October 22, 2011

Beware the euphoria of a whitewash

If anyone thinks India have righted the wrongs of the summer in England with the result in the home ODI series, they need to think again

All those astonished by the 3-0 scoreline in the five-match India v England ODI series, please raise your hands. To you, it can only be said: ye of little faith. Or rather, ye of short memory.

Fine, so 4-0 and 3-0 are not the kind of souvenirs anyone in Indian cricket would have wanted from an English summer, but India are among the game's more accomplished shape-shifters. And so, the course of this ODI series, while enjoyable and entertaining, has been far from surprising.

Simply put, India at home in the short game are very, very hard to beat. Despite a rapidly changing line-up and ever-growing injury lists, their players have become adept masters of their own conditions, be it the bowlers who extend their variety, or the batsmen's fearlessness in the crunch, considered by many to be one of the IPL's more valuable cricketing rewards. Over the last five years in the 50-over format, India have only gained in strength and have virtually reformatted their own record of winning at home.

In the first five years of the 2000s, India approximately had the 55-45% win-loss record that television executives believe is the minimum needed to keep the home audience riveted. It is what they have done since that offers the pure weight of proof about their home advantage.

From March 2000 to April 2005, India won 22 and lost 24 of their 47 ODIs at home. From October 2005 to date, India's record is 51 wins in 76 ODIs, and 27 in 36 over the last three years with a single defeat in 16 home ODIs in the last 12 months. In the 2000s, India have lost only six of 18 bilateral series at home (not counting a single BCCI Platinum Jubilee ODI against Pakistan as a series). There have been three humongous margins of victory at home in the last six years: 6-1 over Sri Lanka in 2005, 5-1 over England in 2005-06, and two "doughnut" results: a pre-World Cup bludgeoning of New Zealand last year, and before that a 5-0 drubbing of, erm, England again, in the interrupted seven-match series in 2008-09.

Still overwhelmed by 3-0? Just because they had a poor tour of England doesn't mean the Indian team has forgotten how to play in India.

In each of the ODIs this month, India have been impressive in their execution and methodical dismantling of England. Anything less, however, would have been disappointing. This is how world champions are meant to perform in their own backyards. In any case, amongst the frontline nations, England in India are relatively less problematic opposition than, say, Australia or South Africa.

The Australians are the only touring team to win an ODI series in India in the last four years, not once but twice, and South Africa make a respectable fist of every format they play in here. The last time England won a series of any kind in India was in 1984-85; no matter how much they plan or how early they turn up, a tour of India usually seems to end up a discombobulating ordeal.

In real terms, more than bring notions of revenge or delirium to Indian cricket, this series will sober England. In cricketing terms, India, however, are exactly where they were after the England tour, only happier, with more smiling faces. Suddenly the bench seems loaded with strength, playing off the back foot is an art well distributed along the batting order, the fielders have found their inner Jonty, and god alive, an Indian fast bowler who hits 145kph actually exists.

If anything reflects Indian cricket's inability to think ahead, it lies in how its fast bowlers are handled: the career paths of Munaf Patel and Ishant Sharma at one point started exactly where Umesh Yadav's is at the moment

India have had such eureka series over and over again in the past, only to have short-sightedness, mismanagement and poor scheduling helpfully fling one banana peel after another onto the team's path. If anything reflects Indian cricket's inability to think ahead, it lies in how its fast bowlers are handled: the career paths of Munaf Patel and Ishant Sharma at one point started exactly where Umesh Yadav's is at the moment. RP Singh was a successor to Zaheer Khan in 2007. As far as batsmen go, in 2008, Rohit Sharma was where Virat Kohli is now - and with success against Australia as his benchmark. The Indians have trundled ahead because talent is never in short supply. It comes through in a dazzling blaze; if one blaze is snuffed out, its vacant space is lit up by another.

The only way this ODI series can have a greater significance beyond mere momentary delight is if it becomes a launch pad for India's ambitions. Or at least gives us a sign that, for a change, Indian cricket is thinking ahead.

What India do in the tri-series against Australia and Sri Lanka next year is going to be noticed and remembered far longer than this result against England. Even if the temptation of producing another doughnut is what is keeping MS Dhoni in the last two ODIs. This when there's a clear choice of either taking a short ten-day break, or at least giving the gloves to Parthiv Patel. He often holds out his badly damaged and bent fingers when asked how he's doing. Until the tour of England his results have been preternatural, born out of an extremely cruel work load. But if Dhoni wants to be around when India defend their World Cup title, those fingers are not going to mend themselves out of sheer sympathy.

The Indian team sheet at the 2015 tournament is going to look very different from what it did on April 2, 2011. To begin with, it will need new opening partnerships in both batting and bowling. To be competitive in Australia requires a wider range of skills than the ones India worked with when planning their 2011 campaign. In 2015 the players with those skills will need to have been seasoned over at least 80-odd ODIs (only two men in India's World Cup winning squad had played less than 50 ODIs and neither played in the final), which means that the most promising candidates must get a move on.

India's selectors must at least work out their first steps in a general direction. These could be exhilarating times because the best selectors are both seers and clinical succession planners. The bloopers of K Srikkanth's committee though, are worrying evidence to the contrary.

The echo of a resounding series win over England may drown out all references to India's errors in a woeful, revealing summer. With Australia beckoning, what is more important though, is that they are neither forgotten nor repeated.

Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on October 25, 2011, 18:58 GMT

    Please dont underrate this victory, it s especially sweet since it came after a demoralizing defeat against our opponents. This is certainly not a fluke. I certainly dont believe this England team has lost all of their ability all of a sudden. Thing is that our think tank sat in retrospect and corrected our game plan. We have thoroughly studied their game plan and have countered it effectively. Full credit to our think tank, Fletcher and Eric Simmons, definitely that have put a lot of effort in retrospect. Certainly the lessons we learned last tour and what we corrected in this tour will aid us in future tours.

  • Dummy4 on October 25, 2011, 16:25 GMT

    india is a marvelous team ! MSD is great player but sadly though only in india !! lolz

  • Martin on October 25, 2011, 9:15 GMT

    @Man007 - you don't know what you are talking about. England drew the Test series in South Africa 1-1. Look it up.

  • Manesh on October 25, 2011, 3:35 GMT

    @5wombats. You must be a kid to forget India's effort to level the series in SA where neither England or Pak or SL won not even a single test in recent times...also, India beat England 1-0 in the last tour in England but England not able to win a test series in India. You do not have a win against India in the last 15 ODI matches in India...now what???

  • Harish on October 25, 2011, 0:21 GMT

    @Satish : You said it. T20 is entertainment.I too like it. However, it like comparing a 60 lap F1 championship with 2 pit stops (Test Cricket) with a 5 lap romp in which simply the most maniacal driver and machine wins. Indians should realise that a true consistent T20 champ can never exist, bcos the format does not reward skill as much as Test.

  • Martin on October 24, 2011, 19:05 GMT

    @Front-Foot-Lunge - nicely put. It's been hard (watching England in ODI is always very trying!) - but we'll get to the end of this as undisputed number one in Test Cricket, having whitewashed the previous number one team (the whitewash included 2 spectacular Innings victories). We'll be the current Ashes holders, having beaten Australia handsomely in Tests in Australia, and be in a strong place for the Test challenges of Pak, SL and SA ahead. The former number one test team put up no fight in England so IMO Pakistan and Sri Lanka are both better teams than india in Tests and if we can beat them in the forthcoming series we will be doing very well. In ODI England have also beaten both the ODI World Cup finalists and the current holders. So, 2010 and 2011 will always be remembered as great years for England cricket. Very memorable. @Tatsache - enjoy :-)

  • Dummy4 on October 24, 2011, 18:15 GMT

    I believe indians still have their feet on their ground owing to their great captain. so lets celebrate for we have lot to grief while on the english tour.

  • Ravi on October 24, 2011, 15:13 GMT

    I believe the performance of inexpereinced Indian seamers is most refreshing. Vinay Kumar in particular,Umesh Mehra with his pace and later Varun Aaron on flat tracks here troubled the top order England batsmen who are comfortable against seam bowling even on responsive tracks. This to me is the one real highlight from the current series apart from the keen fielding of the young Indian side which augers well for the future tour of Australia..From a batting perspective Parthiv Patel failed to impress with bat. Can anyone explain why Saha who made the full tours of WI and England was left out without a chance .Otherwise the English have never been great shakes in ODI's in India. It will also be interesting the see how the selection committee responds to the return of the veteran stars from injury.That will be the ultimate test.

  • Nagaraju on October 24, 2011, 14:30 GMT

    @ 5wombats .... lol where are you now ?? read the comments from indian fans :)

  • mathew on October 24, 2011, 13:02 GMT

    @harshalb, you need to write sometimes with reality ,it's a festival season in India,and no one will pay huge money for the tickets.sports is about skill ,you need to win everywhere to show your skill that you are best.so pace,bouncy ,spin everything included.subcontinent meant for spin where as other places for pace and bouncy.If you master in one condition ,you are no good.Look at aus ,they won everywhere including all kinds of pitch.they won in subcontinent also,real challenge for England when they play against srilanka next year.

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