After England lost 10 wickets in a session on Sunday, the dressing-room brought forward their end-of-match post-mortem – as revealed by Sportsmail – in a bid to work out why on earth their batsmen keep collapsing. On this morning’s evidence, no one was paying much attention.
Invited to bat more than six sessions to save the third Test, they went into lunch at 84 for 4, with all four caught in the cordon and two – Joe Root and Ollie Pope – playing with the kind of abandon that provoked that post-mortem in the first place.
Superbly though India bowled – and they have outperformed their hosts in every department in this game – England were dismal, like small children caught repeatedly with their hands in the sweet jar.
And it would have been worse had wicketkeeper Rishabh Pant not dropped Jos Buttler on one off Jasprit Bumrah. It was a rare blemish on a morning when India looked what they are: the No 1 Test team in the world.
If England were to have any chance of avoiding defeat, they needed their openers to bat to lunch and beyond. Instead, Keaton Jennings didn’t last the first over, prodding Ishant Sharma to the keeper with non-existent footwork and trudging off for 13.
Since being recalled to the Test side, he has averaged 20; since making a hundred on debut in Mumbai 18 in 2016-17, he has averaged 17. Opening the batting in England is a perilous business these days, but Jennings is making it look harder than that.
Two overs later, Sharma removed Cook from round the wicket for the third innings in a row – it was another delivery that might have been left alone. And it left Cook with one half-century in 14 innings since carrying his bat for 244 at Melbourne.
With Cook in danger of missing a Test because of the birth of his third child, we may be seeing the end of a prolific career. There are only so many times a player can keep readjusting, tweaking, finessing.
For a while, Root and Pope held firm, before both took leave of their senses in quick succession. During the last two Tests, Root has looked out of nick for the first time since he was dropped at Sydney in 2013-14. It is preying on his mind.
And with India’s seamers giving him nothing to hit, he decided to go in search of runs, throwing his hands at one outside off stump from Bumrah that flew to KL Rahul’s right at second slip. He departed with a swish of the bat. Virat Kohli is leaving him for dead in this series, even if England still have the lead.
Four balls later, Pope played a worse shot, driving at a wide one from Mohammed Shami, the edge brilliantly taken high to his left by Kohli at third slip. Early impressions suggest that Pope goes hard at the ball, which is the modern way. But the situation cried out for soft hands. England were 62 for four, India cock-a-hoop.
A year ago at this very venue, England imploded against South Africa, having demolished them at Lord’s. They then hit back at Old Trafford. Right now, it’s the only rationale behind suggesting they can seal the series in Southampton next week.