In the end the margin of 1-0, it could be argued, was a fair way for the series to end. England were the superior side at Lord's and India dominated the last two Tests. Speculation is futile, but if it hadn't been a draw at Lord's, the Oval Test would possibly have yielded a result, most likely in India's favour. But draws aren't necessarily dull, and this was an enthralling series. More importantly it was Test cricket as it ought to be: tough, challenging, skilful, full of crackle and contest, and bends and surprises.
In many ways this was a most un-Indian victory. It wasn't achieved through a burst of brilliance or glittering individual performances, and there was nothing freakish about it. It was built painstakingly and collectively by a team united in their desire to secure their place in history. The best innings of the series came from Englishmen - Kevin Pietersen's punchy, counterattacking hundred at Lord's and Michael Vaughan's poetic, utterly enchanting century at Trent Bridge - but eventually the sum of India's parts turned out to be greater.
Nothing was easily achieved. The English summer took a while to arrive and the ball swung, wobbled and fizzed about. Batsmen had to summon some old-fashioned skills to survive and score runs. The Oval presented the easiest batting surface in the series, but only relatively. India's mammoth total was built on hard work and technical proficiency. The top order made batting look easier than it was, because the pitch gave assistance to bowlers who put in the effort. Sachin Tendulkar's stodgy resistance against a determined bodyline strategy on the first afternoon didn't make him look pretty, but it denied England the breach they were desperately seeking, and that was vital in the context of the match and the series.
That the talk during the final days boiled down to whether India had done enough to push for a 2-0 margin captures how dramatically the script had changed since the last day at Lord's. But if you look carefully, the story of the series actually started taking shape from the last hour of the first day of that first Test. From 252 for 2 England went hurtling to 298 all out, and from that point onwards the Indian bowlers kept the English batsmen tentative.
The second half of the story was completed by India's batsmen. Sure it was rain that saved them at Lord's, but it was a battling performance - they batted 96 overs under testing circumstances - that kept them alive till the rain came. The rest of the series followed the same pattern.
India's batsmen put on two massive scores, but those were achieved with grit and bloody-mindedness rather than the dazzle and pomp normally associated with Indian batting. The last day may have felt mildly deflating for it was a Test they had dominated for the first three days, and a 2-0 win would have elevated them to the No. 2 position in the Test rankings, but their desperation to win the series surpassed their desperation to win the Test, and 1-0 is a scoreline they would have gladly taken at the start of the series.
The cricket wasn't scintillating in the way the modern fan has come to understand it. The runs didn't flow. But those who appreciate the essence of the game were rewarded with some absorbing individual contests. The luckless Ryan Sidebottom v Sachin Tendulkar, Zaheer Khan v the English openers, Anil Kumble v Kevin Pietersen.
That last was potentially the most interesting because Pietersen finds it easy to dominate spin, and has been England's most successful batsman against the greatest spinners of the age, Shane Warne and Muttiah Muralitharan. This particular contest could be said to have ended in Pietersen's favour, but only marginally. Kumble never got Pietersen out, and Pietersen got to his hundred at Lord's with a six and two fours in one Kumble over, but Kumble troubled him over long periods. And he beat Pietersen to the Man-of-the-Match award at The Oval - more for sentimental reasons than ones to do with performance alone, we suspect. More cruelly, Pietersen was denied the England Man-of-the-Series award. James Anderson bowled some wonderful spells and some great deliveries but he only took 14 wickets at over 35. Pietersen's hundred at Lord's was almost match-winning, and his century at The Oval was match-saving. Perhaps he rubs too many people the wrong way.
Cruelly, Pietersen was denied the England Man-of-the-Series award. James Anderson bowled some wonderful spells but he only took 14 wickets at over 35. Pietersen's hundred at Lord's was almost match-winning, and his century at The Oval was match-saving. Perhaps he rubs too many people the wrong way
The most refreshing aspect of the series was the performance of the left-arm medium-pace bowlers. The "wickets" column - which showed a mere eight - does scant justice to Sidebottom's efforts through the series. Anderson took the big wickets, but Sidebottom was England's most consistent, and most threatening, bowler. He swung it both ways, hit the right length, and managed bounce. He would be an even better bowler if he can manage to bowl round the wicket.
That is something Zaheer Khan has learned to do consummately well in this, the second half of his career: adding a new dimension to his bowling. Having served his sentence for a poor attitude and a poorer work ethic, he has returned a man transformed and willing to take on the responsibility of leading an inexperienced pace attack. RP Singh, the other left-armer, had a far less distinguished series, but at Trent Bridge he produced the ball of the series, which accounted for Kevin Pietersen, and he followed it up with another corker to clean up Matt Prior.
The victory cry doesn't sit well on Rahul Dravid, who is naturally given to a restrained smile, but it is becoming a familiar sight. This was India's second series win outside the subcontinent under his leadership, and given the turmoil in Indian cricket over the last 12 months, has come as a pleasant surprise. Dravid will return stronger and more in control of the team than he has been.
For Michael Vaughan, who has tasted defeat for the first time in a home series, sterner challenges lie ahead. A new cycle has begun with Vaughan as the common link. Only four members from the Ashes-winning 2005 team (leaving out Paul Collingwood whose participation in 2005 was nominal) played against India. Andrew Flintoff is scheduled to return, as is Matthew Hoggard. But Steve Harmison remains a reluctant tourist and a blow-hot-and-cold bowler, and it looks unlikely that England's bowling will regain the potency of that season in near future. And to compete with Sri Lanka, a team bubbling with confidence and who are formidable at home, their batsmen will have to adapt.
It was the batsmen who failed England more than their bowlers. All through the series the batsmen either failed to come to terms with India's swing bowlers or - as in both innings at The Oval - most got in before throwing it away. To their good fortune Prior hung on to make the match safe. Otherwise Vaughan, Pietersen and Ian Bell - whose fatal paddle-sweep in the final hour was the most shockingly inappropriate stroke of them all - would have ended up looking silly. In contrast, most of India's top-order wickets had to be earned.
Admittedly India had luck with the weather, and the two tosses Dravid won were crucial. But the story of the series was this: the Indians made much better use of the English conditions than the English, and their victory was richly deserved.
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