Lords of England
Like every hard-fought series, there were controversies & heroes. HT looks back at the moments & the men who defined the series.cricket Updated: Aug 14, 2007 01:41 IST
When the team left India's shores in mid-June, not many gave them a chance. Even eternal optimists thought India would do well to at least win a solitary Test. After all, India were believed to have too many chinks in their armour, the opening combine was not tried and tested, the bowling attack was inexperienced and worse, the hunt for a coach had degenerated into a bizarre fiasco.
India started well in Ireland against South Africa but the real cricket wasn't going to begin till July 19 at Lord's and after they were outplayed and saved only by the rain, people said this was only to be expected after their largely indifferent run of the last year.
Yet, even though Lord's was a collective failure of sorts, there were a few positives to build on. Both openers got fifties and the bowlers made an impact. But India had to turn things around fast. Things began to turn with Dravid, a perennial loser with the toss, calling it right at Trent Bridge. The bowlers grew up and graduated from a defensive unit to an effective one. They bowled fuller and got more movement in the air and off the track than their English counterparts. And more joy, the Indian batting, which had come on tour with a huge reputation (as always) to protect, began to justify that faith.
There's been a lot of talk about England's misfortune with injuries and how India were lucky to get away with playing a second string attack. But great teams don't really hide behind their weaknesses and being No. 2 in the ICC Test rankings, England should've had depth in their bowling department.
Coming back to the second Test, India got off to a flier thanks to some courageous batting from Jaffer and Karthik, who came up with the stand of the series and India managed to string together enough partnerships to bat England out of the game.Peter Moores would probably have to look at the way his team batted, not once did they cross 400 on good batting tracks. It also speaks volumes about how India's bowlers grew as a unit and complemented each other well in defensive and attacking moves. In fact, Kumble, the most experienced bowler and the one expected to do the most damage, played a defensive role at times. The Trent Bridge win brought life full circle.
Given that England were trailing, the batting track that was the Oval probably took India by surprise. Perhaps the fact that the English batting struggled to cope with the extra swing in Trent Bridge played a role in that decision and the Indians weren't complaining. They won a good toss again and proceeded to bat England out of the game and series, helped in part by an unlikely Kumble 100.
Now comes the iffy part, the decision not to enforce the follow-on and squandering a chance of a Test win. The spectre of history (and rare wins) and a worry over tiring bowlers probably contributed. And sometimes, it's better we look at the bigger picture.
The team that wasn't supposed to win a Test, won the series. Petty critics may point to luck, weather, umpires and English injuries, but India won in style with what was a comprehensive team effort, by veterans and rookies alike.
Looking ahead to an impossibly busy season with Pakistan up ahead at home and then, the world champions Down Under, this English summer would have given India vital confidence. The coming of age of the fast bowlers, will put less perennial pressure on Kumble. The opening conundrum seems to have been solved for the time being.
The major area of concern? Well, that none of the top six batsmen got a century. Tendulkar scored runs but looked a shadow of the Tendulkar we are used to seeing. Dravid didn't fire in a second successive series in a row (not counting Bangladesh), Laxman looked set for a big score but didn't convert and while Ganguly was sublime for the most and got a bad decision once, he didn't convert either. Against better bowling, multiple stands might not always be the answer and more than one big one will be needed. Still, a famous series win has been achieved. That really, is the bottomline.