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September 9, 2002
England and India must be content with a share of the spoils after the final npower Test was abandoned as a draw. Heavy rain throughout the fifth morning at the AMP Oval made a start impossible, and the puddles that had formed on the edge of the covered area told their own sad tale of a soggy end to England's longest-ever summer of international cricket.
For the record, England led India by 121 runs with all their second innings wickets in hand when the game was called off. In truth it would have needed a remarkable day's cricket for the game to end in anything other than stalemate, and the outcome that seemed likeliest for most of the match - and a rubber squared at one-all - was the eventual result.
It means that India have had marginally the better of England in their series of encounters at home and abroad over the past year. In the seven Test matches India came out on top 2-1, by virtue of their win at Chandigarh in the opening game of the series in India. And after drawing the one-day series there, India's unforgettable triumph in the NatWest final at Lord's also gives them the edge in the shorter form of the game.
The difference in quality between the two sides is slight. Both bat better than they bowl, especially India, who must surely have the best middle order in the world. But while they have yet to find an established opening pair, the emergence of Michael Vaughan as Marcus Trescothick's opening partner is the biggest single positive to emerge from England's summer. It will be fascinating to see how they fare in Australia. Form and fitness permitting, they could have the capacity to take their partnership from good to great.
The squad to tour Australia will be announced tomorrow. With those two joined by the established Butcher and the captain Hussain, Graham Thorpe's likely rehabilitation would cement exactly the line-up that Australia least want to meet. Andrew Flintoff is making steady progress after his hernia operation, and Alec Stewart's many supporters will be hoping that he can end his Ashes career with a performance in keeping with the magnificent service he has given to his country.
Meanwhile the bottom line on England's summer - played seven, won three, lost one and drawn three - is in keeping with the form England have shown, last summer's Ashes series excepted, for the past two and a half years. It tells of a competitive force, vying with several other teams for the title of second-best to the all-conquering Australians. By Christmas the first three Ashes Tests will have been played - what a ferment the Barmy Army would be in if England could still be in the series by then!
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