Sunday, 28 August 2011

You can't always have it your own way

The English cricket team will go into Wednesday's Twenty20 International and the forthcoming One Day International series against India as the number one Test side in the world. They took the title from their opponents - who had reigned at the top of the ICC rankings since December 2009 - with a convincing 4-0 whitewash in a month-long Test series that included two wins by more than an innings.
The manner of victory is not always evident from the scoreline, but in this case England's performance absolutely deserved to be rewarded with an unbeaten record. It is a fact that, to win a Test match, you have to take 20 wickets over the five days, a feat India only managed once; England, on the other hand, were able to bowl India out in all eight innings and never for more than 300 runs.

It is therefore a testament to England's strength in depth that four different bowlers (Broad, Swann, Anderson and Bresnan) each took five-wicket hauls, although none more than once, proving that while each member of the attack was equally capable of destroying a batting line-up, they were also just as adept at producing a star performance when required. Even the world's top spin bowler Graeme Swann, who took just four wickets in the first three Tests, was able to chip in with a six-for in the final innings.

But a strong bowling unit is almost useless without decent batting to back it up, and England had batsmen lining up to contribute with fifties, hundreds and even three double-centuries from Kevin Pietersen (202 not out), Ian Bell (235 - a new Test best) and Alastair Cook (294 - also a Test best). England were able to declare four times out of their six innings and passed 500 runs in three of them. India's only resistance with the bat, on the other hand, came from veteran Rahul Dravid, whose three centuries at least gave him - if not his team - an air of respectability.

As well as excelling with bat and ball, the English outshone the Indians in the field too. Geoffrey Boycott noted a sloppiness about India's fielding numerous times in his commentary on the BBC's Test Match Special radio programme. England, on the other hand, were a lesson in concentration, rarely dropping catches or giving away overthrows. Their performances were less than outstanding, and no catches were particularly memorable, but the players showed incredible discipline - a testament to the influence of the now-retired Paul Collingwood.

However, for all their dominance in the Test arena, the England team's attention must now turn to the shorter forms of the game, where their success has been limited. At the last World Cup in early 2011, they suffered embarrassing defeats to Ireland and Bangladesh before losing to Sri Lanka by 10 wickets in the quarter-finals. A 3-2 ODI series win over Sri Lanka in June-July made up slightly for the World Cup, but England's 50-over side rarely looks capable of troubling the four sides above them in the ICC rankings - Australia, Sri Lanka, India and South Africa.

In a warm-up match in Dublin on Thursday, they were again made to look distinctly average by the Irish team. Half-centuries from Jonathan Trott and Eoin Morgan - captaining England for the first time against his home country - gave England cause for optimism, as did the continued emergence of bowler Jade Dernbach on the international scene (yet another product of England's South African "academy"). However, no other batsmen managed to score more than 20 runs out of what would be considered a specialist line-up.

I always wish England the best of luck in the cricket, but I'm holding no high hopes for a win in this series. The Test side has brushed aside all comers with consummate ease for the last two years, but the team still has a long way to go to show the same sort of dominance across all forms of the game exhibited by the Australians in the early 2000s. It just goes to prove you can't always have it your own way.

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