Alastair Cook arrives home on Wednesday with his England captaincy almost certainly over after another sorry batting collapse completed the eighth Test defeat of the year.
England have not lost eight Tests in a calendar year since 1993 and while they have played more than ever in 2016 (17 matches), the series defeat here follows a first ever Test loss in Bangladesh and a disappointing 2-2 draw at home with Pakistan. Cook has now lost 22 Tests in charge, the most by an England captain, although he has led the side more times than any other player. His overall record is 24 wins and 22 defeats from 59 matches.
Cook was giving nothing away at his final press conference and insisted he will not make a decision amid the emotion of defeat, preferring instead to wait until his meeting with team director Andrew Strauss in January but he looked drained and resigned after a humiliating couple of days in which India scored 759 and his side were bowled out in two sessions. Regardless of what Cook says, Strauss will have the final call. If he thinks it is time for a change, Cook will go.
England have been consistently beaten on flat, slow wickets over the past two years or so by teams who have a top spin bowler. They will not face such challenges next summer or in Australia so Strauss may feel they have the tools to take on the challenges in the near future. But he may also see a new generation in Joe Root and Ben Stokes ready to take the team in a different direction and transfer the aggressive cricket Trevor Bayliss has brought to the one-day team to the Test side.
“I have got to go away and do some thinking,” said Cook. “I need to go back home and enjoy Christmas as much as I can do and then come back in January and look to plan with Straussy and myself and see what is the right decision for English cricket.
“It is tough. It has been a tough tour. It [losing] can be quite a lonely place. I have got to go home and think if I am the right man to lead England or not. This is the wrong time to make those decisions because energy is low, morale is low and [that is when] you can make some foolish decisions. While there is not a Test match for seven months it would be foolish to stand here now and make a decision you either regret or you don’t. If there was a Test match in three weeks’ time I would have to think about it but now there is a bit of time so why not use it.”
England’s defeats have become more damaging as this series wore on and this was only the second time in history a team has lost a Test in India having scored more than 450 in their first innings.
“I don’t think we ran out of fight, all the guys gave their all, but weren’t good enough,” Cook said. “Whether that’s a culmination of the pressure being built up over a long period of time, or a bit of mental tiredness, people will look at that and say it’s an excuse, but we haven’t been good enough in these conditions.
“I said at the beginning of the series, it was vitally important to stay in the contest as long as we can, because we’ve seen in previous tours here, it’s a hard juggernaut to stop, the India juggernaut at home, when there are playing as well as that. Once they get ahead, their confidence goes and it’s hard to stop that momentum.
“I really don’t want to be disrespectful to Mo [Ali], Adil [Rashid], Zafar [Ansari], and I thought Liam [Dawson] bowled really well in this game, but they are not as good as [Ravichandran] Ashwin and [Ravindra] Jadeja yet. They haven’t quite got the control or bowl consistently enough in the first innings when there is not a lot happening. The coincidence of when Saqi [Saqlain Mushtaq, spin bowling consultant] was around and how much better we bowled as a group, that is something which the system or whoever needs to look at in terms of our spinners. Without two gun spinners winning in these conditions is going to be hard. In other conditions with the number of seamers we have got and spinners we will compete with anyone.”
England do not play Test cricket for seven months. One-day cricket dominates starting in January with the return trip to India followed by a short series in the West Indies before the home summer kicks off with two games against Ireland and then the Champions Trophy.
But from July onwards England play four Tests against a South Africa side that recently won in Australia, then three Tests against West Indies before the Ashes series in Australia.
When asked if he thought the team had stagnated this year in Test cricket, Cook agreed: “That’s a fair shout, you can say whatever you want now, if I turn around here and slag everyone off and use emotive language, I’m not doing my job,” he said. “When you lose in Test cricket, you get criticised. You have to take it on the chin.”