Series review

England v India 2007

Nasser Hussain


' Zaheer Khan and Rudra Pratap Singh, consistently swung the Dukes ball. They bowled a lot from round the wicket too, as they had done in India's previous series in Bangladesh, and that seemed to have passed England by' © Getty Images
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This was a series that had it all. Brilliant, competitive cricket, incidents aplenty, controversy and even childish behaviour. England felt hard done by, losing it 1-0, but the bottom line was that it provided a fitting finale for some of the great names of Indian cricket: Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid and Anil Kumble, none of them expected to tour England again. The fact that it was a perfect goodbye for them overshadowed a handful of jelly beans.

England lost a Test series at home, for the first time since Australia toured in 2001, for a number of reasons. Firstly, their batsmen did not play to the situation often enough, whereas India's did after the First Test at Lord's. If England are to win the Ashes in 2009, they must eliminate some of the softness in their cricket. They are all very good players. The personnel do not need changing, but at times their attitude does. There was not enough "over my dead body", except from Michael Vaughan and Kevin Pietersen. Secondly, England's over-rate at Lord's cost them dear. However much Vaughan publicly disagreed at the time, 28 overs on the last morning was poor going in the circumstances, and it came back to haunt them. Time was wasted with gear coming on for short-leg fielders and, even though everybody knew the forecast for the fifth afternoon was rain, England seemed happy to plod through their overs. Mahendra Singh Dhoni had a reputation for only playing the one way, but showed he was a multidimensional cricketer with a very disciplined innings. Yes, England were unfortunate, because Monty Panesar had the last man, Sreesanth, lbw and Steve Bucknor did not give it, but they should have shown more urgency in the field as India held out for a draw with one wicket remaining.

Thirdly, England lost because India's two left-armers, Zaheer Khan and Rudra Pratap Singh, consistently swung the Dukes ball. They bowled a lot from round the wicket too, as they had done in India's previous series in Bangladesh, and that seemed to have passed England by. This was a completely different angle of attack for their batsmen to deal with: there had not really been anyone in international cricket who had swung the ball both ways from round the wicket since Wasim Akram. In the First Test, Vaughan got out both times to Singh bowling round, and England suddenly realised they were in a battle. When Pietersen reached his century in the second innings at Lord's, he celebrated extravagantly even before the ball had crossed the boundary, and said afterwards it was one of the best innings he had played because Zaheer had made him rethink his game plan.

Before the series, everyone had predicted the Tests would be chock-full of runs and devoid of positive results. India had left behind Harbhajan Singh, Munaf Patel and Irfan Pathan (Patel made the one-day squad), while England fielded their most inexperienced attack since they toured India in 2001-02. For the first time there was no member of the 2005 Ashes-winning attack, as Hoggard, Harmison, Flintoff, Jones and Giles were all injured. Yet James Anderson, Ryan Sidebottom and Chris Tremlett amazed everyone with the way they bowled, and did their captain proud. Tremlett leapfrogged over Stuart Broad into the final eleven, as he had looked good in the nets and India, historically, struggle against bounce. On Indian pitches, the ball rarely gets above waist-height, and their heavy bats and low backlifts are fashioned for conditions they encounter at home.

Anderson got back to being the player he was when he started for England, a bowler of pace and rhythm who could get good batsmen out. At Lord's, he began a domination of Tendulkar that was to last for the rest of the has never seemed to like playing at Lord's. Even before he faced a ball, he was looking at the sightscreens in the pavilion, fussing about their positions. When England's attack, without its superstars, bowled India out for 201, it was a massive boost for Vaughan, knowing he could get them out without having to resort to cunning plans. England outclassed India at Lord's and almost bowled them out twice on a pretty flat surface, only to let them off the hook.

At Trent Bridge the balance shifted, once play began after a lot of rain. India's two left-armers took 12 wickets between them. England's left-armer, Sidebottom, bowled well - one spell in particular against Tendulkar when set - but without luck.

India had the edge in opening batsmen too. In Australia, Alastair Cook had been defending away from his body; he now over-compensated by falling over towards off stump and getting out lbw regularly. Andrew Strauss scored 96 on the opening day of the series before running down the pitch to Kumble and edging to slip, the pressure maybe taking its toll, and the lack of a century was to haunt him for the rest of the series. Opposing bowlers had also worked out what Duncan Fletcher spotted at the start of Strauss's career, that you have to bowl full at him and get him to drive. The shot he played at Zaheer in the third over at Trent Bridge, when the ball was moving around, was poor and showed signs of mental fatigue. Modern cricket is all about being positive, but there is still room for playing the conditions; there should have been more concentration on leaving the new ball and surviving. No one could really cope, and England made 198 when they should have got 250-plus.

By contrast, Dinesh Karthik and Wasim Jaffer belied the stereotypes of Indian batsmen struggling against the moving ball and showed England how to do it on a slightly flatter, drier, surface. Jaffer played beautifully to lay the foundations for Tendulkar to play what he later described as one of his most satisfying innings. For the first time but not the last during the tour, he was out in his nineties to a dodgy decision. The ball was clearly not going to hit the stumps, but he had only himself to blame. The Tendulkar of old, facing Paul Collingwood after lunch on 91, would have gone "boom, boom, boom" to get his hundred; his lapse showed he was batting for time rather than trying to impose himself.

Vaughan's captaincy was for most of the series brilliant as ever, but in the first innings at Trent Bridge he went to his cunning plans, his unusual fielding positions, too early. The pitch was still doing enough for him to say to his three seamers: "right, top of off stump, three slips, a gully and a short leg", but he started without a short leg for Sidebottom. His batting, however, was back to its very best as he made a magnificent hundred. Vaughan had sensibly given up the one-day captaincy to concentrate on getting some rhythm back into his Test batting; he is a touch player who needs to spend time in the middle. The pivotal moment came when he was bowled off his thigh pad. The pitch had become uneven and, if England had left India to summer and included hitting him on the helmet at Trent Bridge. Tendulkar get even 150 to 180, rather than 73, the tourists would have been under a lot of pressure.

Trent Bridge also saw both teams crossing the line of acceptable behaviour. The pressure which teams are under, the amount of cricket and travelling, all gets to players, and the beamer Sreesanth bowled at Pietersen was a symptom of that. It was a deadly ball, and Vaughan was much more cross about it than he was about the minor shoulder barge that Sreesanth gave him in the second innings, or the no-ball bounced at Collingwood from round the wicket and bowled from almost a yard in front of the crease. But Sreesanth cannot be excused for that barge, for which the referee, Ranjan Madugalle, fined him half his match fee. Cricket is a non-contact sport, and Sreesanth completely deserved the look of disdain that Vaughan gave him on the field, and the talking-to that Dravid reportedly gave him off it.

The bad behaviour was taken one step further when one of the England players put jelly beans on the pitch before Zaheer went out to bat. The issue of who did it was irrelevant (Sky had no television evidence but Ian Bell was named by several newspapers). Players should respect the opposition: let them know they are in a battle, but don't be childish or juvenile. They would not have done it to Tendulkar, so why Zaheer? He was justified in getting angry and brandishing his bat. He was only going to react in one way and that was to get more involved in the series, if that was possible. India are a better side when they are fired up and, by winding up Zaheer, England made a major mistake.

Dravid had won an important toss at Trent Bridge, and he did it again at The Oval. What England needed was an old-style Oval pitch of pace and bounce, such as suited Devon Malcolm or Andy Caddick, but this was a flat surface. India batted first, got 664 with everyone scoring runs, and in effect it was series over. The best moment came when Kumble, one of the most popular players in international cricket, made his maiden Test hundred. The old warhorse did not go to three figures in the sexiest way - running down the pitch, falling over and inside-edging between Matt Prior's legs - but it delighted not just India but everyone who loves the game.


Collingwood, basically, grew as a captain © Getty Images
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There was still the contentious issue of whether India should enforce the follow-on. Dravid's first job as India's captain was to win the series, his second job to win the match, his third to entertain. His team had had a bad World Cup, and he would have remembered the famous Test in Kolkata in 2000-01 when India followed on and beat Australia. Dravid erred on the side of caution, then betrayed his nerves by going completely into his shell in an innings of 12 in 96 balls. Here was a man carrying the weight of India's expectations on his shoulders without the support of a team coach. He was to stand down a month later, but he did so as only the third Indian captain to win a Test series in England after Ajit Wadekar (1971) and Kapil Dev (1986).

Dravid's tactics were justified by how well England batted a second time on a pitch that did not deteriorate. There was another hundred for Pietersen, whose Test form put him up there with Ricky Ponting among the world's best: he could become England's highest run-scorer. This Test series thus saw the beginning of the end of one all-time great, Tendulkar, and the continuing emergence of another.

The one-day series was one of the best in England for many years, perhaps since 2002 when a certain captain scored a hundred in a great one-day final against India, and England still lost. Fifty-over series between these teams usually provide good cricket because they are well-matched one-day sides. The series swung this way and that before England won the decider at Lord's.

Before it began, many would have preferred a Fourth Test to an elongated seven one-day internationals: England would have been given the chance of coming back at India the way India had come back at them after Lord's. Yet, as it turned out, seven matches allowed the one-day series to ebb and flow and become a modern classic, particularly the tumultuous match at The Oval, which rivalled that final of five years earlier for drama.

Plenty of people were writing England off beforehand, but their opponents were the same old side led by the same old captain who had had such a poor World Cup. There was no balance to the Indian team, no all-rounder, no energy and no athletic fielders. Almost every one-day side has at least one decent fielder but Karthik (usually a keeper, but playing as a batsman) was just about as good as it got for India, and he was not that good. Crucially, too, the white Kookaburra ball did not swing for Zaheer and R. P. Singh, handicapping an attack which had relied so heavily on swing from around the wicket in the Tests.

While Dravid was a captain on his way out, as was demonstrated at The Oval when he gave the last over to Yuvraj Singh and saw Dimitri Mascarenhas hit him for five sixes, Collingwood was a captain on the way in. He had clearly learned from his mistakes against West Indies earlier in the summer, and went a long way towards putting them right. Collingwood, basically, grew as a leader. Against West Indies, he seemed to think he had to put the captaincy ahead of his own performance, but it is always the other way round. Now, he moved himself back to his best fielding position at backward point, returned to his best batting position at No. 5, and had faith in his own medium-pace. Vaughan used to be a little reluctant to trust his bowling, but Collingwood used himself almost as a front-line bowler, more so than Panesar.

Bell started the series with his position in question, but scored a hundred in the first match at the Rose Bowl and never looked back. He clearly learned a lot from Pietersen. Pietersen would hitch up his shirt, almost revealing his biceps to the bowlers, and his swagger seemed to rub off on Bell, very much to England's advantage. Whereas before Bell could be meek, not least against Australia in 2005, he now displayed a bit more bravado.

Then there was the impact of the new-ball attack, Anderson and Broad, immediately followed by Andrew Flintoff who, when fit, made a massive difference to the team. To have Flintoff as first change, providing no let-up to the back-of-a-length bowling which so unsettled India's batsmen, was crucial.

Flintoff was even instrumental in the fortunes of Mascarenhas, who became a qualified success after waiting so long for his chance. As he showed at The Oval and Bristol, Mascarenhas is a six-hitter, something England's one-day cricket has lacked since the demise of Flintoff the batsman and the disappearance of Marcus Trescothick. He is also a line-and-length mediumpacer who knows what he is doing, but his effectiveness was inextricably linked to the success of the new-ball bowlers. If England had taken early wickets, the batsmen could not take liberties against Mascarenhas; if India had got off to a good start, they could afford to tee off against him and he looked vulnerable.

There were still some areas of concern. Prior often got starts at the top of the order but kept on getting out when set. It remained uncertain whether he was the answer to England's problems in capitalising on the powerplays. Cook, meanwhile, faded after scoring a century at the Rose Bowl, and clearly had a long way to go as a one-day player. He is a very quick learner, though, and has the potential to bat through 50 overs.

Panesar had a poor series. He seemed to be content just to bowl his ten overs and take one for 50 whereas the Indian spinners, Ramesh Powar and Piyush Chawla, varied their pace and lengths and looked much better attacking bowlers. Panesar needs to attack as he does in Test cricket if he is to have a future in the limited-overs game.

Progress, yes, but not yet the answers to all of the problems in one-day cricket that England have experienced over the last 15 years since their last World Cup final in 1992.

Match reports for

Only ODI: Ireland v India at Belfast, Jun 23, 2007
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1st ODI: India v South Africa at Belfast, Jun 26, 2007
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2nd ODI: India v South Africa at Belfast, Jun 29, 2007
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3rd ODI: India v South Africa at Belfast, Jul 1, 2007
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Only ODI: India v Pakistan at Glasgow, Jul 3, 2007
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Tour Match: Sussex v Indians at Hove, Jul 7-10, 2007
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Tour Match: England Lions v Indians at Chelmsford, Jul 13-15, 2007
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1st Test: England v India at Lord's, Jul 19-23, 2007
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2nd Test: England v India at Nottingham, Jul 27-31, 2007
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Tour Match: Indians v Sri Lanka A at Leicester, Aug 3-5, 2007
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3rd Test: England v India at The Oval, Aug 9-13, 2007
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Only ODI: Scotland v India at Glasgow, Aug 16, 2007
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Tour Match: England Lions v Indians at Northampton, Aug 18, 2007
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1st ODI: England v India at Southampton, Aug 21, 2007
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2nd ODI: England v India at Bristol, Aug 24, 2007
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3rd ODI: England v India at Birmingham, Aug 27, 2007
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4th ODI: England v India at Manchester, Aug 30, 2007
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5th ODI: England v India at Leeds, Sep 2, 2007
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6th ODI: England v India at The Oval, Sep 5, 2007
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7th ODI: England v India at Lord's, Sep 8, 2007
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© John Wisden and Co.