England 3-1 India – Test Series Review
With the Premier League kicking off this weekend, the England Cricket Team’s annihilation of India has slipped slightly under the radar. The 3-1 series victory should boost morale as we head into a prolonged period of one-day cricket culminating in the World Cup early next year in Australia and New Zealand. More importantly, England’s performance could prove to be an important stepping stone in their quest to regain the Ashes in a series which, in the absence of any major tournament football, is likely to be the highlight of next summer’s sporting calendar.
This summer’s encounter was the first five Test match series between the two sides since 1985 and certainly provided plenty of excitement, even if the quality of the cricket on show was not quite of the highest standard. The series was played with real intensity, stoked largely by the controversial claim made by India against England bowler James Anderson for an alleged ‘physical assault’ on Ravindra Jadeja during the drawn first test at Trent Bridge. The case against Anderson was thrown out in less than ten minutes at an ICC hearing before the fourth Test but the ill feeling generated provided an added edge, particularly during the early part of the series.
The way England played to win the last three matches to overturn a 1-0 deficit after the second Test shows the strength of courage in the dressing room and performances from a number of the younger players show there is real reason to be optimistic about the prospects for English cricket. A lot is always spoken about building for future successes but perhaps we should take the time to enjoy this result and reflect on the achievement of winning this series so comfortably in the end. Encounters with India arguably rank second only behind the Ashes in terms of significance to English Cricket so, even though this is a rather poor Indian side with a reputation for travelling poorly, the importance of this victory should not be underestimated.
England supporters had every right to be pessimistic after England lost the Lords test match, the 10th consecutive match England had failed to win. The knives were out for skipper Alistair Cook as he failed to show any sign of a return to form with the bat and his tactics as captain were called into question. I was certainly of the view that it may be time for Cook to stand down, primarily because it appeared the burden of captaincy was inhibiting him from scoring the big runs on which England have so heavily relied on over the last 8 years.
The turning point proved to be first day of the third Test. Cook won the toss and took the bold decision to bat first when faced with a wicket that he could be forgiven for putting the Indians in on. The captain was rewarded for his courage as, whilst still not at his fluent best, he played a gutsy innings and fell agonisingly short of a century on 95. Ian Bell and Gary Ballance suffered no such fate as they both made big hundreds as England posted more than five hundred for the first time since 2012. That score set the match up for England & an Anderson five-for in the first innings and six wickets for Moeen Ali in the second innings helped to England to a 266-run victory drawing them level in the series.
England never looked back from there as they set about crushing an Indian side that played some embarrassing cricket as they went down to innings defeats in the final two Tests. Stuart Broad joined the party in the fourth Test, picking up 6 first innings wickets as he ripped through the Indian top order as they were all out for less than two hundred. The performances of Broad and Anderson with the new ball this series have further cemented their reputation as the world’s premier strike bowling partnership and their wicket taking statistics are beginning to rival those of some of the all time greats.
Whilst the quality of England’s front line pace bowlers has rarely been in doubt, the side have struggled to find quality in the spin department since the retirement of Graeme Swann. Perhaps the answer has come in the form of Moeen Ali. Originally selected for his batting, the Worcestershire man turned in a number of impressive displays with the ball and the selectors will hope he can go on to establish himself as more than just a part time spin option. Ali took an important 4 wickets in India’s second innings in the fourth test and, despite only bowling one over in the final test, finished the series as the second highest wicket taker with 22 in total.
The most one sided match was saved until last. India once again failed to show any fight with the bat, however this time the wickets were shared more evenly around England’s bowlers with Chris Jordan & Chris Woakes picking up seven and four wickets respectively in the match. That will help allay fears that England are too reliant on Anderson & Broad for their wickets and Jordan in particular showed why the selectors have put their faith in him with some incisive bowling against the hapless Indian batsmen.
India started the series with some impressive bowling performances, with both Bhuveneshwar Kumar & Irshant Sharma putting in notable performances with the ball in the first two tests. But the Indians are not used to playing in such long series and their bowlers visibly tired as the summer went on. England’s batsmen happily profited on the Indian bowlers’ fatigue in the fifth test, Joe Root leading the way with 149 not out as England took the game away from India. Rather predictably, India collapsed one more time, this time for just 94, as England really rubbed salt into their wounds and clinched the series inside three days.
There is a lot of positives to reflect on as an England fan from the series. Ballance & Root were England’s two most impressive batsman and look as if they have found their natural positions in the order at three and five respectively. Cook & Bell look like they are out of their respective bad patches and will hope to kick on in the new year whilst Jos Butler’s explosive performances with the bat and reasonably competent displays with the gloves look to have established him as England’s long term wicketkeeper. The bowling appears to be in decent order too but England should be looking to get Steven Finn into the side in time for the Ashes to bolster their quality in the pace bowling department. It remains to be seen if Ali can make the primary spin bowling role his own but his ability to add runs with the bat should mean his place is secure for a while to come. The only immediate area of concern is who should open the batting alongside Cook. Sam Robson may well be added to a long line of options who have been tried & discarded as he struggled to make inroads against a bowling attack that most of his team mates have prospered against. There is a growing clamour to give Alex Hales a chance, who has impressed for England in the shorter form of the game & could provide an aggressive outlet at the top of the order.
From an Indian perspective this was a very poor series. A number of their batsman arrived here with big reputations and many will leave with them in tatters. Time and time again, the likes of Pujara and Kholi were out caught behind as they struggled to get to grips with the testing English conditions. This series will provide further support to the claim that Indian batsman cannot be judged on their impressive statistics given that they spend half their time milking runs on batsman friendly flat tracks on the sub-continent. The bowlers were not as bad as the batsman but certainly fell away towards the end of the series. India also performed woefully in the field as they put down catches at vital moments and even captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni had a poor series with the gloves, missing a number of chances. Coach Duncan Fletcher will know a great deal of improvement is required if they wish to return to anything like the form that saw them become the world’s number one Test team in 2009.