Just how good was England’s win in India?
CAPTAIN COOK and his crew returned home today from one of England’s greatest series of modern times, the come-from-behind 2-1 Test win in India - their first for 28 years.
The win completes the sweep of away successes against all their leading Test opponents since the turn of the century after decades of defeat.
Though they have yet to add to any of the wins, the successes of the present (and their most recent Hussain/Vaughan, Fletcher-coached predecessor) generation of England cricketers - after droughts of 24, 39, 19, 40 and 36 years, respectively, against Australia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, South Africa and West Indies - augurs well for future tours and the health of the Test game globally.
As the chart below shows, it’s quite a turnaround from the repeated failures of England teams from the late eighties to the early 2000s:
So, compared to that Ashes triumph of 2010/11 and other away successes, how does the win in India rank?
The Guardian’s Mike Selvey declares it “among the best of modern times” and “a gargantuan achievement”:
“Placing this win in the pantheon of England successes abroad is not easy. Hyperbole can take over in the understandable euphoria of the moment. But it must surely rank with their best of modern times.
“Maybe two wins at the turn of the millennium, against Pakistan and Sri Lanka, both under Nasser Hussain, the first against a powerful batting side backed by Wasim Akram, Saqlain Mushtaq and Mushtaq Ahmed and the second against Muttiah Muralitharan on his own stamping grounds, and having lost the first match, would be right up there. So, of course, would be the Ashes win of 2010-11.
“But it is the back story that makes this such a special victory for them.
“A year ago, England were being trounced by India in a one-day series by five matches to nil, on turning pitches. At the start of the year, against Pakistan in the UAE, they contrived to be whitewashed in a three-match Test series, the batsmen hapless against Saeed Ajmal and Abdur Rehman. Finally in Galle, they lost the first match of a two-match series, with desperate batting once more.
“That Kevin Pietersen’s brilliance helped them claw back a draw in that series could not camouflage the fact that England batsmen, almost as if it was in the genes, could not cope with spin and the hammering they received in the first Test of this series in Ahmedabad did little to dispel that notion.
“So to turn that round, on a variety of different pitches, having lost two tosses out of the three that followed and emerge so emphatically as the better side in every aspect of the game, including the level of fitness in which there is no side better in the world, represents a gargantuan achievement.”
Cricinfo’s George Dobell concurs:
“This series victory represents one of the finest in England’s history. It will not make the impact of an Ashes victory - it does not have the history or capture the British public imagination in the same way - but, in the circumstances, this is as least as impressive an achievement as winning the Ashes in Australia for the first time in 24 years in 2010-11 and winning the World T20 in the Caribbean in 2010.
“Everything was weighted against them: India’s home record; England’s record in Asia and India in particular; England’s record against spin; the loss of Steven Finn; the loss of three important tosses; the preparation of the pitches; the lack of spin provided to them in the warm-up games; and defeat in the first Test of the series.
“And yet England won. They won a series in India for the first time since 1984-85; they won a series in Asia (excluding those in Bangladesh) for the first time since 2001; they won in a country where they had won just one Test since 1985; their batsmen showed they had learned to play spin; their bowlers proved more adept than the hosts’ on pitches made to suit India; and they showed the spirit to fight back from the loss in Ahmedabad.
“A series that began under the cloud of Pietersen-gate, ended with a unified team dealing calmly and positively with every obstacle placed in their way. In stark contrast to earlier tours, not once did an England player complain about the pitches, the hotels, the heat or the tactics.
“They simply embraced a no-excuse environment and got on with it.”
Geoffrey Boycott, meanwhile, says the win is “particularly special” because of England’s recent “history of failure” in subcontinent conditions.
Writing in the Telegraph, the England legend says it can also be a “platform for Ashes success”:
“I accept that India are not the force they have been in the past. Two great batsmen have retired in VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid while Sachin Tendulkar is no longer the great player he once was. Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan have been fine bowlers but are past their best. You could say touring India is a bit easier now because the hotels are better, English food in the big cities is excellent and travelling is so much easier.
“So if you wanted to undermine the victory you could but, quite frankly, of recent performances this ranks second only to winning in Australia two years ago.
“Nobody should try to belittle what England have achieved. You can only play against the team selected and, in the past, even average Indian sides have been difficult to beat at home. To put it into context, this is only the fifth time England have won a series in India in 14 attempts.
“Alastair Cook, Kevin Pietersen and Anderson have been outstanding. We have seen a true world-class performance from each of them. Our two spinners, Swann and Panesar, outbowled the two Indian spinners. Even famous former Indian cricketers have accepted our two spinners are much better than theirs. That is a real compliment.”
Looking ahead, Boycs adds:
“There are areas we should improve on the trip coming up to New Zealand, when we will begin to focus on the Ashes in England next year... Like all great winning teams, England should enjoy the spoils of victory but also look on this as a time to improve. Do not court complacency. Prepare for the next challenge.”
As for the reaction of the Indian press, the main focus, understandably, is the shocking home form of the world champions and former world number one’s, with the question of Sachin Tendulkar’s future once more rearing its head (see my blog yesterday) - though there are some, like The Times of India’s Nitin Naik, who’ve forsaken the navel gazing to praise England.
Naik compares this winning team to Gower’s 1984/85 tourists, drawing parallels over the two sides’ left-handed captains; similar victory margins; come-from-behind heroics; spin-twins; problems with personnel; top-class seamers (which India lacked); and rifts in the Indian team.
And of India’s demise, he devotes just the one line, succinctly noting they:
“...have more reason to look into the mirror and face some harsh truths.”
With the resurgent Aussies coming in February, it’s to be hoped reality dawns, and quick, while for England, the ODI series awaits, followed by a tour of New Zealand, and further field, the Ashes; for now, though, they can deservedly enjoy their Christmases back home with their families - just so long as there’s no hangover.
• Cricinfo: Full fourth Test scorecard
• Cricinfo: India-England series home