An English summer that all of India would cherish
Going into the Oval Test, all the attention was firmly focused on the best batsman in the game today Sachin Tendulkar. The maestro was playing in his 100th Test and knowing him, he would have been hoping to score a hundred and lead India to their first series win outside the sub-continent in 16 years. But it was not to be.
Both teams decided to play to their strengths - India relied on their batsmen and their spinners while England placed their faith in their better-equipped fast bowlers. Hussain won the allimportant toss and like Ganguly at Leeds elected to bat.
His partner at the other end, Michael Vaughan, must be the most improved international batsman of the year; the hunger for runs that this lad now displays is quite remarkable. I watched him get out `handling the ball' in the Bangalore Test after he had made a classy 50-odd runs. I think that was probably the pivotal moment in the young man's Test career. Since then, he had a good tour of New Zealand before going on to become the dominant batsman of this English summer.
I am particularly impressed with Vaughan's technique and the ease with which he played both the Indian spinners. Warne against Vaughan might, in my opinion, turn out to be an interesting battle in the Ashes in Australia.
Nasser Hussain's captaincy, meanwhile, was enigmatic; a proven leader of men, his tactics, however, are sometimes too defensive. Probably this has a lot to do with the fact that too many English players - the bowlers in particular - get injured these days. It indeed is very difficult for any captain to come to terms with the abrupt changes in the composition of the bowling attack and the loss of your main strike bowlers, in particular.
The defensive mentality of the Englishmen actually benefited an Indian team which was eager to let the world know that they are professional enough to avoid succumbing to off-field pressures.
On a flat track, India gave away a lot of runs on the first day, before bouncing back to restrict England on the second day. A first innings score of 515 is daunting enough even for the best batting line-up in the world and consequently, Nasser Hussain must have hoped that his fast bowlers would run through the Indian batting and force them to follow on. But that did not happen as the pace bowlers ran into a wall.
Moving to the bowling, I felt that Harbhajan Singh bowled particularly well at The Oval on the second day to pick up five wickets in an innings. The two Indian spinners, however, found it difficult to be consistent. They would have had a better chance of dismissing the England side for a more modest total had they given the ball some more flight. What they must understand is that bowling flat on a placid batting track might stop the flow of runs but it also takes away your wicket-taking options. A spinner can only be attacking when he gets the ball to turn a lot.
All said, I am very proud of the boys who have done the country proud. They deserve all the accolades and support that they are being showered with. I must also congratulate Sourav Ganguly for his inspirational captaincy and also for his magnificent batting in the series.Even though the honours were shared at the end of the series, India can be proud of their achievements. India won the NatWest Trophy at Lord's and then put together spirited performance in the Test series after going 0-1down.
Before signing off, let me take the opportunity to wish the Indian team all the very best for the ICC Champions Trophy in Sri Lanka. I am sure that they can win the Trophy if they continue to play with the intensity and passion that they showed in England.