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England's anticipated victory in Kolkata carries a serious message that their opponents should heed
George Dobell in Kolkata
December 8, 2012
Such will be the wailing and gnashing of teeth of the defeated that it would be easy to overlook the performance of the anticipated victor in Kolkata. If it had not been for their victory in Mumbai this might be hailed as one of England's greatest overseas performances. As it is, it is likely to be remembered only as their best in a week.
This has been a highly impressive display. For England to come to a country where their record is so poor and still to win would be a mighty achievement.
They had won one of their previous 12 Tests in India before this tour, their debacle against Pakistan's spinners in the UAE had extended a run of failure in Asia against all but Bangladesh that stretched back to the start of the century, they lost the first Test heavily and a new Test captain has lost the toss in all three Tests played on pitches designed to help the opposition.
If they clinch the series in Nagpur - and it would take a strong reversal of fortune to deny them - it must be rated among their greatest series victories.
The obvious architects of the success to date have been Alastair Cook, Kevin Pietersen and Monty Panesar. But there have been other valuable contributors: Matt Prior has produced several fine innings and kept far better than his opposite number; James Anderson has bowled with discipline when the pitch has given him nothing and with incision when presented with any help; Nick Compton has ensured solid starts to most innings and Graeme Swann has bowled splendidly.
But one of the more encouraging aspects of this performance from an England perspective is that there should be more to come. Panesar, struggling with his line in particular, has been nowhere near his best in the second innings, while Steven Finn's huge potential was only displayed when he produced the fastest spell of the match on the fourth afternoon and generated considerable reverse swing. The sense remains that Samit Patel, at No. 6, is keeping the spot warm for someone else, too.
India's excellent home record bears repeating. They have not lost a series at home since 2004, when Australia were the victors, and not since 2000, when they played South Africa, have they lost two Tests in a row at home. They are not a poor side; they have been made to look poor by an England side who, stung by recent setbacks, have approached this tour with renewed vigour.
England had become complacent. Maybe not consciously and maybe not by a huge margin. But, after the Ashes success of 2010-11 and the home series victory over India in 2011, a little of the hunger had left the side and the side's management. The bowlers lost their nip, the fielders lost their reliability and the batsmen lost their way. It was apparent at the World Cup which followed the Ashes and it was apparent by the way they were caught underprepared at the start of the series against Pakistan. The wake-up call of the UAE might, in the long-term, be the best thing that could have happened to them.
"That series in the UAE was a massive eye opener for us," Finn said at the close of the fourth day, with England only one India wicket, and a small run chase, away from victory. "We've worked very hard since then. We've been sitting here saying we've worked hard to adapt our games to these conditions and it's now it's starting to pay dividends.
"But let's not be presumptuous. If we win tomorrow we're only going to be 2-1 up in the series and it's important going into the fourth Test that we have no complacency and we keep working and keep looking to get better. That's a great point about this England side - we're always looking to get better.
"At the beginning of the day, if you'd have said India would be 30 ahead with nine wickets down, I'm sure we'd have taken it. That last hour and 45 minutes was a little bit frustrating for us. Ashwin played very well. That bit of rearguard resistance was excellent batting, he played the reverse swing very well and he was patient, took runs he when he needed to and put trust in the man at the other end. It was good batting."
Perhaps in the long-term India might reflect that this series was a blessing in disguise. They will hate to hear it, but India could learn rather a lot from England and, just as it was only defeat after defeat that provoked a change in the way English cricket at every level was run, so it might prove similarly motivating for India. After all, at some stage on day five, they will have lost 10 of their last 18 Tests.
Whereas India are persevering with star players who are clearly past their sell-by date, England dropped their vice-captain and golden boy, Stuart Broad when it became clear that his form had dipped.
Whereas the England team management had the authority or bravery to drop Kevin Pietersen, rightly or wrongly, after it was decided he was unsettling the dressing room, there seems to be no-one in the India team management who has the authority or bravery to ensure the whole team turns up fit enough to play elite international sport and ensure they work harder on their fielding.
Whereas the likes of Andrew Strauss and Nasser Hussain, who had just scored a century in his 96th Test, resigned without pity or sentimentalism, the admiration for personal milestones and personal heroes which pervades in Indian cricket has seen players selected well past their sell-by dates and, as a consequence, the progress of new players blocked.
Most importantly, whereas in England one man, Andy Flower, has been given the power and the responsibility for the team, in India it is often hard to understand who is in control. While Duncan Fletcher will almost certainly be one of those held to account, unless he was given the power to change things, it seems unfair to hold him responsible.
The margins between these teams are as big as it has appeared at times over the last fortnight. Had India caught their catches and England not completed their run-outs, the results might be different. But it would be foolish to dismiss those facts as quirks of fortune. They came, in part at least, because of the disparity in hard work and fitness between these two teams. The main difference between a side that has exceeded expectations and one that has failed to do itself justice would appear to be motivation.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: George Dobell
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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