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India too good for Freddie's men

Only an Indian Rama can beat this Dravidian army, which is riding high on confidence, writes Atul Sondhi.

india Updated: Apr 11, 2006 13:51 IST
Atul Sondhi
Atul Sondhi

Just about a fortnight ago,the British Press was high on Andrew Flintoff, and went on to the absurd length of equating him with Lord Rama.

Never short on fancy words with ethnic connotation, the media went overboard believing that this English Rama had the fire-power to vanquish the Dravidian Army.After all, England had not only pricked the Indian pride in Mumbai, but also held an upper hand throughout the Test series.

But that was never meant to be. Heroics From Harbhajan in the first ODI and then some rearguard action from Raina in the second ensured that the momentum swung back to India, fast and quick.

And once the recent masters of ODIs had got the momentum back, the rest was just a formality. What exactly went wrong with England in the series.

Keys were lost

England started on the wrong foot and lost half the battle when key players like Trescothick and Vaughan had to leave the team even before the battle for Tests began.

Worse, they kept on temporarily losing one player or the other. To the visitors' credit, even with half-fit players they managed to square the series and held upper hand for longer periods in the first two ODIs.

But the extreme pressure exerted by India turned out to be telling in the end. Worse, bad stomach took toll of their best batsman Kevin Pietersen at Goa. That ensured that the series was settled in the minimum possible time - just 10 days.

Costly misses

In the first three matches of this series, England had dropped four chances against five by India. While they did not have to suffer in terms of individual runs, between 150 to 160 were lost by both the teams, but had to pay heavy penalty for their costly lapses in terms of partnerships.

The partnership that Raina had with Dhoni in the second ODI would have been nipped in the bud had Anderson held to the catch offered by Raina. India's latest sensation lived on to take his team through to a 2-0 lead, but the psychological blow was more telling.

Overburdened Flintoff

Will Flintoff go Ian Botham's way? Given the modern day pressures on a cricketer, it is tough for anall rounder to succeed as captain. More so when it is a question of too much too soon.

In a matter of few months, Andrew Flintoff's life has changed. From a promising all-rounder, he became a rage after his Ashes exploits against rampaging Australians which included one century and four half-centuries.

Flintoff in Ashes and three-match NatWest Challenge

 InningsRuns Avg Wkts
 Tests 10 402 40.20 24
 ODIs 2 92 46.00 2

The genius is now captain by default. Expectations perhaps have become too unrealistic, and players' support much less. It has played havoc with his form, and state of mind.

It was no surprise that he looked agitated and refused to sign autographs as the team headed for Goa.The smile has vanished, what remains is a sense of resignation. Looks like Flintoff is going through what once Brian Lara went through captaining a below par West Indies side.

Flawed preparations

Indian side heroes are more of thorn in the flesh than the main players. Even a celebrated player like Graham Gooch had lamented after Faridabad encounter that England probably had not planned for Raina. Now if Gooch is right, that must be a terrible goof-up.

In a team, which does not have some past greats, the replacements are not likely to be just stop-gap arrangements.

Any coach worth his salt would have taken into note the fact that Raina was instrumental in at least two of India's recent victories against their rivals Sri Lanka and Pakistan. If England had forgotten to lay a trap for Raina, well that had to be a costly lapse!

Makeshift, but deadly

India were expecting their pacemen to do all the initial damage while regular spinners were expected to rub it in in the middle overs. But the biggest surprise has been the performance of makeshift spinners in the line up.

England clearly were not prepared for them. The makeshift spinners like Yuvraj and Sehwag have not only accounted for seven wickets, but their Runs per over have been much less than the runs conceded by the pacemen.

Indian attack (in first four matches)

 Wickets Runs per over
 Regular spinners 14 3.95
 Makeshift spinners 7 4.40
 Pacemen 15 5.27

The heat is on

Playing in centers like Kochi in April is cruel, if you take out the Australians and the rest of the Subcontinent teams. Outfits like New Zealand and England are clearly not comfortable playing in this weather.

This English team looked more in surrender mood than the fighters they are in a more friendly weather and in more familiar terrain. May be day-night encounters at some more prominent centers would have helped.

Tail between the legs

The Indian tail wags, however the English tail goes between the legs at the very first threat perception. While the Indian tail outdid their more distinguished top order in the first three ODIs, the English tail failed to carry England home in the first, and help the team with substantial total in the second. And herein lies the tale of England's submission.

England's top four partnership vs Bottom Six

(Combined for Delhi, Faridabad and Kochi)

  Runs Avg per wicket
 Top Four 413 34.5
 Bottom Six 214 08.9

If you leave aside Goa, England bottom six partnerships have averaged just nine runs per wicket— the main reason they lost at Delhi and Faridabad.

Lessons of History

England team has never won a series of five matches or more after losing the first two matches. And at international level, after losing three matches, the best results has been achieved by Australia. But they did not win against the West Indies!

Best comebacks for a side 

(In a series of 6 or more matches after losing the first three)

 Team Opponent Season Matches Final Result
 West Indies Australia 2002-03 7 3-4
 India New Zealand 2002-03 7 2-5

England simply never had thedepth to take on the Indian challenge and reverse the tide of history at Kochi.

It they take one or two games out of the remaining matches, they can count themselves lucky, and the Indians as gracious hosts.

First Published: Apr 07, 2006 18:08 IST