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Battling alien conditions, poor form and a disastrous record, England produced a performance to rank alongside their greatest of recent times
George Dobell in Mumbai
November 26, 2012
News : Cook lauds England's character
Report : England spinners humiliate India
Features : India's middle-order meltdown
News : Panesar the difference - Dhoni
Players/Officials: Alastair Cook | MS Dhoni | Monty Panesar | Kevin Pietersen | Graeme Swann | Sachin Tendulkar
Matches: India v England at Mumbai
Series/Tournaments: England tour of India
Like Francis Drake sailing into Cadiz harbour and "singeing the King of Spain's beard", England overcame all the odds to inflict this defeat upon India. To win so resoundingly in these conditions, on this pitch, having lost the first Test and the toss is a remarkable achievement. In years to come, this will be rated as one of England's finest overseas performances. If MS Dhoni or Sachin Tendulkar had beards, they would surely be smouldering.
Going into this game, England had only won one Test in India since winning the 1984-85 series and, excluding Bangladesh, just two of their last 23 Tests in Asia since the series victory in Sri Lanka of 2000-2001. They had lost five of the six Tests played in Asia this year and, having been defeated by nine wickets in Ahmedabad, had shown few signs of improvement. Their batting against spin, in particular, has been a recurring cause of pain.
Recognising England's frailties, India prepared accordingly. They stuffed their side with spinners, they demanded a used pitch that turned throughout and, as if that was not enough, they secured first use of it by winning the toss. Everything was stacked against England. Yet they prevailed.
Through the excellence of Alastair Cook and Kevin Pietersen with the bat and the excellence of their spinners, Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann, England achieved victory within 10 sessions of play. It was like Usain Bolt taking on Michael Phelps in the 100m freestyle and winning. Despite their recent reputation as home-track bullies, England have actually enjoyed some notable overseas victories in recent years: Adelaide, Colombo and Durban among them.
It was fitting that the result was sealed by MS Dhoni allowing the ball to go for four byes. For all the excellence of England, this India performance was littered by self-inflicted injury. The manner in which Zaheer Khan was dismissed on the fourth morning, swinging wildly against the spin, amounted to a dereliction of duty. Against an opponent who has been tortured by spin all year, India should have looked to eek out a 100-run lead. Instead they seemed to lack the will to grind it out. It may be worth noting that Dhoni has conceded 31 byes in this series. His opposite number, Matt Prior, has conceded seven.
The result sets up the series intriguingly. Before this game, all the pressure was on England. Much of it will now have transferred to an India side who were expected to win with ease. Instead of the media focusing on England's problems against spin, they will focus on India's issues: Sachin Tendulkar's decline; R Ashwin taking his wickets at 59.66 apiece; their increasing reliance on Cheteshwar Pujara. A few in the India dressing room - and not just players - are fighting for their careers.
|By winning in such conditions, England should have proved to themselves that they can overcome the challenges presented by good-quality spin bowling in Asian conditions.|
Perhaps attention will also turn to the umpiring. Aleem Dar, in particular, has earned the right to patience and respect through years of excellence. But there is no getting away from the fact that there have been several awful decisions in this series. The bat-pad decision against Zaheer Khan in the first innings was embarrassing; the failure to see that Pragyan Ohja had hit the ball to backward short-leg in the second was worse. Sooner or later, a Test will be ruined by such errors. To allow television viewers across the world to see these errors while the umpires are denied such help is simply perverse and does nothing for the credibility of the sport.
It would be wrong for England to conclude they have resolved their issues against spin, though. While they should be encouraged by successive totals of 400, their joy will be tempered in the knowledge that the bounce available in Mumbai played into their hands. Panesar in particular bowled around 4mph faster than the Indian spinners, gained extra bounce and benefited from natural variation when the ball skidded on. On slow, low pitches, those benefits will vanish.
But whatever surface awaits in Kolkata and Nagpur, it can be guaranteed that England will field their two specialist spinners. Not since 1958, when Jim Laker and Tony Lock shared 19 wickets at Leeds, have England spinners taken such a haul in a Test. It was a performance that leaves India's tactic of preparing turning tracks in tatters. They can no longer presume that their batsmen will deal with the pitches better. Panesar, with his best Test figures of 11 for 210, has now claimed four five-wicket hauls in his last four Tests. He may be the best, and most unfortunate, understudy in cricket.
It is worth remembering where Swann and Panesar learned their cricket. Northamptonshire are currently struggling on and off the pitch and are sometimes used as an example of the sort of first-class county that could be amalgamated into a larger neighbour. Hopefully the success of two former players will remind the sceptics of the huge contribution such counties make to English cricket.
The pair deserved this success. The fact that England had never previously won a Test in which they played together has often be used against them, but it is misleading. Swann and Panesar bowled England into match-winning positions in the UAE only to see their batsmen squander the chance of victory.
And the batting remains the main area of concern for England in this series. The order still looks overly reliant on Alastair Cook, Kevin Pietersen and Prior; the new catching cordon - though better in the second innings - remains a work in progress; and Stuart Broad, almost irrelevant in this game, is surely on the verge of being dropped should Steven Finn have recovered in time for the third Test.
But for now, England can rejoice in a fine performance. By winning in such conditions, England should have proved to themselves that they can overcome the challenges presented by good-quality spin bowling in Asian conditions. They should, at last, have banished the demons of the UAE.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: George Dobell
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