no complaint.
Unfortunately for India, as often happens when a team is sliding, it was every man for himself and the selectors take the hindmost. With one Test remaining, chief selector Sandip Patil and company will be justified in taking a short-term view, leaving the large-scale changes for later. Perhaps MS Dhoni needs to buy Ashwin a Christmas present for at least temporarily saving his job. Ashwin first ensured that India would not lose by an innings, something that has happened at home only thrice this millennium and all against South Africa, and then he claimed those early wickets to make the finish seem closer than it actually was.
The Nagpur Test is just four days away, and India haven't yet lost the series. They simply have to throw everything they have into the final match to win. England came back strongly after being a Test down in this series, and there is no reason India should not be able to do the same. But a talking-to is in order. Gautam Gambhir's individualism is becoming increasingly apparent. He should take a lesson from Ashwin in the old-fashioned courtesies of protecting a tailender when batting with one. It was his atrociuous running that stranded Cheteshwar Pujara and caused India to lose the wicket of their most successful batsman of the series. The team can take the cue from Ashwin.
After his batting effort, he was in action at once, sending down a ball wide of the offstump to drag Cook forward for Dhoni to do the rest. Jonathan Trott fell leg before to Pragyan Ojha, and when Dhoni picked up a smart catch to dismiss Kevin Pietersen without scoring, the optimists were thumping one another on the back. There was a lilt to the voice of the scorer too in the press box.
But it was all artificial in the end, the excitement, the closeness, the tension.