Eng v Ind, 3rd npower Test, Edgbaston, 4th day August 13, 2011

England belong at the top

England will have to take their winning game to the subcontinent to tick off a crucial box, but they have a few ingredients that suggest their grip on the top ranking will be firmer than India's

The only lament for the supporters of English cricket at this moment of glory would be that it was utterly devalued by the abjectness of the opposition. The matter got so desperate on the fourth day that they joined the Indian fans in chanting Praveen Kumar's name as he threw some meaty punches and warmly applauded him back to the dressing-room after his dismissal. No one who had paid for a seat would have wished to be so emphatically denied of a contest.

Of course England cannot be held to account for the feebleness of their opponents. They dealt with what was presented to them to with full force and have now seized the No. 1 ranking with the swagger of a team that belongs. As India have been reminded so painfully on this tour, the top rank on the ICC table doesn't necessarily translate to indisputable supremacy but, by administering India the mightiest of routs, England have built the most compelling of cases.

It is a moment of huge significance for English cricket because their success hasn't arrived merely by accident or by the happy coincidence of a burst of talent. It has been engineered through years of planning and building and the meticulous construction of a template that made success inevitable.

It can be argued that the best of England met the worst of India in this series. But as India's resistance dissolved into nothingness on the fourth morning, so did the grounds for excuses. Batting on a pitch that yielded England 710 runs, India - fielding their best possible batting line-up - were reduced to 130 for 7.

The Indian task was hopeless to start with but in many ways it offered their batsmen a last shot at redemption. In one hour of magnificent swing bowling, James Anderson put the final stamp on the comprehensive superiority of England's bowlers over India's batsmen. It became abundantly clear in that hour, if it hadn't been apparent already, that no matter how well India had prepared, and how mentally and physically fresh they were, England would still have prevailed. Not once in their climb to the top had India's batsmen encountered a bowling unit so skillful and so persistently relentless.

It is futile to go on droning about the ill luck with injury that first removed Zaheer Khan and then Harbhajan Singh. England lost Chris Tremlett after the first Test and Jonathan Trott during the second and for the third and yet grew stronger by the Test. Ian Bell took the No. 3 spot at Edgbaston and made a hundred, and Tim Bresnan has made such an impact that Tremlett will struggle to regain his place in the playing XI. Teams are also judged by their depth; India found themselves hopelessly exposed.

It is futile now to look back on those two post-tea sessions in the second Test at Trent Bridge that decisively tilted the series England's way. Test matches are rarely won by winning only a couple of sessions. The striking difference between the two sides was that India were never able to hold their advantage and England always found the means to retrieve a lost session.

Any comparison with the great teams of the past would be premature - and England will have to take their winning game to the subcontinent to tick off a crucial box - but they have a few ingredients that suggest their grip on the top ranking will be firmer than India's: the strongest and most versatile bowling attack in the world currently; a batting line-up that combines solidity at the top with flair at the bottom; a strong number seven and the best tail in the world; and the belief, instilled by performances, that no cause is lost until it is lost. Most crucially, they are a relatively young team with players yet to hit the peak of their careers.

India's hold over the No 1 ranking was always tenuous. Unlike England, their climb to the top was driven not by the system but by the talent and passion of a group of extraordinary cricketers. It was sustained not, as it is usually the case with dominant Test teams, by a group of match-winning bowlers, but by the ability of a once-in-lifetime batting line-up. The wins were achieved by a few memorable bowling performances, but the batsmen ensured that not many Tests were lost.

The reason why the air of despondency is so thick around Indian cricket in the aftermath of their Birmingham defeat - their third biggest in history and the biggest since 1974 at Lord's when they were bowled out for 42 - is that their batting has not, in the past ten years, been so embarrassing over a period of six innings. As they slumped to 56 for 4 in the morning session today, there was a real danger that they would be beaten by Alastair Cook alone. And when the last wicket fell midway through the second session, someone wondered if they should be granted a third innings for the sake of the 8000 spectators who had shown their faith by buying non-refundable tickets for the final day at 15 pounds each.

The scary part for the Indian fan is that the golden age of Indian cricket might have already passed. The batting isn't likely to grow stronger in the immediate future. If anything, it will grow progressively weak as the greats start departing. The Indian cricket administration has done a spectacular job harnessing the passion of the Indian fans to become the richest, and consequently, the most powerful cricket body in the world. But a vision for sporting excellence has rarely been a boardroom agenda. During this Test, Gautam Gambhir and MS Dhoni were asked about the effect of excessive cricket on the mental and physical readiness of the team. Both refused to offer direct answers. Gambhir said it was a question for the BCCI. Dhoni offered no comments, saying that he didn't want to start a controversy. What they didn't say said enough.

It is no shame to lose to a team that has been decidedly superior. What should hurt Indian cricket is that there hasn't even been the pretence of a contest. It's hard to recall a fall from grace so dramatic, so swift and so complete. While it shouldn't obscure what this team has achieved over the past decade, it's the next ten years that Indian cricket should worry about. Something could still come out of this if the lessons from the wreckage were absorbed.

Sambit Bal is the editor of ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on August 16, 2011, 12:28 GMT

    Ian Bell took the no. 3 spot at Trent Bridge and scored a hundred, not at Edgbaston.

    (Sorry if someone else has already pointed this out.)

  • Martin on August 16, 2011, 9:31 GMT

    @Pranav Kidambi. Amazing comments! Absolutely amazing! "On the other hand England aren't exactly the greatest side in the world either....There is no clear winner in world cricket today". No clear winner!!!??? So, England drawing the series recently in SA, beating Aus over here then thrashing them with 3 Innings defeats in Aus, thrashing PAK, SL and now THRASHING "current number one team" india. No clear winner? Are you sure? But the best one is; "Pontings Australia..... they dominated forever". History book says you are wrong. Pontings Australia lost 3 series out of 4 to England - please explain how this is "dominating". Dominating means when you win. Ponting did a lot of losing. Stick to the facts my friend.

  • Dummy4 on August 16, 2011, 8:02 GMT

    @bobmartin, please ignore the misinformed comments from some of the Indian fans. For me, what England have done here is enough proof that they belong at the top. In my memory, I have never seen a English team lose so badly, as this Indian team, during any of the series played in India. Even the series way back in 1993, England were not so totally outplayed...

  • Bob on August 16, 2011, 6:59 GMT

    @Dravid_Gravitas... You say England have got to travel and prove themselves on the sub-continent. Of course, it goes without saying, that if England fail then they will lose their number one ranking, just like India have done on their tour here. You also talk about the different skill sets required for playing on "away" wickets. All teams have to cope with the conditions when they travel, so in that respect it's no different for England than it has been for India on this tour where their much vaunted millionaire batting line up have failed abysmally. I'm willing to bet that England won't cop the same sort of thrashing on their next tour to India.

  • Dummy4 on August 16, 2011, 3:16 GMT

    First of all Congratulations to the English team. By winning the series so emphatically, they have made it very clear as to who is the No 1 team. Though the ranking might say something else, I do not see India worthy of occupying the no 2 position. FYI, I am an Indian

  • Srinivas on August 16, 2011, 1:46 GMT

    @bobmartin, at least you agree that we were Mighty! Thanks for agreeing ;). England are the deserving #1. They don't need anybody's certificate. But they've got to prove that they can travel well to the sub-continent and play well on the spin friendly tracks and not just on the pace friendly tracks in England and Australia. You need a different skill set to succeed on the challenging spin tracks on the sub-continent. We just want to see if English have that skill set in them instead of brushing aside those tracks as 'batsmen friendly' dead tracks. And BTW, they are not dead tracks by any stretch of imagination. India has done pretty well (if not great) on pitches that are alien to them, thanks to the Legends Dravid, Sachin and VVS who have a well-balanced skill sets for various conditions. I hope it isn't too much to expect the same from the #1 team ;)

  • Andrew on August 16, 2011, 0:36 GMT

    Keep talking. You've just been thrashed.

  • Dummy4 on August 15, 2011, 23:53 GMT

    @SaravananIsTheBest England drew with India in the tour before last (2005/6). I'd say that was respectable.

  • Sarav on August 15, 2011, 21:51 GMT

    @Dravid_gravitas, Well said mate. @All_who_against_him, if you count sub-continents pitches are batsman friendly, why not ENG couldnt manage a RESPECTFUL tour anytime in past ?? Do they forget cricket every time they hit there, expecting a justifiable answer if at all you;ve one ;)

  • Bob on August 15, 2011, 20:14 GMT

    You Indian fans can keep trying to belittle the England achievement as much as you like, but you can't alter the facts no matter how much they hurt. And the more you do it, the more we England fans will gloat... You were so high and mighty before the first test about how India would sweep all before them. If you'd been a bit more humble, we might have been a little more sympathetic to your plight.. However you weren't.. you were so cocky that you deserve everything that comes your way. And even though you've been well and truly trounced, your conceit is beyond bounds. So it's worth pointing out, just to rub another kilo of salt into your wounds, that should you lose the final test, you could find yourself at number three in the ICC rankings... Oh..how the mighty have fallen !!!

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