September 10, 2011

English cricket

Don't rain on England's parade


From Alex Braae, New Zealand

England celebrate their 196-run win, England v India, 1st Test, Lord's, 5th day, July 25, 2011
Is there something unworthy about a No. 1 side being solid and dependable, at the expense of being supremely and unpredictably talented  © Getty Images


England are the deserving world leaders of test cricket. Such a simple sentence, but one that has been uttered so infrequently in the wake of their demolition of India. Why is this? Perhaps it has something to do with the way this England side are seen to be, as Andrew Miller put it "ruthlessly competent". For some reason, this appears to be something of a denigration as well as a plaudit, to be competent implies that a spark of genius or greatness is missing.

England's bowlers put the ball in the right areas, nick batsmen out in the slips and trap them LBW, without creating extraordinary moments or unplayable deliveries. Their batsmen play solid, percentage cricket, without being the swashbuckling adventurers seen in recent years in India's team. The hallmark of England's batting is the flick to midwicket for a single. But what is wrong with this?

There is a sense among cricket commentators that there is something unworthy about a No. 1 side being solid and dependable, at the expense of being supremely and unpredictably talented. We like to think of Test cricket as being the ultimate long-form sport, yet the heroes of the game are those who turn a match in 20 minutes of magic. Sehwag scoring a century before lunch. Steyn ripping out the top order. This is absolutely not what cricket is really about, something that this England side has recognised. When we think of the last great Australian side, the first name to come to mind is Shane Warne, the bowler who has been hit for the most sixes in Test cricket, but who also had the potential to win any game on the fifth day.

The men who deserve the credit from that team though are the likes of Steve Waugh or Glenn McGrath, the real engines of that winning side. McGrath would put the ball on the right spot for days on end. Waugh would square his jaw and will himself through adversity. In short, they were winners. This England team is a side full of winners. They deserve to be No. 1 because they understand exactly what winning in the longest sport entails.

The reason India looked so abject in this series was simple, England had the firmer hand and steelier gaze. Let's not forget, this Indian side contained players who were truly spectacular, players who have a reputation for explosive brilliance. However, they couldn't handle the pressure of a side who came at them relentlessly day after day.

India worked hard on day 1 of the first Test, and so did England. With Zaheer, Sharma, and Kumar all bowling well, the series appeared to be reasonably even. It was an illusion. England showed straight away why they would not lose. They gritted their way through a tough day, and backed up quickly enough to wrench the game out of India's grasp over the next few days. Much has been made of India's ability to bounce back, but the series was in truth already over.

The No. 1 Test side should be the team which takes the longest amount of pressure before buckling. Without a doubt, the team that best fits this bill is currently England. English fans would do well to enjoy this period, it can't last forever. In the meantime though, cricket fans worldwide should salute a team who define test cricket, through their grit, resolve and perseverance.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by Mark on (September 27, 2011, 18:11 GMT)

Hi Alex Braae, excellent article. My thoughts exactly. England had a great summer. England didn't allow India's highly talented cricketers play their natural game. England put constant pressure especially England's bowlers who bowled exceptional disciplined line and legnth deliveries all Summer putting it on a six pence every time. India couldn't handled that kind of pressure, and were badly exposed. As you rightly say by the fifth day of the first test. The test series was as good as over. Well done England! Many Many congratulations to them. Enjoy World Test Champion status for now. They have far exceeded their fans expectations.

Posted by Sambit Behura on (September 21, 2011, 10:06 GMT)

True its the Steve Waughs,the Mcgraths,the Warnes who are the real heroes of the games.Hitting a quickfire century or getting a 5 wicket haul by mopping the tail isnt what test cricket is all about.Its about standing on the crease leaving good balls during adversities,its about balling on and on on same line and length before getting an edge when a batsman is batting at 100,its about trapping the batsman by slipping in an occcasional googly amidst conventional leg breaks.A Sehwag can bail you out on his day by a miraculous century but a Dravid or a Laxman would bat for life everyday in any situation.The are the real deserving heroes.

Posted by david on (September 20, 2011, 17:24 GMT)

iv no idea why every time england are called # 1 the australian and west indies great teams of the past are brought up. england have been named #1 by whatever way the icc decided that process would take. india had that title,but by england beating them they took it. if england get results they stay top. will they at the end of the period of been top, be called in the same breath as those 2 teams iv no idea. but please let us enjoy been top. its you other teams that have got to up your game.dpk

Posted by Akhil on (September 17, 2011, 2:15 GMT)

Folks,may i also add one comment from my end,Cricket is a game of survival. The strongest & the best can flourish,the weaker sides eventually perish. Time is one deciding factor.may time decide the future of world cricket,& which team or rather teams,will dominate it!

Posted by Andrew on (September 15, 2011, 13:51 GMT)

I cannot believe how many times I've heard the excuse that india lost because Zaheer was injured. Talk about desperately hanging on to a thread of false hope. He's not that good. He is a good bowler, but bowlers better than him couldn't have turned that series around. England were the better side by some margin and would have won this series in India.

Posted by Alex Braae on (September 14, 2011, 10:09 GMT)

Thank you all for the comments, interesting how some of them stress the 'team' aspect of England's effort, and I agree with that, though perhaps didn't give this enough credit in the article. And Enigma, yes, Khan was injured, as was Sehwag, but I'll bet you $20 that England will tour the subcontinent and play out boring draws against all and sundry. (but not lose)

Posted by Byrappa Gopinath on (September 13, 2011, 14:57 GMT)

Thank you Alex Braae for a good analysis of the England - India series Test matches.In my opinion the present England team(Different combination for Tests/ODI/T20) is the strongest among the Cricket playing nations. The team consists of highly talented and experinced players and a wellknit one. The batsmen have played very well at all times and the experienced fast bowlers were effective right from the beginning. England piled up huge scores in the Test Series and the bowlers were effective in getting out the top order Indian batsmen. The Indian top order failed miserably time and again and bowlers were hit for centuries!

The experienced talented batsmen Tendulkar, V.V.S.Laxman failed miserably against the pace attack of England.The inexperienced Indian pace bowlers were not effective. Spinners bowled badly.Overall it was a total failure on all fronts! No excuse please!!

England is No 1 in ICC Test Cricket and also winners of ICC T20 World Cup 2010.

Posted by Rishav on (September 13, 2011, 12:03 GMT)

Well, everyone has their own point of view and opinion.I remember when India went on top of the table that the site was bombarded with comments that they would not even manage to stay there a month, but they remained on top for almost 2 years. Personally, I think the jury is still out on the quality of this english side which has already been hailed as unstoppable. No doubt they have potential, but they are yet to perform in conditions alien to home. If merely doing well in home tests was all that meant to be No.1, then Sri Lanka too would be called that during the 2000-2010. A bit too early to pass any judgements on them.

Posted by Paul on (September 13, 2011, 9:50 GMT)

I couldnt agree more. As an Englishman there is a strange feeling of reticence to celebrate this cricket team too loudly, even after 30 years of waiting for England to be the best in the world. Perhaps that is due to ingrained pessimism after all the years of mediocrity, but India had years of mediocrity as well and have been able to boast of their team loudly in recent years.

Whatever the reasons, it is hard to denigrate a side that doesn't just beat opponents, but crushes them. That is the mark of all very, very good sides. Whether or not this England team go on to be regarded as an "All Time Great" Test side will depend on their results over the next few years. But nothing can detract from the dominating performances of the past 9 months, in not just beating Australia away and India at home, but destroying them to a degree that no English cricket lover has ever experienced before.

Posted by George on (September 13, 2011, 7:07 GMT)

You're right, it can't last forever, but we've had to wait an very long time for an England side to play so consistently well. Believe me, those of us who sat through the dark ages of 1987-99 are lapping up every minute of this!

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