Nagpur: In the end, there were no miracles. No flash of individual brilliance, no moment of inventive captaincy and certainly nothing self-destructive from England. The fourth and final Test between India and England at the Vidarbha Cricket Stadium in Nagpur ended the only way it could have - in a dull draw. The series went to England 2-1; always the likeliest outcome once the sad excuse for a pitch was unveiled in Nagpur. The home record India was so proud of took a beating by the end of it.
Just one appeal of note, when a Piyush Chawla delivery missed Jonathan Trott's outside edge, was the sum total of India's efforts at trying to win the Nagpur Test in the first session.
On the slow, lifeless pitch, India's ploy in the England first innings was to play on the patience of the batsmen and induce errors on their part. With events moving into the final day and the initiative well and truly with the English, one would have hoped for a lot more aggression in terms of field placements from the Indians. There was hardly any, with close-in fielders – a leg slip and a forward short-leg – being added to the solitary slip only for the last two balls of the session, bowled by R Ashwin.
On the fourth evening, Ashwin had acknowledged that putting in too many fielders in attacking positions was not always going to be an option because India couldn't afford to leak runs and allow England to stretch their lead. While that made some sense, what didn't was India's reluctance to change their plan even after Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell chipped away, adding 44 runs in the first hour and then 34 more in the second. (Also read: Surprisingly, not the worst in Tests for India)
The bowling changes came thick and fast, the spinners being rotated endlessly, but it was a session that belonged to Trott and Bell. As did the second, of course.
For Trott, a first Test century in India was always there for the taking if he continued to be patient. He was, and rarely, if ever, missed the pitch of the ball, playing a few pretty strokes along the way as well. The century came in the 105th over of the innings with a cover-driven boundary followed by a drive past midwicket off Chawla.
A bit of excitement, meanwhile, came when Sachin Tendulkar, whose every move is scrutinised for deeper meanings to emerge these days, ran off the field midway through the first session, not to reappear for the rest of the match. The reason, clarified in due course, was pain in his neck, from when he dived awkwardly while fielding on the fourth day. (Related read: Don't forget what they said and what they eventually did)
When the chance did come, in the second half of the second session, Virender Sehwag put down Bell at first slip off Chawla. As with the chance on Sunday when he put down Kevin Pietersen off Ravindra Jadeja, Sehwag reacted slowly to Bell's top-edged cut that reached him in a flash. A wicket at that stage – England at 283 for three with 40 overs left in the day – wouldn't have changed the complexion of the match but was further evidence that the Indians lacked the stomach for a fight.
Trott batted on to 143, till close to the end of the second session, when he guided an Ashwin delivery straight to Virat Kohli, stationed specifically for that at leg slip. Finally, a plan had worked for India, but it was too little and much too late.
Bell's century was also only a matter of when and not if once he buckled down the way he did. And with Joe Root (20*) settled in well, even playing a slog sweep for six and a reverse sweep for four, Bell strolled along to reach his century in the third session – a glance for three off Ashwin. It was a fine sign-off to the series after Bell (116*) had totalled just 56 runs from the series prior to this innings.
Gautam Gambhir had a bowl too as the wait continued for the match to be called off. That was finally over with England on 352 for four in 154 overs, and after the crowd had witnessed a cumulative total of 1008 for 23 over five days. It was all over – India embarrassed in their own backyard.
The only Test series losses for India at home, since the last time England won in 1984-85, came in 1987 (Pakistan), 2000 (South Africa) and 2004 (Australia). That record was as good as it was because, along with the conditions, the Indian team had the right personnel. The class of 2012-13 can't really boast of the same calibre.