Two players, in contrasting veins of form, turned a potentially interesting session of play into a no-contest.
Rahul Dravid is in the form of his life, batting endlessly at one end in all sorts of conditions against all sorts of bowlers; in the process, he has upped his average into the rarefied heights of 58-plus, that signals the truly great and more importantly, the truly consistent.
Virender Sehwag has had a lean trot since his epochal 254 in the first Test in Pakistan; the time between then and now has also been punctuated with a shoulder injury.
Once Wasim Jaffar fell early in the second session, to a great inswinger from Mathew Hoggard (India 39/1), the two got together to shut out any thought England may have entertained of launching a fightback.
A cloud cover over the ground added a piquant edge to the afternoon India had all the overs it needed, but could never be sure the light would hold. Given that, Dravid came out firing, playing shots to deliveries he normally would have looked at as it went through to the keeper -- an overhead hook off a Flintoff bouncer, despite two men out in the deep, for just a single being an example.
Sehwag, on the other hand, played the way he normally does when things haven't been going well for him -- ultra-cautious, which given his technique does not make for pretty viewing, content to go along at his pace and on his own terms till he begins to sight the ball well, and then cutting loose with his repertoire of shots.
Hoggard, Panesar and Flintoff all gave it a good go, without making much of an impression on either batsman -- they got the odd play and miss to keep them reasonably interested, but never looked close to breaking through as the two batsmen kept the run rate up around the 3.9 mark, Dravid first playing the aggressor while Sehwag focused on getting set, then the opener going for his shots once he had his timing back.
The only point of interest for the bowlers came when Panesar, in the 29th over of the innings, found Dravid's concentration lapsing; to a flighted ball around off, Dravid went back and poked at it to find the edge; Strauss at slip grassed the regulation catch (India 114/1 at the time).
In the next over, Sehwag seemed to decide he had enough of watchfulness. Facing Collingwood, he survived a good shout for LBW (ironically, a carbon copy of the one Ian Bell survived yesterday, for probably the same reasons), then launched the bowler back over his head for a one bounce four by way of practice, before hitting the next further, over long on, for six to knock runs off in a hurry.
In the next over, the batsman nearly decapitated Collingwood, picking the slower ball and crashing it back with such venom the bowler dived for his life.
Dravid slog-swept Panesar from outside off in front of square, an extraordinary shot that spoke of more than ordinary self-belief, bringing up the 103 of the partnership off 146 deliveries; got a leading edge to Panesar to level the scores with a single, and watched as Sehwag came down the track, changed his mind, pushed the single and sealed the win by a 9-wicket margin with a good 37 overs to go -- the natural culmination for a team that over the last four sessions has outplayed the opposition in the field and with the bat. Dravid remained not out on 42 (77 balls), and Sehwag on 76 (89 balls).
England went away from the match with no positive to take with them -- especially when you consider the defeat, with overs to spare, has come on a pitch that afforded equal assistance to spin and seam and not on a dustbowl; more so when you think of the entire day of play lost on day two, plus a good chunk of day three -- which makes this effectively a three days and a bit defeat.
Alistair Cook, who looked impressive in the first Test, had bad outings in both innings as did Paul Collingwood. Strauss continued his run of poor form and overall, England's top order showed it lacked the nous to put up big scores, especially in the first innings.
Crucial as this is, I suspect the real problem England has is in bringing back to form two people who seemed out of it. Anil Kumble in Nagpur looked to have been handled; here, he has looked unstoppable and the leggie feeds on that kind of form. Ditto Sehwag England, I suspect, missed a huge bet in the afternoon session by not letting Harmison slip his reins and give the opener a working over, to see if he could dent Sehwag's confidence a bit more.
For India, problems persist -- Dravid and Pathan with the tail had to bail them out in the first innings after continued failures by Sehwag and Tendulkar.
In fact, the importance of how the tail batted, mentioned in my report yesterday, merits reiteration -- it was that phase, when Kumble, Harbhajan and even Munaf frustrated the England attack, swung the momentum back in favor of the home team, shut the door on an England win, and set up the attacking bowling of the second innings.
Against that, Kumble has come back into form; Harbhajan for all his lack of success is bowling well and the team clearly believes in him, considering the extended spell he got in the second innings; Munaf Patel had a dream debut and even Piyush Chawla, the risky selection, did not cost India dearly.
If a Test series is about momentum, India grabbed it here -- by first negating England's advantage with the toss, then taking a lead and bowling impressively in the second outing. And that should be a good feeling to take to Mumbai.