Let's hear it for Joe Root's team
It is pretty established now that Kohli & Co's No. 1 Test hurdle is England, whoâve won four of their last five Test series against India
England just won't let go of the Pataudi Trophy. India's only silver lining in this contest was witnessed when Rahul Dravid's men won the first of the four editions in 2007, while the great Indian captain was living. For the third consecutive time, an India Test tour of England ended with a comprehensive triumph for the hosts. It's pretty established now that India's No. 1 hurdle is England who have won four of their last five Test series against India.
Considering India's recent dominance at home and the manner in which the team came back to win the dead rubber against South Africa in Johannesburg earlier in the year, much was expected from Virat Kohli's men. Maybe not a series win, but a closely-fought series, which would have seen an array of batting and bowling skills of a fine young team. We didn't see an abundance of that.
India played the series as the No.1 Test side in world cricket, as against England's No.5 rank. Apart from a potent pace attack, Kohli's team also had exciting batsmen and even though they look like gladiators while playing on familiar turf at home, there was enough reason to believe they were capable of conjuring up sizeable scores on more testing pitches as well.
Save Kohli's solidity, the team's batting didn't measure up until the third Test at Trent Bridge, where the visitors won by 203 runs. With the scoreline reading 2-1 in England's favour, there were hopes of a dramatic, near-impossible, almost-unprecedented series win. But there was no fairytale in Southampton and when yet another England win looked inevitable at the end of the penultimate day at the Oval, the knives got sharper. Sack head coach Ravi Shastri, said the alarmists, who forgot that Shastri will be around till the end of next year's World Cup.
The straight-talking coach got his critics charged up when he said that his team had achieved more series wins (in the West Indies and twice in Sri Lanka) in a short span of time than any other Indian team in the last 15 to 20 years. He played down the wrong line at a time when little was going right for his team. Players who were part of those Indian teams which did well abroad in the above period cringed and the anti-Shastri sentiments intensified. Yet, the belief he has in his team is admirable and hopefully, they will prove him right someday soon.
Amidst all this, what should be factored in more by the pundits is England's brilliance. Their summer did not start with total success. Pakistan beat them by nine wickets at Lord's and Joe Root's team came back in sterling fashion to win by an innings at Leeds. Against India, the English bowlers snatched bragging rights from the batsmen and one wonders how England would have fared without the impact of James Anderson. Not many bowlers have had the kind of sustained success he has enjoyed on English pitches. He has been at the throats of the Indian batsmen since 2006 and is still causing damage.
Anderson has contributed greatly to England being more than just formidable at home. Ask the Australians who have failed to bring the Ashes home ever since they returned victorious in 2001. England endured a crushing Ashes loss last summer in Australia for which they copped a whole lot of ridicule from their uncompromising critics, many of them former players. But overall, they have had some memorable highs in the last dozen of years.
They were helped by extraordinary opening and middle order batsmen and one of them — Cook — has just put a full stop to his career after 12 rewarding seasons. In that splendid era were Andrew Strauss and Kevin Pietersen; Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell while the old firm of Anderson and Broad are still enjoying the monopoly of the market as it were. This is not a mediocre England team and India's critics should never lose sight of this, even as the twisting of knives in the fresh 1-4 loss-induced wound continues.
Also, English conditions can be very confronting. This shouldn't be projected as an excuse, but a lesson that the team's activities in between the series should be looked at carefully. There was a time when a team touring England had to play games against the 17 counties. That system probably over-did things, but on this tour, there was only one tour game (against Essex, July 25-27) before the Test series kicked off while the ODI and T20 series were treated as a warm-up period. Who formulated and who approved this schedule?
The dry English summer didn't continue, the colour of the ball changed, Anderson and Broad, who don't play limited overs cricket, turned up for the toughest form of cricket and India's climb looked steeper. Meanwhile, Pataudi up above, after whom the trophy is named, would want that silverware lodged in an Indian captain's hands again. "It's been quite a while," he'd say without drawing any blood from an already bleeding Kohli.
mid-day's group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets @ClaytonMurzello Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
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