A moral victory for the Indians
It looks like the bowling will continue to be a major headache for future selectors and team managements. There were no indications on this tour whatsoever that there would be an early end to this problem.
The England batsmen, generally known for their dour approach, made hay while the sun shone. In three of the four Tests, the hosts rattled up totals of 487, 301 for six declared, 617 and 515 in quick time against bowling that lacked both ideas and penetration. At the end of the four-Test series, three English batsmen had averages exceeding 100, two had averages in the fifties and three more had averages in the forties. As many as six centuries - two of them near double hundreds - and 12 halfcenturies made for a pretty high proportion of high scores.
These figures put the unimaginative bowling in proper perspective. To be sure, the bowling was not expected to work wonders and it is to their credit that they shared the glory with the batsmen in shaping the victory at Headingley. But then consistency is one quality that has been lacking in Indian bowling of late and this was proved again in England.
Anil Kumble again failed to deliver though his figures of 14 wickets at 36 apiece were an improvement over his recent figures abroad. Harbhajan Singh took credit for notching up the only five-wicket haul in the series for both sides but his figures of 12 wickets at an average of 34.16 clearly do not establish him as a match-winner outside India.
Zaheer Khan was one bowler who emerged with full credit though his figures of 11 wickets at 43.90 apiece fail to do him justice. He troubled the batsmen time and again with deceptive change of pace and disconcerting bounce and movement. There is little doubt that among the lot of young pace bowling hopefuls who emerged over the past couple of years, the left-armer has clearly won the race to be the spearhead and the logical and worthy successor to Javagal Srinath.
Ashish Nehra, it must be said, did not exactly grab the opportunity the tour presented him with both hands. He tended to be wayward in line and length and not unexpectedly could not hold his place in the side after the first two Tests.
Ajit Agarkar continued to be a puzzle. The lad possesses pace of the whippy kind and now and then had the batsmen on the hop with deliveries that rose sharply. But he was just as capable of sending the perfect half-volley or long hops that even a No 11 batsman can heartily thump to the boundary. He could perhaps do with another visit to the MRF Pace Academy in Chennai for a few tips from pace guru Dennis Lillee.
As far as the bowling was concerned, there were two surprises. One was that Sourav Ganguly bowled only 12 overs in the four Tests. It must not be forgotten that he headed the bowling figures for the Tests in 1996 and given this background, his reluctance to bowl himself was baffling.
The second was the tidy work done by Sanjay Bangar. The conditions might have suited his dibbly-dobbly style of bowling but full marks to the rather inexperienced bowler who maintained a steady line and length to head the bowling averages with four wickets at 29.25 apiece.
But if there were problems aplenty in the bowling department, the batting looked as healthy as ever except at the top of the order where only one half-century partnership was registered in six innings. Indian batting, particularly in the last few years, has been a sight for the gods. But even by these lofty standards, the batsmen exceeded expectations. Sure, they had one bad day at the office at Lord's but after that there was no stopping them.
The England bowlers felt the heat as in successive innings, the Indians ran up totals of 397, 357, 424 for eight, 628 for eight declared and 508 with batting of the royal class. The most heartening aspect was that the big three came off in spades. Never before have Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly performed in unison as they did in this series.
Tendulkar had to take second billing but he lived up to his reputation with a near double hundred and two other scores over the half century towards a tally of 401 runs at an average of 66.83. Ganguly was a picture of consistency with 351 runs at an average of 58.50 with a century and three fifties.
To complete the happy picture, the big three received more than adequate support from Virender Sehwag, VVS Laxman and Agarkar even if the blustering approach of Sehwag meant that he was liable to be caught at slip early in his innings. And Bangar's batting, built on first principles, came as a bonus. Indeed, the strength of the batting can be gauged by the fact that Shiv Sundar Das, in spite of getting 250 against Essex, could not force his way back into the side.
Both the wicket-keepers Ajay Ratra and Parthiv Patel performed commendably and as far as this department is concerned, it looks like the selectors will not have a problem for a long time.