England finally returned to winning ways against India, following a period of almost unrelenting failure. The winning feeling was rediscovered in Hampshire, to be enjoyed and enforced in Manchester and London.
Following on from the Ashes whitewash and an embarrassing home series loss to Sri Lanka, England were well and truly on the ropes as India took a 1-0 series lead at Lord’s. It seemed that England could go no lower, that the only way was up.
India, after a famous victory at cricket’s HQ, switched off and looked like their tour was done. Their batsman stopped batting, their bowlers slowed up and catches started going down. This was more like the India of 2011, the last Indian side to visit English shores.
English cricket fans and the cricketing press had been praying for light at the end of a dark and miserable tunnel and have jumped all over England’s 3-1 series win. In truth, however, how much can be taken from it?
England should have beaten India comfortably and, ultimately, did. Say what you like, but the fact is that this is a sorry India side with a focus firmly on the limited overs stuff. With the fame and fortune accrued by these players domestically, where is the incentive to practice against a swinging ball outside your off stump for an overcast morning in Manchester?
For evidence, just look at Virat Kohli. A supremely talented player, he was made to look a bunny by James Anderson. Not to worry for Virat, however, since he will likely have a good World Cup, play a star role in the 2015 IPL and enjoy a few Tests in more familiar surroundings.
So, for all England’s relief, the optimism should be tempered. This was nothing more than a routine win and there are still big holes in this England side that a limp Indian outfit was never going to expose.
The opening partnership: Alastair Cook found a few runs and an opposition batting attack that removed much of the burden of captaincy. His return of 298 runs at 49.66 represents something of a return to form. There is, however, a caveat. His 95 runs at Southampton should have been ended on 15 when Ravindra Jadeja dropped a simple catch off Cook’s edge. His 79 at the Oval should have been ended on four when he was plumb lbw, only to be given not out. He was then dropped twice.
Ifs and buts, certainly, but he was scratching around against a weak Indian attack that visibly wilted as the series went on. He could – and should – have ended the series with 143 runs at 20.43.
Sam Robson up the other end did not prosper with dropped catches and refused appeals. He scored 165 runs at 23.57. He was repeatedly squared up outside off stump and repeatedly failed, amassing one 50 in the series.
He replaced Michael Carberry in the Test side for this summer. Carberry, in five Tests against Australia, in Australia, scored 281 runs at 28.10. Not a brilliant return, but England were getting smashed. He had to face Mitchell Johnson, Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle. Robson, at home to India, had to face Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Pankaj Singh, Varun Aaron and Ishant Sharma.
So why was Carberry dropped?
Middle order: Gary Ballance and Joe Root both enjoyed excellent series. I hope they are left alone at three and five respectively in the order, to develop. Ian Bell, like Cook, benefitted from a poor lbw decision, this time at Southampton, to register 297 series runs at 42.42. Had he been given out, as he should have been, for 0, at Southampton he would have had 130 runs at 18.57.
Another good news story for England was the disappearance of Matt Prior. A fine servant and fine player he has been for England, his time was evidently up after the Ashes. Jos Buttler came in, immediately scored runs and kept well. With the same stick, however, Buttler was clearly caught on 0, on debut at Southampton, only for the third umpire to bottle decision and set Buttler up to go on and whack 85 in setting up an easy win.
Bowling attack: The question about which spinner England should select is still a live one. Moeen Ali bowled excellently and played a crucial hand, but he deserved more respect than the Indian batsmen showed him. Better teams, of which there are six or seven, will play him properly. The question for England then, is, to persist with a number six batsman who finds some extraordinary ways of getting out and can bowl a bit, or to select a proper spin bowler? The side needs a proper spinner. Ali would make a fine support spinner, but he’s not a frontline spinner.
James Anderson and Stuart Broad were looking more like themselves again. They caused problems with the new ball every time and a confused and fatigued looking Indian batting line up could not resist. So they gave up trying.
Worryingly for England, the drop off between Anderson and Broad to Chris Woakes/Liam Plunkett/Chris Jordan is marked. Better batting units will see off the main pair and tuck in to the change bowlers. There is no quick fix to this problem and it is a clear and obvious sign that this is still just an average England side, not a world-beating side.
For all the hype and excitement that everyone seems to be indulging in post-series, there are yawning gaps just waiting to be exposed. I just hope the players themselves don’t start believing the hype.
2015, on the Test front, is a very tough one for England. Away to West Indies, then home to New Zealand and Australia before visits to Pakistan (the Middle East) and South Africa. All of those sides will offer more resistance than India.
India: What can you say? Pathetic, weak, tired, cowardly… Some superstar reputations were brutally exposed. Shikhar Dhawan had to be dropped to make way for the sorry end of Gautam Gambhir’s international career. Jadeja was neither good enough with bat or ball and was dropped. Cheteshwar Pujara was a man desperately out of form and Ajinkya Rahane was eventually dragged down to the level of those he shared a dressing room with. MS Dhoni showed some bottle and R Ashwin looked like he should be batting in the top four of this side. The bowling, too, was largely poor as the entire attack looked entirely incapable of handling a five Test series.
Still, you don’t make your money in India by being a competent Test cricketer.
By Miles Reucroft