England's all-round riches prove priceless as Moeen and Curran make the difference
It was, in the end, the allrounders who made the difference.
So England may have a fragile top-order, an unreliable slip cordon and almost no idea what their optimum batting line-up should be but, so great was the depth in their batting, and so plentiful were the options in their bowling, they had enough to secure a series victory over the No.1 rated Test side with a game in hand.
Take the first innings of this game at the Ageas Bowl. England were 86 for 6 at one stage. But whereas they might, in the past, have had to rely on Andy Caddick, Ryan Sidebottom or Sajid Mahmood to come in at No. 8 and try to engineer some sort of recovery, now they have Sam Curran.
It was a similar story in Birmingham. England were 87 for 7 and leading by just 100 at one stage in their second innings. But then Curran came out and struck a run-a-ball 63 to help England build the total that helped them to an eventual 31-run win.
At other times England were grateful for Chris Woakes, who struck their first century of the series from No. 7 at Lord's, Ben Stokes, who produced a match-clinching spell at Edgbaston and an admirably defiant effort in the second innings in Southampton and Moeen Ali, who has the versatility to plug holes almost wherever they are found and who made an important contribution in the first innings in Southampton. All of them can be considered fine allrounders; all of them produced key contributions with bat and ball at times in this series.
It meant that, whatever inroads India made with the new ball, England were - Trent Bridge apart - hard to kill off. There always seemed to be someone to lead a recovery; someone to eke out a few more runs; someone to do just enough to turn a couple of games in England's favour. It is telling that, of the three batsmen who have scored 250 runs in the series, two are England allrounders: Curran and Jos Buttler. It's not really that England's batting has been better than India's; just that there has been more of it.
Perhaps the same could be said of their bowling. That all-round strength also allowed England an unusual amount of options. Whereas India were hugely inconvenienced when R Ashwin suffered something of a modest game in Southampton, England tended to have another option to make amends for such issues. So when Adil Rashid struggled with his length in this match, they were able to rely on Moeen- who they continue to insist is their second spinner - who finished with nine wickets in the match. And when they needed a breakthrough in the first innings, they were able to turn to Stokes - the seventh choice bowler - to produce a whole-hearted and skilful spell. It meant there was no let-up in the pressure the India batsmen faced. No weak link that could be exploited.
"I felt like had huge amounts of options," Joe Root said. "I had points of difference in our attack. We had the ball spinning both ways, we had some left-arm angle and three fantastic seam bowlers who all do very different things. I felt I always had something different to turn to."
There were other factors beyond England's control. India's insufficient preparation at the start of the tour may have allowed England an advantage in the first couple of Tests - the tourists have adapted far better to the conditions now - while Virat Kohli has yet to win a toss in the series. In this Test and at Lord's, in particular, that was significant.
One day, too, he may reflect on his decision not to utilise the heavy roller ahead of either of India's innings in Southampton as an error. With the pitch starting slightly damp, the ball made a few indentations on the first day. Most captains in county cricket would have seized on the chance to use the heavy roller to flatten those indentations out. Kohli, perhaps reasoning that the surface could break up if he did so, used only the light one and was then subjected to the uneven bounce that accounted for KL Rahul, at least, in the fourth innings. Perhaps, had he had that county stint at Surrey as was originally planned, he might have known that the chances of any pitch in England breaking up under a heavy roller are minimal to the point of non-existence.
Most of all, it does have to be acknowledged that England were playing in conditions - and with a ball - that suits them perfectly. Despite the dry summer, this Test series has been played on pitches providing a remarkable amount of seam movement, while the Duke's ball - and the skill of those using it - has also produced plenty of swing. There's nothing wrong in utilising home advantage, but it should be understood that England have done so to an unusually extreme degree. It doesn't mean England could be considered favourites - or anything like it - when they next travel to India.
So it would be foolish to allow this success to mask the flaws within this England side. While Root has a point when he points out the tough conditions with which the top-order batsmen of both sides have had to contend, he might also reflect that his opening batsmen didn't score many runs in Australia or New Zealand, either. But for a couple of huge scores on a couple of flat pitches, Alastair Cook hasn't scored runs in a long time. And but for a dropped catch on debut, Keaton Jennings would be averaging in the teens after 11 Tests. There will still be days - and surfaces - when they require bowlers of greater pace and there will still be days when the limitations of their spin attack - and the manner their batsmen play it - will be highlighted.
"Of course you're always looking to get better and at areas you want to improve," Root said. "We want to make sure we're starting well with the bat and that's going to continue to be a big focus for us as a team.
"But you've also got to be realistic about the conditions we've been playing in. There's been some fine bowling from both teams. The two seam attacks are very high-class."
All of which is true. But, with the series already won, it might make sense to look at other top-order options at The Oval. Rory Burns really has done everything that could have been asked of him to win a chance instead of Jennings. If Alastair Cook were to take the opportunity to announce his retirement ahead of the game, it might provide a suitable opportunity for him to be sent-off in the style deserving of a man who has scored a record amount of Test runs for England. The team will undoubtedly require far greater contributions from their openers if they are to challenge in Sri Lanka or the Caribbean. Neither Cook or Jennings can say they have lacked opportunity.
With Stokes clearly carrying a knee injury and Woakes still recovering from his quad strain, it might make sense to allow them to miss the game, too. The likes of Olly Stone and Jamie Overton could be tried if England want to add some pace to their attack, though it seems unlikely such an option will be taken.
Whatever they decide to do for The Oval, England have a chance on both winter tours simply because of that all-round depth. And if they could just find a stronger top-order and start to hold a few catches - the early signs of the re-jigged slip cordon in Southampton were encouraging - they really could rise up the Test rankings quite swiftly.