England v India, 4th npower Test, The Oval, 5th day August 22, 2011

Unyielding England secure perfect finish

India fought as hard on the final day at The Oval has they had at any time on this tour, but ultimately an unrelenting England secured a telling series whitewash

Perhaps the threat of humiliation had shaken them out of their torpor, or perhaps the life in The Oval surface had been sucked away over the course of five days, but whatever the reason, India's fighting qualities were as visible in the last two days of the series as they had been at any stage of the contest. For as long as Sachin Tendulkar and the improbably fluent Amit Mishra were in harness, a draw was not only on the cards, but those cards were lying face up on the table, plain for all to see.

And yet, despite the "frustration" that Andrew Strauss admitted had begun to set in for England's bowlers, India's resistance proved futile in the end. If England are not yet as good as their No. 1 ranking would imply - and a winter in the subcontinent will go a long way to determining that issue - then the team's capacity to raise their game from a standing start bears many of the necessary ingredients for greatness.

Just as at Trent Bridge, when Stuart Broad's hat-trick transformed the agenda of the summer, a promising Indian innings was concluded in a car-wreck of cheap dismissals. From 262 for 3 - and the very real prospect of salvation - they crashed to 283 all out in little more than an hour, so that in the final analysis of the series they still were not able to post a single total in excess of 300. "A gradual erosion of their confidence and a gradual increase of our confidence has been the difference between the sides," Strauss said at the close.

Steve Waugh christened this "mental disintegration", and though that term went on to become synonymous with sledging, England's triumph in this series has reawakened the art in its truest sense. Certainly, they are not the quietest outfit in the field: James Anderson is a renowned gobshite when he's in the zone, Graeme Swann was chuntering to everyone within earshot, umpires included, during England's wicketless morning session, while the concussed Gautam Gambhir was likened to Mel Gibson's "Braveheart" by the close catchers who greeted his belated arrival.

But of far more significance than any verbal baiting is the manner in which England fried their opponents' resolve through the unyielding diligence of their cricket. Their batsmen took their starts and made them into big finishes, trusting in the fact that long hard days of yakka would wear the Indian bowlers down and create opportunities for truly vast scores.

Then, in turn, those same players who'd been done to a turn in the field, would be hounded relentlessly when their own turn came to bat, knowing that, in the "you miss, I hit" logic of Brian Statham, their first mistake would be their last. England's attack is not the most outrageously talented of all time, nor the quickest, nor the nastiest. But it is as unrelenting as a terrier on a postman's trouser-leg, and it's never too long before the rips in the fabric start showing.

"If you can get to a stage halfway through the Test match where one side is really struggling just to salvage a draw, then often you can go ahead and win very comfortably," Strauss said. "But what did exceed expectations was how well our individuals played - the number of our batsmen who got big scores, and the number of bowlers who stuck their hands up at different times. It was very impressive, and a good springboard for further success."

The knowledge of the damage that they were able to inflict became self-perpetuating, and in a pleasing portent of the job that lies ahead in the winter, the man who eventually cracked India's last vestiges of resolve was none other than the offspinner Swann. On the only pitch that suited him all series, his nine wickets in the match were more than double his previous tally of four, and served as a reminder that, even within the confines of a four-man attack, England possess bowlers for all occasions.

"It was fantastic to see Swann coming through with his wickets, but also the way the seamers backed him up. It was another very professional performance," Strauss said. "The wickets have been more responsive to seam bowling so this was the first one that helped him out, but he had to toil pretty hard; certainly when the ball got softer and older it was hard work for him as well."

The toil to which England were subjected was, in part, a consequence of their own success. Whereas India's bowlers had been taken into their third, fourth and fifth spells purely through the relentlessness of England's batting, the loss of nearly a whole day's play to the weather obliged Strauss to enforce the follow-on - an increasingly anachronistic option in the quicker modern game, and one that Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman memorably put out of fashion in Kolkata a decade ago.

England's attack is not the most outrageously talented of all time, nor the quickest, nor the nastiest. But it is as unrelenting as a terrier on a postman's trouser-leg, and it's never too long before the rips in the fabric start showing

All things being equal, Strauss would undoubtedly have preferred a quick second-innings thrash to allow his bowlers a break, before setting India a target of 550-odd in four-and-a-half sessions. Instead, a team that already had 94 overs in its legs was pushed back out for what proved to be 91 more. It's a tribute to their superior levels of fitness, and also their desire to wrap up the series as they had started it, that they stormed through in the closing stages, before India could even set them a token run-chase.

"I think there's quite a lot of fatigue actually, it's been a long four Test matches," Strauss said. "I think we've had to put a lot into it and certainly in this game; arriving here having won the series already, it was a slightly different test for us as a side. There is that temptation to take your foot off the gas a little bit, but in actual fact we probably had to work harder for this one than any of the others, because we had to spend so long in the field."

The race for the Mace has been run, and England's stated ambition has been achieved, but there's no evidence whatsoever that they intend to let up their intensity. Strauss himself will not play for England again until they land in the UAE in the New Year, but after a month of county duty with Middlesex and a well-deserved break from the grind, he'll be back on the job soon enough, planning his strategies with Andy Flower, and aiming to take a very good team towards greatness.

"Coming into this game 3-0 up, I think we were very motivated by the idea of making it 4-0," he said. "We were confident, we felt we had the ability to win this final game, but we had to dig deep again. And that's what I'm most proud about; the guys were prepared to do that even when they didn't really have to. I think that bodes well for the future.

"Rightly, I think we should celebrate the fact that we've had a fantastic Test match summer, but it's the nature of international cricket that you're always looking forward to the next challenge. The greatest pitfall is that feeling that you've done it all, therefore you're not willing to put in the hard work. But I'd be very disappointed if we fell into that trap, it's not what we're about as a unit. If there are any signs of it, it's important to nip it in the bud."

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Srinivas on August 25, 2011, 12:08 GMT

    @RandyOZ, absolutely. As long as Test Cricket is alive with SA bouncing out England and England routing Australia and Australia paying back in the same coin to England; fascinating fights; I myself wouldn't keep sobbing the whole day that Indian Test Cricket has died due to IPL; because I see the bigger picture surrounding the IPL. I hope the people of India don't fall into this unsolicited demonisation of IPL and stop backing it. Test Cricket was there even before India became a part of it. Test Cricket will be alive even after Indian Test Cricket dies. So, one has to leave IPL to do what it does best, generating revenue for people across the globe. Let's keep it simple and enjoy Test Cricket and its fascinating twists and turns whether it comes from Steyn or Swann; Bell or Dravid; KP or Ponting....Indian Test Cricket and ODIs are important for India because without them IPL will lose its crowd pulling power. I'm worried about Indian Test Cricket because I don't want IPL to die.

  • Srinivas on August 25, 2011, 2:36 GMT

    @danmcb, you don't have to doubt my stand. I'm very clear about my stand ever since the day I learnt some stories about poor vendors on the curbsides during IPL. My stand will be the same. Whichever format generates more revenue for India should not die though Test Cricket is the format that I love THE MOST. India are world champions in the world for ODIs. For record, let me tell you that I don't mind even if ODIs die at the expense of a bigger business. If tests become the biggest business, let IPL die. No problem at all. I'm sure the business tycoons are not morons to let a billion dollar business die just because Test Cricket is the purest and that there is some heritage in some parts of the world. I love test cricket because I can imagine what it takes to be a test cricketer eventhough I don't have any such emotional grandpa-grandson stories. But there has to be semblance of balance between our personal emotions and the needs of life. Sour Grapes? You couldn't be so serious man!

  • Randolph on August 25, 2011, 1:40 GMT

    @Dravid_Gravitas and wombats5, don't worry guyes test cricket is not dying in England and Australia. I also think South Africa appear to be putting tests first. For English and Oz fans the Ashes is by far the biggest event on the cricket calendar (backed up by the TV audiences and number of sold out matches) and this is due to the history of the event, and the dislike between the two countries (but not hatred). I have been to many Ashes matches in Oz and the general feeling in the crowd if one of anticipation but also plenty of banter between the two groups of supporters. This leads to a mouth watering atmosphere not replicated in any other test match I have been to. Test cricket is seen as the pinnacle. While for players like Kumar, Mahela, Tendulkar, Dravid, etc I believe for them it is the pinnacle too, it appears as though there is an underlying problem in the sub-continent with players not putting their main energy and focus into test match cricket, and the results prove it.

  • Martin on August 24, 2011, 21:11 GMT

    @Dravid_Gravitas; Ok. I've spent the whole day thinking about what you have said. I've read your posts on other conversations about IPL bringing wealth down through onto the streets of India. I hope you read what I say here and I hope cricinfo publish (they don't always). I agree with 95% of what you say about the undoubted good things that IPL is doing for the people of India. I have seen for myself how things are there. I have seen and understand the passion the people have for their cricket heroes - it's volcanic. I'm delighted that the people of India are benefitting from the IPL cash - I really am. But here's my thing - pure cricket is not meant to be a means of wealth re-distribution. Pure cricket is to be worshipped for it's own sake - because it's beautiful and part of our souls, not because it helps people on the street. This is what I believe. Meanwhile a way has to be found to incorporate the socially desirable outcomes you describe with the high calling of pure cricket.

  • Gareth on August 24, 2011, 12:44 GMT

    @Werner Geyer Fair point on the lack of South African action in recent times, but, as far as I understand them, the rankings take into account how many Tests a team plays. The rating of 125 that England now has to claim the number 1 spot is calculated by the number of performance points won (4,634) divided by the number of games played (37). I have no idea how you get performance points...!

  • Tom on August 24, 2011, 6:55 GMT

    @Dravid_Gravitas, What a load of BS, the IPL is the dying breed here, tv audiences way down, supporters will never truly have a connection with a Mickey Mouse franchise system that turns over players at such a ridiculous rate!

  • Amjad on August 24, 2011, 6:41 GMT

    Ladies and Gents may I have your attention please: The Funeral of our Dear Departed "The Indian Test Cricket" will be held at Wankhade Statium in Mumbai on Sunday Evening. All the fans and well wishers are hereby invited. There is no Formal Dress code for the event so feel free to wear anything you like. HEHEHHEHEHEHE

  • Oz on August 24, 2011, 5:29 GMT

    STOP GLOATING. Try winning on pitches that are not doctored. INDIA HAVE WON THE WORLD CUP TWICE. How many times have England won?

  • Andrew on August 24, 2011, 5:05 GMT

    @rustin, I do agree that Zaheer is a fine bowler, but he needs support. All great bowlers need this support. His influence would have reduced the margin for sure, but India would still have been well beaten.

  • Nat on August 24, 2011, 2:23 GMT

    Congrats England. Well played. As for as India, it is time to fire the selection committee and appoint someone who recently played cricket with this team to lead the panel - not sure of their interest and availability - but Sourav and Kumble are obvious choices to lead the panel. On BCCI, what can I say. They will need to prepare at least 3 decent "practice" pitches that closely simulate Aus, SA conditions. Not sure if anyone in the world will get the amount of swing on offer in England (possibly Ireland), so the least one can do is to get classes from the likes of Dravid and Gavaskar on how to stay at the wicket, how to concentrate, and what to hit and most importantly what to leave. As for as bowling, it is time BCCI invest in 2 full-time academies (one for pace and the other for spin) and institute scholarships and merit to promote and nurture talent than simply cherry picking at random. As for as IPL the criteria is 30+ (for current players on duty).

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