England’s historic 2-1 victory in India will surely rank alongside their most memorable wins, including the epic 2005 Ashes victory. England ended a wait of 18 years by winning the Ashes in 2005, but in India they ended an even bigger drought – that of 28 years. The last time they won a series in India was in 1984-85 when current captain Alastair Cook was barely a year old.
Much has been said about India’s poor batting, inept bowling and MS Dhoni’s uninspiring captaincy in the last three Tests, but let us not forget that it was England’s brilliance rather than their opponent’s shortcomings which ensured the final result. Cook himself was in supreme form throughout the series, accumulating 562 runs with three hundreds – each of them having a great impact on his team’s performance. The bowlers too bowled well as a unit, with the spinners reveling in the conditions much more than their much-vaunted Indian counterparts.
Greame Swann in fact took 20 wickets in the series (the most along-with Pragyan Ojha), while Monty Panesar finished with 17. Panesar was not included in the eleven for the first Test at Ahmedabad and England soon realised their blunder as they suffered a 9 wicket defeat. He was duly included for the Mumbai Test, and his inspiring bowling effort there changed the script of the series and put the Indians into a quandary. England grew from strength to strength while India’s form gradually declined as the series progressed.
Kevin Pietersen came into this series with much already written about him and his controversies, but his innings of 186 on a crumbling Mumbai wicket was one of the best in modern times. His match-winning partnership with Cook in that Test buried all suspicions of a dressing room rift. If there was anything, it was the team bonhomie on display – all players contributed at some point of time in the series. James Anderson, long known to be ineffective in the sub-continent, came into his own with some great pace bowling at Kolkata.
Andrew Strauss’ absence was hardly felt, thanks to the emergence of a determined opening batsman in Nick Compton. Another rookie, Joe Root showed great maturity on his debut on the dead track at Nagpur. Wicketkeeper Matt Prior was ready with his gutsy knocks whenever needed, while two men Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell, who both were below-par in the series, made crucial centuries in the final Test to ensure that India did not even get a sniff at levelling the series.
Most people had written off England after they lost the first Test. It had all gone according to the ‘revenge’ plan hatched by India – turning pitch, collapse against spin and the like. But Cook’s innings of 176 in the second innings of that Test was probably the turning point, and that gave his team the belief that India can be beaten at home. And beat they did eventually, handing India their first home series loss since 2004-05, when they had lost to Australia. India’s claims of ‘we’ll show them when they come here’ fell flat on its face, and MS Dhoni’s team had to eat humble pie thanks to a high-quality display of Test cricket from a team superior them, both in terms of performance and professionalism.
While it is the harshest wake up call in recent times for India’s jaded outfit, England have ensured that they will end the year on a sweet note – a year in which they were blanked by Pakistan and then lost their champion tag to South Africa, against whom they lost at home. This victory will rank as one of England’s best ever, and a lot of credit goes to their new captain. Cook not only led admirably, but also put a heavy price on his wicket whenever he strode out to bat. If he continues in the same vein for the rest of his career, he can safely end up becoming an all-time great, and maybe break some of the Test batting records too.
This historic win will again give England the belief that they can be serious champion contenders, and most importantly they have exorcised the ghosts of their earlier miseries against spin bowling.