Captain Delivers England’s First Series Victory in India for 27 Years, for the Home Team the Loss is Nothing Less than an Intervention
When Alastair Cook was born on December 25th 1984 David Gower’s England were on the verge of a famous victory in India, eventually winning the series 2-1 on January 18th 1985. Cook was only 24 days old. Until today it was the last time an England side had seen a test victory on the subcontinent. Battling centuries from Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott on the fifth afternoon at Nagpur provided the decisive blows to a frustrated Indian side and secured the series for England 2-1. This series win is Cook’s first as full-time captain. It appears his Christmas and birthday presents have been delivered early this year.
“Everyone in the squad can be very proud, especially after Ahmedabad and that heavy defeat. The guys who played a couple of games all made a difference and the amount of effort the guys have put in for me, I can’t ask any more.” Alastair Cook talking after the match
England’s seemingly interminable desire and professionalism under the guidance of a dynamic, calm and authoritative captain in Alastair Cook was simply too much for India. Although they were late to the party in this series, Trott and Bell produced two innings that were indicative of the mongrel in this England team, both in timing and substance. Though out of form, they both found a way to deliver when Cook needed them most, albeit doggedly and unattractively. India were ground out of the contest which teetered on the edge of interesting when England were 100-3 on day four.
MS Dhoni’s side had to produce a win in this match to draw the series at 2-2 and avoid India’s first home defeat in tests since Australia toured Steve Waugh’s “final frontier” in 2004-2005. With this in mind, prior to the match the Indian captain contributed to the ongoing melee of rhetoric surrounding pitch conditions in this series, requesting a track that would guarantee a result either way to help India’s chances of rolling England over. The wicket at Nagpur ultimately became slow and progressively tame as the match went on, subsequently aiding the tourists’ mission to simply avoid defeat.
During the live commentary on the fifth afternoon at Nagpur former England captain and stalwart Geoffrey Boycott, never usually at a loss for words, said, “I’d like a bat on this [wicket].” While this is arguably his favourite turn of phrase when England’s batsmen succeed or fail there cannot be too many fifth day wickets in India that even a wily 72-year-old would fancy themselves on. Test matches would become extinct if all wickets around the world were this dull.
When England batted in the first innings they fought their way to a competitive score of 330 in what were arguably the worst of the conditions. The Indian bowlers extracted schizophrenic bounce, occasional seam movement and unpredictable amounts of turn from the pitch. Kevin Pietersen claimed the wicket was the hardest he had ever batted on, a worthy assessment given the enigmatic number four’s unusually low strike rate during his first innings 73. Batting conditions then gradually slipped into the realm of the lifeless and the stodgy. On occasion the run rate from both team’s batsmen was truly coma inspiring, enabling England to secure a series in which they have come back hard after a heavy defeat and defied the odds, the conditions and the partisan home crowds.
Since the first test in Ahmedabad there has been a vast difference in quality between England and India. The hosts let themselves down by lacking intensity in the field and professionalism with the bat. Above all however India’s seemingly unstoppable downfall of late has risen from a profound lack of adaptability and honesty. Ironically, while the subcontinental conditions have helped create a fortress of India, the profound over reliance on them has led to India’s slide.
During and after embarrassingly one-sided exchanges in England and then Australia Indian players, namely Virat Kohli and Gautam Gambhir, demanded “rank turners” for touring teams and claimed that green-top wickets were created specifically to curb India’s powerful batsmen when they played abroad. It is now clear that defiant petulance has failed to cover up the fact that defeat at home was coming sooner rather than later. Indian teams of yore, particularly in the fifteen years between 1995-2010, rarely produced results in foreign series but they would always compete with vigour. They drew against Steve Waugh’s Australians in Australia and registered a 1-0 in England in that time. The turn in fortunes of late has been remarkable.
No team could harbour the hope that their home conditions were so irreconcilably different to those abroad, that simply playing in them would be enough to bridge the cavernous 4-0 void that existed in England’s favour prior to this series. India did and it showed.
When denial can no longer cover up your own inescapable inadequacies, eventually, failure will rear its ugly head and bring you plummeting down to earth with truly biblical force. England have a habit of late of performing interventions for previously untouchable sides whilst touring the world. They did it to Australia. The convincing thrashing of the hosts 3-1 (which could easily have been 4-0 but for Mitchell Johnson’s heroics in Perth) triggered Cricket Australia’s purge of staff, ineffective policies and players alike. This was better known as The Argus Review. India will now have time for a media led feeding frenzy to settle in and will undoubtedly be forced into a state of self-reflection.
England meanwhile can reflect comfortably on their achievements. They battled with chutzpah and team spirit to overcome India after being humiliated in Ahmedabad and going 1-0 down in the series. To overstate India’s demise is not to take anything away from Alastair Cook’s team, who, if anything on this tour, have adapted to adversity with more zeal than a chameleon trapped in front of a painter’s colour chart.