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July 25, 2011
There was no shortage of superlatives as England basked in the glow of their 196-run victory at Lord's with Andrew Strauss terming their success at taking 20 wickets a near-perfect effort and calling Kevin Pietersen's match-defining double hundred one of the finest innings he has seen. Beating the world No. 1 side can have that effect.
Strauss's comments are hard to argue with. Except for an unusually high number of dropped catches - the captain himself was responsible for two, including missing Sachin Tendulkar today - there were few holes to pick in England's complete performance. Some might mention about the top-order wobble in the second innings, yet the way Matt Prior led the stirring recovery only went to highlight the belief this team has.
The game was set up by Pietersen and consolidated by Prior, but England's bowlers will be rightly lauded for extracting India twice. The pitch offered a little more than recent surfaces here, yet it wasn't one that warranted such a star-studded line-up being removed for less than 300 twice. Given the pre-match talk, Stuart Broad has understandably grabbed the attention but Chris Tremlett - who Strauss called the "real deal" after he troubled all the batsmen - was colossal in both innings and James Anderson sparked into life on the final day with devastating effect by claiming 5 for 65, including Tendulkar for the sixth time in Tests.
"I think over the two innings that was as close to the perfect bowling performance we've had in the last two years and that is saying a lot because we have had a lot of exceptional performances," Strauss said. "It was an outstanding effort by the whole attack over five days. You do have to work hard for your wickets here and I think it showed the value of persistent lines and lengths. That's the only way of taking wickets here and I think we did that brilliantly."
Broad's Test future was on the line coming into this match. He was given a show of confidence by being preferred to Tim Bresnan but had to repay the faith. The end product was his finest performance in an England shirt, seven wickets in the match and an unbeaten 74, eclipsing that of The Oval in 2009 because the pitch offered him less help.
"It was outstanding," Strauss said. "When your place in the side is called into question it's a big test of character as much as anything. Stuart showed immense character over five days. He bowled very well and his second-innings 70 was crucial to the outcome of the game. He showed his class and it was a timely reminder to everyone of what a great talent he is."
Broad could easily have been Man of the Match, especially given his half-century, but England set up their victory by surviving the truncated first day just two wickets down then building a commanding 474 as the sun began to shine. Pietersen's unbeaten 202 was reward for battling through the tough conditions.
"That first innings total was a magnificent performance and Kevin was mainly responsible for that," Strauss said. "That was one of the great innings I've seen since being involved, in very difficult circumstances. He had to be smart in the way be played their seamers, he had to graft and then when we had the opportunity to attack, he attacked."
With the No. 1 spot there for the taking if England win the series by two clear Tests, comparisons are never far away with the last time they challenged for the crown in 2005. On that occasion they faded before being able to overtake Australia, but before this match Strauss was bullish that his team are now ready for the mantle and this result has supported his belief.
"It's a pretty worthless pursuit comparing teams, but what I like is that there are no obvious weaknesses in our team as was the case in 2005," he said. "We have a good mix of youthful experience, guys who are reasonably young but quite experienced now and who know their role in the side. It's a good recipe for success but doesn't guarantee you anything next time you play."
That next time will be in four days at Trent Bridge and England have named an unchanged 12-man squad with Bresnan retaining his place. Tremlett suffered a small amount of pain in his hamstring during Lord's, but didn't appear troubled on the final day during any of his spells. India can expect another tough examination; Nottingham often provides a pitch that helps the pace bowlers.
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