Mercy rule: Indian players downcast after Sunday's capitulation in the fifth Test against England. Photo: AFP
The Kia Oval has always been a place of farewells, being the last Test venue of the summer, but no team have looked quite as thankful to be saying goodbye as India, whose capitulation by an innings and 244 runs completed a hat-trick of defeats to hand England the series.
It was an abject performance from a team that has made this five-Test Investec series look like an assault course followed by torture, so pained have been the expressions on their faces. If India really are to be England and Australia's allies in saving Test cricket from the creep of Twenty20, someone needs to check their credentials more carefully.
For Alastair Cook, England's captain, the 3-1 winning margin is evidence of a remarkable turnaround for him and his team, one that has taken them from the pit of despond to the sunlit uplands of winning ways.
It was very different a month ago after England had lost in humiliating fashion at Lord's. Then, many were calling for him to resign as captain. Determined fellow that he is, he refused to budge and once the pitches speeded up and his senior players began to contribute according to their pay grade, his team, especially the bowlers, simply blew India away.
What helped Cook to settle quickly into his task of turning matters around was that public support, at least at the grounds where the last three Tests were held, was both resolute and unanimous. Once he knew that weight of support was behind him the doubts shackling him since the whitewash in Australia fell away.
Yesterday, after Joe Root had given England a huge first-innings lead of 338 with an unbeaten 149, it was Chris Jordan's turn to be destroyer in chief with four wickets in 19 balls after the early order had fallen to James Anderson, Stuart Broad and a brilliant run-out by Chris Woakes.
Jordan's accurate seamers hastened India's flight for the hills (most cannot go home as there are still five one-day games and a Twenty20 to play). Yet to be dismissed for 94 after your opponents had made 486, smacks of players keen to stop the humiliation as quickly as possible.
The margin was England's fifth-largest victory in terms of runs, though that was not surprising. Since their victory at Lord's, India's totals have been on a steep declining trend until here, their lowest of the series.
India were whitewashed three years ago to an England side on top of their game. That hammering was put down to a team of galacticos at the end of their careers and unable to rekindle old glories. This time, and with both sides rebuilding, India's new stars like Virat Kohli simply failed to turn up, adopting a fatalistic resignation that they could not score runs on seaming pitches with pace and bounce.
Kohli is India's poster boy and a brilliant one-day batsman. He has five Test hundreds on his CV, too. But with a top score of 39 in the series at an average of 13.4, his efforts here might have been more focused had they triggered a few non-performance clauses in his various sponsors' contracts. His dismissal yesterday, caught by Cook off Jordan, was typical of the callow approach to batting on pitches that offer movement. Working the ball to leg he closed the face just as the ball gripped the surface leaving him unable to control the shot which flew off the edge to first slip.
He was not the only one exposed that way and only MS Dhoni and Murali Vijay, the latter more in the early exchanges, have shown the fight, patience and technique to halt the dominance of England bowlers since Lord's. But they cannot do it every time and having made 82 in the first innings Dhoni went for nought yesterday, caught at short-leg off Woakes after edging on to his thigh pad.
Vijay was lbw to an Anderson inswinger, the bowler removing Cheteshwar Pujara with an outswinger four overs later. At that point Anderson, who began India's second innings needing six wickets to beat Ian Botham's England record of 383 Test scalps, looked as if he might have a big night with England's greatest all-rounder, but once Cook rested him he never got another chance as Jordan cleaned up. He will now have to wait eight months for the first Test against West Indies in Antigua next April to have another crack at taking the four wickets that will see a new name atop the England pantheon.
While Anderson mulls over it Root can actually claim an England record, at least at this moment in time, though he would not have attained it had Ishant Sharma not overstepped the front line by half an inch when he bowled Root off the inside edge for 110. It was only by gaining that reprieve and an undefeated 149 that Root became the batsmen with the highest average, 64.7, of all those who have scored 1000 or more Test runs for England at home, just pipping Herbert Sutcliffe.
Root's hundred, his fifth in Tests, was solid in construction but with the bonus of being entertaining once he had reached the milestone as he and Broad added 63 in 55 balls. No.5 appears to suit him better than his previous positions but like Moeen Ali, he absorbs things fast. England will not really be tested until Australia return in a year so it is difficult to know how good they have become.
All that can be said, with any conviction, is that they displayed a ruthless efficiency in dispatching a wilting India team over the last three games, though that is just a starting point when it comes to taking on the Australians.