Tour review

England v India, 2011

Test matches (4): England 4, India 0 One-day internationals (5): England 3, India 0 Twenty20 international (1): England 1, India 0


The World No. 1 Test team strikes a happy pose, England v India, 4th Test, The Oval, 5th day, August 22, 2011
England took over the mantle of being the No. 1 Test side after their 4-0 demolition of India. © Getty Images
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Series/Tournaments: India tour of England
Teams: England | India

In 134 years of Test history, it is doubtful whether any contest between two apparently well-matched teams has turned out to be so spectacularly one-sided. India arrived as the world's No. 1 Test team and recently crowned 50-over champions. They left, two months later, without a single international victory in ten attempts across three formats, and - following a 4-0 whitewash - with the ICC Test mace now in the hands of their opponents. It was India's heaviest beating since 1991-92, when they lost by the same margin in Australia, though in a five-match series.

The overwhelming story of the summer ought to have been England's ascent to the top of the Test rankings. In 31 matches since Andrew Strauss and Andy Flower were confirmed as a partnership in April 2009, they had racked up 20 wins, the same number England had managed in the whole of the 1980s. And yet the tale of India's decline was just as compelling. They competed gamely, but unevenly, for the first seven days of the series, only for England's superior fitness and resolve to muscle them out of the big moments. By the third evening of the Second Test, the rout was well and truly on. When Alastair Cook batted almost 13 hours for 294 in the Third, at Edgbaston, he was only six runs short of India's highest total of the series.

England's batting line-up was more than twice as effective as India's, averaging 59 runs per wicket to the tourists' 25. And this despite the presence of the most fabled middle order of the 2000s - Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman. Dravid's aggregate of 461 runs at 76 included one of the most heroically futile performances of all time. By carrying his bat for 146 in the first innings at The Oval, he enabled India to reach 300 for the only time in the four Tests. Ten minutes later, he was marching out again in the follow-on.

His magnificence was India's only saving grace, spiritedly though Praveen Kumar bowled. Dravid was shunted around the order to accommodate the injuries and failings of others and, at Lord's, he even donned the keeper's pads as Mahendra Singh Dhoni brought on his own gentle outswing. Regardless, Dravid scored three hundreds, as he had in England nine years earlier, and even answered India's injury crisis by making his Twenty20 international debut, aged 38. But once again he found himself playing second fiddle in the public's affections to Tendulkar, whose continuing quest for his 100th international hundred was perhaps the most poignant expression of India's struggles.

Tendulkar was also 38, and his fifth tour of England was widely presumed to be his last. Each of his eight innings was accompanied by two standing ovations: the first full of expectation, the second tinged invariably with regret.

He managed only 273 runs at 34, with a best of 91 at The Oval, where the crowd's ardour was dampened by an lbw decision from Rod Tucker - tight, but fair, according to the DRS technology that India had refused to endorse. Tendulkar slipped silently out of the country a fortnight later, when the recurrence of an old toe injury ruled him out of the limited-overs games.

India's lone stance on umpiring technology - essentially, they distrusted the predictive element of Hawk-Eye - cast a shadow over the series, and appeared to conform to the old playground truism that the boy who brings the bat sets the rules. The compromise adopted on the eve of the series was unsatisfactory, in particular the decision to leave all lbw decisions to the on-field umpires. Harbhajan Singh was a notable casualty of this fudge: the middle victim of a momentum-shifting hat-trick from Stuart Broad at Trent Bridge, he was shown, by the simplest TV replay, to have thick-edged the ball into his pads.

While India struggled, England's batsmen ticked off landmarks with aplomb. This was the series of the "daddy hundred", the phrase popularised by Graham Gooch, whose role in the England set-up was to coach "run-making" not "batting" - a subtle distinction not lost on his pupils. Of England's seven centuries, only Eoin Morgan's at Edgbaston resulted in a dismissal for fewer than 150 - the daddy benchmark. The stars of the show were Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell, who each passed 150 twice and joined Cook to give England three double-centuries in a series, which they had previously achieved only in the 1938 Ashes; following on from Jonathan Trott's 203 at Cardiff in May against Sri Lanka, they also had four in a season in the same country - a world record.

For Bell, in particular, this was a seminal campaign. Ever since the Ashes he had been looking like England's coming man, and now, in his eighth year of international cricket, he presented himself as the finished article. Blessed with a rare talent which allowed him to remain graceful under pressure, Bell stole the show during the second innings at Trent Bridge. Out he came at No. 3, with a first-innings deficit to write off and an agenda to be set. It was precisely the sort of challenge he would have ducked earlier in his career. Bell responded with a nerveless hundred, his first in Tests against India, and had all but upended the game when the naivety of old made an unexpected reappearance.

According to the letter of the law, Bell should have been run out for 137 immediately before tea on the third day, when he strolled towards the pavilion with the ball still in play after a misleading fumble on the fine-leg rope. After a teatime furore, Dhoni agreed to retract the appeal (Bell went on to 159) and later earned the ICC Spirit of Cricket Award - not that he and his team-mates turned up to the annual bash, held in London during the final week of the tour.

England set some undeniably high standards, but cricket's richest and most powerful nation were woefully off the pace, raising uneasy questions about the BCCI's priorities in the Twenty20 era. Nearly four months had elapsed since India's crowning glory in the World Cup final, which once would have been sufficient time to replenish their mental and physical reserves. Instead, most of the squad had headed straight to the IPL and then on to a tour of the Caribbean. With barely a week to acclimatise in England ahead of the Lord's Test, it was little wonder they looked overworked and undercooked.


Rahul Dravid hammers a short ball past Ian Bell at silly point, England v India, 4th Test, The Oval, 4th day, August 21, 2011
Another brick in the wall: Rahul Dravid drives on his way to a rock-solid 146 not out in the first innings at The Oval. © Getty Images
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Even so, few saw their humiliation coming, least of all the BCCI. But hindsight laid out the facts with the cold detachment of a pathologist. An ageing side were sold short by the itinerary, undermined by immobility in the field, and - in some cases - exposed by a lack of Test technique, most damningly Suresh Raina, who was so unsettled by the short ball and Graeme Swann's probing off-breaks that he signed off the Test series with a 42-ball pair at The Oval. Raina's return to form in the one-dayers merely highlighted what had gone before. Most pertinently, India were brought low by a hungrier and better-drilled set of players. After Lord's, Dhoni invoked Sod's Law but, at that stage, he didn't know the half of it. India's troubles had begun on the first afternoon of the series at Lord's, when Zaheer Khan, their talismanic left-arm seamer, pulled a hamstring and limped off, never to return. The BCCI, happy to obfuscate at every turn, insisted he would bowl in the second innings, but his lack of fitness had already been telegraphed during India's ominous warm-up fixture against Somerset at Taunton. There, he sent down 20 wicketless overs in the first innings, and didn't feature at all in the second as Strauss - also short of first-class cricket and making an unusual guest appearance because Middlesex did not have a game - confirmed his readiness with an unbeaten 109. The contrast in the two sides' preparation was telling.

Zaheer's eventual replacement was his partner-in-crime from India's series win in 2007, R. P. Singh, who cut a tragicomic figure. He warmed up for the series with 50 overs for Kochi Tuskers in the IPL back in April and May, and some sunbathing in Miami; his dismal opening over to Strauss at The Oval was his first in a Test since April 2008. Another unfit late arrival was Virender Sehwag, who missed the first two Tests after delaying a shoulder operation to take part in the IPL, and flew home to continue his recovery having contributed 41 runs in four innings, including a king pair at Edgbaston.

The accidents and indignations went on and on. Harbhajan and Yuvraj Singh left on the same day midway through the series, while Gautam Gambhir might as well have done - he missed the Second Test with a bruised elbow and the whole of the one-day series with concussion after banging his head while dropping a catch in the Fourth. Rohit Sharma, Gambhir's replacement, suffered a broken index finger from his first ball of the one-day series, by which stage Ishant Sharma, their most hostile seamer in Zaheer's absence, had been ruled out with an ankle problem.

Though India's misfortunes were seized upon by their fans - particularly those in cyberspace, who were grateful for any opportunity to mitigate their team's embarrassment - England's dominance was formidable. They began the series ranked No. 3 in Tests, but with the prospect of going top if they won by a margin of two matches.

As soon as they harnessed the intensity that had scattered Australia during the winter, such mastery was never in doubt. The point of no return came in the Second Test on a pulsating Saturday evening in Nottingham. The instigator was Broad, a player whose reputation in Indian circles had barely progressed from the six sixes he conceded in an over to Yuvraj in a World Twenty20 game at Durban four years earlier. His form at the start of the summer had been inauspicious, but a week in county cricket, and a timely five-wicket haul for Nottinghamshire against Somerset, reminded him of the virtues of pitching the ball up. He would be named England's Man of the Series.

At Lord's, he had gutted India with four for 37 in 22 overs, and now he followed up with the performance of his life on home turf at Trent Bridge: a swashbuckling 64 from 66 balls after England had slumped to 124 for eight, then a career-best six for 46 - five of which, including that hat-trick, were scalped for no runs in 16 balls. That was India's "Adelaide" moment, to allude to the turning point of England's own traumatic whitewash, by Australia in 2006-07. By crumbling from 267 for four to 288 all out, India shocked themselves to a standstill, and the decision to reprieve Bell betrayed their confusion.

The depth of England's resources ensured there was always someone capable of quashing any challenge. Chris Tremlett, their best seamer against Sri Lanka, did not feature after Lord's, while the loss of Trott, the soon-to-be- crowned ICC Cricketer of the Year, to a shoulder injury in Nottingham was another potentially grievous blow. Instead, England barely broke stride, as Tim Bresnan, Tremlett's understudy, took his personal Test record to ten wins out of ten and claimed a series haul of 16 wickets at 16. He also underlined his burgeoning all-round reputation with a feisty 90 at Trent Bridge.

There was little respite for India in the limited-overs matches either. After England's victory in the sole Twenty20 international at Old Trafford, rain had a say in each of the five 50-over matches: the first at Chester-le-Street was eventually washed out, while the fourth at Lord's finished as a Duckworth/ Lewis tie. But England won the remainder in impressive fashion, thanks to a string of eye-catching performances from their coming generation, not least debutant Jonathan Bairstow's 41 not out from 21 balls in Cardiff.

The anticlimax, however, was tangible. First versus third in the Tests ought to have produced the most sustained drama since the 2005 Ashes. For five glorious days at Lord's, the hype seemed justified. The occasion of the 2,000th Test (and the 100th between England and India) was greeted, from the second day onwards, by perfect weather and a pageant of a contest that didn't exactly ebb and flow, but lapped nonetheless against the rising English tide. On the fifth day, with a match to be saved and Tendulkar still to bat, a crowd of 27,728 snaked down Wellington Road to confirm the allure of the game's oldest - and most paranoid - format.

But then, by degrees, it all went sour, so much so that, when Dhoni faced up to the press at The Oval, even with the strains of "Land of Hope and Glory" goading him through the window, his lack of visible concern made the debacle feel all the more awful. In fact, the one Indian on show who looked truly distraught was Tiger Pataudi, whose final public duty before his death a month later was to hand over the trophy that has borne his family name since 2007. The impression given by many Indian players was of little more than a bad day at the office - and one that could be mitigated by recent World Cup glory.

Somewhere, out of the limelight as ever, was another man who was doubtless smarting. Duncan Fletcher never defeated India in a Test series in his eight years as England coach; now, in his first season in the opposing camp, he suffered the indignity of being on the wrong end of another high-profile whitewash. Unlike his role in the 2006-07 Ashes disaster, however, it was clear that Fletcher's input was limited. That was apparent from the state of India's fielding, as well as the identity of their attack leader once Zaheer Khan dropped out. Kumar's swingers proved a challenge, but Fletcher would never have allowed a bowler in the mid-to-late 70s to take the new ball for England. The impotence of Fletcher's role could hardly have been further removed from the integral place Flower had cemented in England's dressing-room.

Andrew Miller is the former UK editor of ESPNcricinfo and now editor of the Cricketer magazine

Match reports for

Tour Match: Somerset v Indians at Taunton, Jul 15-17, 2011
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1st Test: England v India at Lord's, Jul 21-25, 2011
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2nd Test: England v India at Nottingham, Jul 29-Aug 1, 2011
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Tour Match: Northamptonshire v Indians at Northampton, Aug 5-6, 2011
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3rd Test: England v India at Birmingham, Aug 10-13, 2011
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4th Test: England v India at The Oval, Aug 18-22, 2011
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Tour Match: Sussex v Indians at Hove, Aug 25, 2011
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Tour Match: Kent v Indians at Canterbury, Aug 26, 2011
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Tour Match: Leicestershire v Indians at Leicester, Aug 29, 2011
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Only T20I: England v India at Manchester, Aug 31, 2011
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1st ODI: England v India at Chester-le-Street, Sep 3, 2011
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2nd ODI: England v India at Southampton, Sep 6, 2011
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3rd ODI: England v India at The Oval, Sep 9, 2011
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4th ODI: England v India at Lord's, Sep 11, 2011
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5th ODI: England v India at Cardiff, Sep 16, 2011
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