Friday, 26 August 2011

ENGLAND'S SUMMER REVIEW

Methinks a blog is well overdue.  At the beginning of the summer, I was going to write a report after each test match against Sri Lanka.  That didn’t happen.  Plan B was to write a test series review after having played Sri Lanka.  That also didn’t happen.  Now before the world decides to cave in on itself, I’m seizing my chance to write a review of England’s test summer as a whole and, of course, to mention the minor detail of rising to the number one spot in the world in the purest form of the game.

Alistair Cook: 3 centuries v Sri Lanka & India this summer
Speaking to many, the Sri Lanka tour of this summer will have been seen as the warm-up tour ahead of the “real thing” against India.  This is much like the stand-up comedian nobody’s ever heard of performing just before Michael McIntyre walks out on stage.  I think this is a bit of a shame, as Sri Lanka still have world class performers in their ranks, such as Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara.  England won the first test after it seemed like the match was heading for a draw, when the Sri Lankan batting line-up collapsed like a cheap deck of cards gifting England the win.  The second test proved to be a much harder challenge on a flat Lord’s wicket with both sides scoring plenty of runs.  Lightning was not to repeat itself and on the final day at the home of cricket, Sri Lanka held out comfortably for a draw.  A debut test match for The Rose Bowl was the stage for the third test of the summer; however it will be remembered as the game where we had more rain than cricket.  The positives to take from it?  Tremlett’s figures of 6-48 in the first innings and Ian Bell’s 119*.

In summary, England had won the series 1-0 but were certainly not happy with their performances.  Stuart Broad tended to bowl too short to the frustration of those in the Sky commentary box and us at home and England struggled to bowl out the opposition twice.  A vast improvement was needed against India if they were to challenge the number one test side in the world for their spot at the top.

Now to the main event (as it were).  If England were to become the world number one test side, they had to beat India by two clear games this series.  England won 4-0.  The tour got progressively worse and worse for the visitors as they lost by 196 runs in the first test, 319 runs in the second test, an innings and 242 in the third test and by an innings and 8 runs in the final test.  Okay, they may have lost by a smaller margin at The Oval than at Edgbaston but I think we can all concur - India were simply hopeless and deserved to get whitewashed…

Things started well for the home side as explosive opener Virender Sehwag was injured for the first two test matches and youngster Abhinav Mukund was called up for service. With an first class average of 53.73 after 46 games, 13 hundreds, 10 fifties and a high score of 300* all at the age of 21, statistics would suggest that Mukund was probably better than any youngster we have in this country.  However he couldn’t deliver in this series as he struggled in English swinging conditions.

Stuart Broad's hat-trick v India at Trent Bridge
India’s formidable batting line-up, with the exception of Rahul Dravid, looked about at useful as blunt knife as England tore through them again and again and again.  Not once did they manage to score more than 300 in an innings.  After the first two tests, Indian fans blamed the brittle nature of the batting due to Sehwag’s absence at the top of the order.  However, when passed fit to play in the third test, Sehwag bagged a king pair.  Welcome back son.

Sachin Tendulkar’s poor form was another contributing factor to India’s demise as arguably the best batsman in the modern era failed to notch up that elusive hundredth international century.  VVS Laxman proved that he too was not able to cope with English conditions as the veteran with exceptionally poor knees could only manage a high score of 56.  Gambhir looked to use “mild concussion” as an excuse to perform badly, and the lower order batsmen showed as much resistance as the French did in World War II.

In terms of bowling, England outclassed them in every department: height, pace, bounce, swing, control, fitness, application…  You name it, they were better at it.  True, the injury to Zaheer Khan hampered India greatly, but in a “cricket mad” country with a population of nearly a billion, can they not find anybody better than Sreesanth (whose mannerisms remind me of an eight-year-old child) to replace him?

I realise this review has been mainly critical of India rather than praiseworthy of England and I think I should put this right.  For England, every base is covered from the openers at the top of the order to the four bowler policy and a world class fielding unit.  Jimmy was unplayable on home soil again, Broad found excellent form in the latter part of the summer and all batsmen had contributed throughout the summer.  The next challenge for England will be to stay at the top of the world rankings.  It’ll be a much harder challenge playing India in India when that comes around.  However, England will enjoy the success that they have worked so hard to achieve.  What a change from 52 all out a few years ago against the West Indies…

England: World number 1

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