I had to wait until the end of the test series before blogging about how England are doing, even after three tests I was excited by the quality of the cricket being played, but how controversial things have become and how unexpected the outcome. Read full details of the cricket here, but I hope my blog can help illustrate how the cricket went in my eyes. Sorry about the length, but lots to tell!
The controversy had started well before the test series, with the Indian Board of Control for Cricket insisting that the review system (DRS) would not be used. I am not convinced that an individual board should have the right to out rule the ICC, but there we are! One thing India would have to remember about this situation – the Umpire’s decision would be final, right or wrong following TV reviews!
The first test was a disaster for England and with hindsight it appears that the non-selection of Panesar was a major contribution to the result, but that seems a little simple to me. I think England’s batting in that first test was naive; although, their bowling in the first innings was also weak. Loosing the toss was not a good start for England, and was to become something of a habit in this series, but batting first was an obvious choice for India and what batting! We all know about Sehwag and his run-a-ball hundred was atypical dynamic Sehwag innings, but it was the almost unknown Pujara’s 206 from 389 deliveries that really set the scene for the rest of the game. This was test cricket at its best, determined batting with few chances and few risks taken, yet scoring at good rate to set up an impossible to match target. If it had not been for the quality of Swann, who took five wickets, goodness knows what score England might have faced – as it was, India declared their innings at 521-8.
England lost early wickets, with the new boy Compton out with the score on 26 and this was followed by a rapid collapse of the lower batting order and when Bell was out for a duck, with the score at 69-5, it was clear England would struggle to make any score and would likely have to follow-on. Eventually all out for 191 from only 74.2 overs the follow-on was inevitable. India had shown how to play test cricket and demonstrated a weakness in England’s batting against spin. Perhaps the only highlight at this stage of the game was Alastair Cook’s 41 from 109 deliveries and it was Cook who was to lead the way in the second innings with a magnificent batting performance scoring 176 from 374 deliveries and took the score to 365 before he was out. But England only left India needing 77 to win, which they accomplished easily with only the loss of Sehwag for 25.
So, the immediate response from the press was that England couldn’t play spin, would be beaten 4-0 and that they should have played a second spinner. My own viewpoint was that England’s leading batsmen needed to concentrate more (with the exception of Cook) and show better choice of shots against a spinning ball. But, I agreed that two quality spinners must be used in India – India’s strength lies with spin and so the wickets will have to offer them an opportunity of spin so England must make use of that situation – pick Panesar!
The second test in Mumbai showed that the selectors were listening and had seen their mistake – Panesar was selected and England had two high-class spinners in the side. India won the toss again and chose to bat as expected. However, in this match England bowled much better, with a tight line on a wicket with some bounce – Anderson struck early trapping Gambhir LBW with the score at 4. Sehwag started with his usual dynamism, but was bowled by the excellent line, bounce and spin of Panesar with the score at 51. Pujara, arriving early at the wicket batted superbly again, showing real class and frustrated the much improved bowling of England. However, wickets tumbled frequently at the other end, with Tendulkar (8) failing once again, also bowled by Panesar and only a brief stand by captain Dhoni (29), followed by an excellent innings by Ashwin (who looked like a real all-rounder for India) scoring 68. The star of the show, at this stage was Panesar, fully justifying his inclusion with an excellent 5 for 129; while, Swann also collected four wickets. India were all out for 327, which looked insufficient on this wicket, but could England bat against India’s spin attach was the real question.
England’s innings started well and Compton and Cook looked very solid, but steady in terms of scoring rate, until Compton was caught off Ojha for 29 off 90 deliveries, with the score on 66. Everyone expected the same steady batting with the arrival of Trott, but he was quickly ut LBW to Ojha for a duck – was England’s batting frailty against spin about to be revealed again? However, it was the appearance of Kevin Pietersen, now fully integrated into the team, that changed the game in England’s favour. He made a spectacular 186 off 233 deliveries, supporting a very solid Cook (who also made 122 off 270) taking the score to 274 before Cook was caught behind off Ashwin. England batted on with smaller contributions from Patel and Prior, but where eventually all out for 413 – Pietersen eventually falling at 382, caught behind off Ojha. England had demonstrated that their best batsmen could score against the indian spin attack, but more importantly the Indian spin looked less penetrative than the England spin attack. It was clear this was going to be an interesting test match and maybe a big change of fortune in the series!
India faced a real uphill task to clear the deficit of runs and take a lead, England quickly introduced spin, despite an excellent four overs from Anderson for only 9 runs. It was immediately clear that Swann and Panesar were getting more out of the Mumbai wicket that the Indian spinners and wickets began to quickly tumble; ony Gambhir (65) and Ashwin (11) reached double figure scores and India crumbled for only 142, leaving England 56 runs to score to level the series. They did this without any jitters and lost no wickets, scoring 58 off 9.4 overs – a truly excellent win in India and opening an exciting series with England no longer seen as the underdog.
The third test took us to the wonderful Eden Gardens ground in Kolkata, but following the trend from the previous two test matches, the crowds were along way from those illustrated on the right – Indian home support for this test series was poor and it is clear that one-day cricket has “killed” Indian Test Cricket support. The pattern at the coin toss continued – India won the toss and elected to bat – but England’s pace and spin attach looked confident despite a good start by Gambhir (60) and Sehwag (23), who was run out by Finn with an excellent long throw from the boundary. This run out seemed to affect Gambhir and he has been involved with a few such events. Tendulkar showed some resolve in this innings and was able to 76 off 155 deliveries, but Anderson had the little master caught behind, followed quickly by Kohli (6) and only stubborn resistance from the late middle order (Yuvrag Singh, 32, Dhoni, 52 and Ashwin, 21) gave the Indian scorecard any respectability – all out for 316. Panesar, at 4 for 90, and Anderson, at 3 for 89, had bowled brilliantly to give England a chance to bat well and take a lead!
England openers started really well adding 165 for the first wicket (Compton eventually LBW to Ojha for 57), but the star was Cook, who India were now struggling to dismiss and he just seemed to keep on batting. Both Trott (87)and Pietersen (54) made significant contributions and only the unlucky Bell (5) failed in the early batting order. Once again the late middle order swung the bat with contributions from Patel (33), Prior (41) and Swann (21) allowing England to reach 523 – a healthy lead of 207. The scene was perfectly set for England’s bowlers to dominate and teh question was asked how much spin was there in the wicket for England’s spinners – could they, once again, out play the Indian bowlers?
India opened with an excellent partnership between Gambhir and Sehwag of 86 before Sehwag was bowled by Swan for 49, sadly one run short of a dynamic 50 runs, but then another terrible run out, involving Gambhir, finally saw Pujara dismissed cheaply (8) with the score at 98. This run out seemed to affect Gambhir’s batting and he quickly followed when Finn’s excellent bouncing deliveries had him caught behind for 40! With the score at 103-3 India were worried it was clear, with Tendulkar still struggling for form. Only 4 more runs were added before Tendulkar was caught at slip off Swann for only 5 and the atmosphere changed – even on TV it was clear that England felt they were on top of the game. Indian wickets continued to tumble and only the determined all-rounder Ashwin was able to show he could dominate the English bowling attach – eventually unbeaten on 91 he took India to 247 al out, a lead of only 40 runs!
England lost three very early wickets on the way to gaining victory, which might have caused a major worry in the dressing room, but in truth they never looked like a major collapse and Bell was able to lead the way forward with a solid 28, while Compton looked solid if steady.
This was a great victory for England and confirmed they had really managed to turn around their form and clearly demonstrated they could easily bat against India’s spin attack. So, the question that now was being asked is how India would change things and what sort of wicket might they prepare for the final test, which they must win.
The final test was in central India in Nagpur. I was expecting something of a dust bowl after the announcement that India would include only one pace bowler – spin was to be the attach against England. This could easily backfire as England’s spinners had already shown they were better than India’s spinners in the previous two tests, but India might hope to get a good first innings score and bowl out England cheaply, twice.
So, the toss of the coin was going to be key to the outcome of this test and unexpectedly (after losing the previous three) Cook won the toss and elected to bat – a good start for England! Two very quick wickets, both openers, must have given England the jitters, but what quickly became apparent was that the wicket – a patchwork quilt – was very slow and not spinning. This must have surprised England more than anyone and the variable bounce (sometimes very low) would surely benefit England’s attack. Compton (3) was out with the total score on 3 and Cook (1) fell at 16, but Trott (44) and Pietersen (73) showed resolve and took the score to 102 before Trott fell to spin. Unfortunately, Bell failed once again scoring only 1 run, which brought the debutant Joe Root to the wicket and what an inspired innings he played, scoring 73 from 229 taking both time out of the game, but also looking solid on a difficult low wicket. Finally, once again Prior and Swann made significant contributions – Swann in particlular adding some momentum to the innings – and England were eventually all out for 330. Having taken 145.5 overs this innings had already shown that a win would be difficult on this wicket. Although it was difficult to score runs quickly the wicket offered little spin and only slow bounce, it was difficult to see how this would work for India!
Perhaps Sehwag could score quickly on this wicket, but we were never to find out as he was bowled by his second delivery from Anderson, who then started a beautiful spell of accurate seam bowling eventually taking both Gambhir (37) and Tendulkar (2), this was the 9th time he has taken Tendulkar’s wicket in test cricket! Pujara showed some resistance, scoring 26 from 72 deliveries, but at end of the second day’s play India looked in trouble at 87-4. However, England struggled to take wickets for most of day 3 and Kholi and Dhoni (playing a captains innings after promoting himself above Jadeja) scored 198 runs for the fifth wicket – a tremendous feat that must have worried England during day 2. However, a clatter of wickets at the end of the day, following the fall of Kohli for 103, Jadeja went quickly for only 12 LBW to Anderson, who sensed a change in fortune. then the real blow to indian hopes was Dhoni brilliantly run out by Cook just short of his 100 (he scored 99 off 246 deliveries). Day 3 ended with india on 297-8 looking as though they were in deep trouble once again. England only needed a draw and would want to bat all the next day and beyond to draw the match.
The fourth day was to be the most controversial day of the series and was to bring to a head the problem of not accepting DRS. Ashwin (29 no) got very little real support from the tail and India declared at 326-9 four runs behind England with two days to go. The general feeling was that England should easily manage a draw and India’s only chance was for England to have one really bad session. The controversy started, in my mind, with the pace of England’s scoring. Cook took 93 deliveries to reach only 13 and seemed to be taking the idea of batting for time far too literally. I think batting this way can ruin the natural game of a player and his fall at 13 seemed to support my view (Caught behind of Ashwin). Compton was equally slow and only reached 34 from 135 deliveries before being caught LBW to Ojha. Then things began to take a turn for the worst, for England, when Pietersen, who seemed to be batting well, but also slowly, left one from Jadeja (old demons?) and was bowled for only 6 off 30 deliveries. England, at 94-3, were not scoring quickly enough to make a draw a safe result. My own feeling was that they should have played their natural game, but not been too adventurous on this slow wicket. There was very little turn for the spinners and only one pace man (Sharma) was not penetrative. Despite this poor situation, Trott looked set for the day and there is no doubt the situation suited him, but a delivery from Jadeja, which slipped out of his hand led Trott to walk to the stationary no-ball and smack it to the boundary for four (a nice hockey shot). At first it seemed everyone saw the funny side of this, but it seems that this was not the case (according to India, who thought it unsportsmanlike). Then, when on 43, Dhoni and some of the Indian team clearly thought that Trott edged a ball and was caught behind. However, the umpire clearly said not out (and TV analysis showed this to be correct) and, unfortunately, this led to a confrontation between Trott and some of the Indian players. which had to be broken up by the umpires. A little later Ashwin also warned Trott about backing up too far, increasing the tension in the game. Despite these problems Trott kept his concentration and, thankfully, at the other end Bell was developing a very solid innings. By close of play on day 4, England had reached 161-3 and the feeling was that England need to bat for only three more hours to draw the match and win the series.
The final day was slow but steady, Trott reaching 143 from 310 deliveries before being caught by Kohli off Ashwin with the score at 302 and Bell went on to reach 115 not out from 306 deliveries. Root had a short innings and looked very solid again. England declared allowing stumps to be drawn and England to win a series in India for the first time in 27 years.
However, I was left with a slightly angry feeling at what had occurred between Trott and the Indian team, listening to Ashwin being interviewed on TV he seemed to suggest all of this arose after Trott hit the no-ball boundary, but it was clear to most people that India were avoiding the real issue – the lack of DRS! The umpire’s decisions throughout the series had been controversial, with some clearly plain wrong, but refusing DRS means that umpire’s decision must be final and India seemed to forget this in their frustration at losing the series.
That frustration was not just because they bowled and batted poorly, but also because of the wicket prepared for the final match – I fail to understand why such a dead wicket was prepared and I can imagine Dhoni must have been angered not to be able to make maximum use of his spin attack. For me, the Indian Cricket Board, the groundsmen and the selectors got a lot wrong, which made it very difficult for India to win the series – time for a real think, but also time for DRS to be imposed for everyone.