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England’s mission accomplished

Nagpur: David Gower and his men were the last Englishmen to return victorious from India. That was way back in 1984-85.

Twenty-seven years, England finally have a team, led by a true leader in Alastair Cook, who marshalled his troops to accomplish the mission — a Test series win in India — that looked as good as impossible during the tenure of his predecessors.

No wonder the performance from the current England side will rank among the best. They showed the character to bounce back despite getting off to a worst possible start at Motera.

A part of their job was done on the fourth day itself of the final Test, here, at the VCA Stadium, with Jonathan Trott (143) and Ian Bell (116 not out) firm in their battle to defy India from attempting to force a result.

And on the final day, both batsmen ensured to convert their performance from solid to splendid, as England batted throughout the day to seal India’s fate and wrap up the series 2-1.

Resuming at the overnight score of 161 for three, Trott and Bell notched up marvellous centuries to propel England’s second innings to 352 for four. With a tame draw looming large, both captains then consented to call off the game.

For both Trott and Bell, it couldn’t have been a better way to end the series, considering that the duo — especially Bell — appeared scratchy and tentative in the previous matches.

Precisely, it was the positive approach of both the batsmen that stood out.

On a surface where stroke-play was never easy, they made the maximum use of all scoring opportunities on offer, negating the pressure that could have mounted after Kevin Pietersen’s early dismissal. England at that time, on Sunday, led by just 98 runs.

On Monday, right from the start, both batsmen unleashed an array of delightful strokes to bring the situation under control. For Trott, this innings assumes much more value than his 87 in the previous Test, at the Eden. There wasn’t even an element of tentativeness. The feature of his innings was the straight drives he played whenever India’s bowlers bowled in his zone.

His eighth Test hundred too came in style when he hit three boundaries to move on to 102 from 90. First, it was a flick between mid-wicket and mid-on, off the bowling of Pragyan Ojha.

Next, a beautiful off-drive bisected extra-cover and mid-off — off Piyush Chawla — before another flick through the on-side in the same over helped Trott cross the cherished three-figure mark.

Moreover, Trott’s presence at the crease brought about a calming influence, something that England have been missing whenever they toured India in the past.

At the other end, Bell, too, got better and better and deservedly, brought up his first Test century in India — 17 th overall — guiding Ravichandran Ashwin through backward square-leg for three soon after tea.

To talk about India, their approach continued to baffle everyone.

The first session of the final day was the one where they needed to go all out against the visitors in order to stay alive. Surprisingly, their approach and attitude only suggested that India preferred going through the motions.

Yes, the pitch was unresponsive and the fielding side has every right to ask for a little more from the wicket, especially on the final day of a Test match.

That said, the hallmark of a quality team lies in making something happen irrespective of all hurdles. But as far as India are concerned, the willingness and zeal looked to be missing completely.

If they had failed to force the issue on Day Four, they appeared as if they have resigned to fate, on the deciding day of the series.