India had something to smile about as the team left the Oval on Tuesday, having made a match of a contest that seemed finished, but the fact remains that this is a series that has ended 4-1.

"When both teams are going for wins, you can have a result that looks like that; they don't go for draws," Virat Kohli felt later. "I'm not saying it wasn't a fair scoreline, because they played better than us, but we can take a lot of heart and apply lessons to how we play Test cricket."

As much as Kohli says he is encouraged by the fight India showed, he must be hurting that a series that was there for the taking, against an unsettled England side, has slipped away. In the record books, this will simply go down as yet another overseas defeat, another failure to sit with the rest.

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India was clearly let down by its batting when the pace bowling proved to be such a force. Kohli's words on Sam Curran, chosen by him and Ravi Shastri as England's man of the series, were telling.

"He's made very important contributions," the captain said of him. "And if you look at the significance of the Test matches, the first one is massive and after 2-1 the fourth one is massive. And he made plays in both those games. It takes character for someone to come in and play like that."

What this suggests is that in the captain's mind these Test matches were decided not so much by specific issues like the batting as things like "character" and mentality. It seemed that the Indian captain was not ruing the absence of a steady run-maker in his camp, whose job it was to score as a matter of routine, but someone who could attack the bowling in crunch situations.

Kohli used the words "attitude" and "fearless" more than once in his post-match press conference. It will take a lot more than that if India's batting is to flourish in tough overseas conditions. "If you see the batting orders, there is hardly anything to pick from both the sides. Conveniently, as you can see, a lot of people want to target only one side, which is fine, but we understand why this series has gone the way it has," he said.

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Of course, Curran's intervention was vital at both Edgbaston and the Ageas Bowl but England's top-order failures are no excuse for India's own.

Kohli will reflect on India's choice of personnel this series. There was a sense that the touring side was just behind the curve in selecting players. India chose a single spinner at Edgbaston when perhaps a second - in Hardik Pandya's place - may have helped.

India did field two spinners at Lord's, except that conditions were ideal for seam and swing bowling. Then in Southampton, R. Ashwin was selected when he had, by Kohli's own admission, a niggle to deal with.

When Ravindra Jadeja came in for the fifth Test, he made an immediate impact. “I think he's an exceptional cricketer, a dangerous cricketer – with the bat, ball and in the field – and we'd be reasonably happy that he's only just played in that last game," England's assistant coach, Paul Farbrace, said later.

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There's perhaps some mischief in those words, but it cannot be denied that Jadeja's presence lifted India. It took too long for the team to be open-minded about omitting Pandya or giving thought to fielding six batsmen.

By the end of this year, India will have travelled to South Africa, England and Australia - the three hardest countries to visit for an Asian side. Two of those tours are now finished, and India has won a total of two Test matches.

"Our aim is to win series, not to win the odd Test match and be happy about it," Kohli said. "We are definitely not happy about the way the series has gone, but the way we played cricket is something that no one in the change room doubts even one per cent, because we played with the right attitude and the will to win every game."

Those things will count for little on the score-sheet if India makes the same mistakes again.