In the modern world of sport, it is not that victory is everything, it is the grading of the victory. Whatever the arena, 10 minutes after play has stopped, which is quite enough time to lend perspective, it is vital to deduce whether it was the best ever or the second best or only a lucky break. England's victory in a Test series in India yesterday is right up there. That will have to do as far as the grading goes.
Alastair Cook, at the first time of asking, achieved what only Douglas Jardine, Tony Greig and David Gower had done as captains before.
It was a brilliant triumph for three reasons: it came at the end of a troubled year, after England were roundly thumped in the match and nobody but the players expected it. To suggest that India were a pretty average side is to miss the point.
England and everybody else have failed to beat average Indian sides in India before plenty of times. India do not lose at home, or at least they had not for eight years in a Test series until yesterday, 28 in the case of England.
But let Cook do his own grading. "I think on a par with Ashes," he said, reaching for the grades top drawer. "As an Englishman, winning in Australia after so long meant a huge amount. That dressing room for that last half an hour knowing what we had achieved was a very special place and it will live long in my memory. I will enjoy tonight.
"It has been an incredible tour, as it was to end it by batting out so convincingly. I can't praise the guys enough, and that's the whole squad, for their effort. The willingness to learn and to front up to what is a very tough challenge out here was fantastic."
No one fronted up better than Cook who responded to first-innings disaster in the first Test with a doughty second-innings century, which set the tone for his men and the rest of the series. But England came away from Ahmedabad facing a hammering and they knew it.
"Of course there was doubt," Cook said. "There is always doubt, especially after halfway through day two when we were getting rolled. But as I said then, if we could play close to our potential as a side we had a chance of winning a game and we did that. Then we backed it up in Kolkata and in this game we continued in that form. It was about transferring what we've been practising and working on out in the middle, and trusting our ability to do that especially with the bat."
England had a traumatic year before arriving in India. They lost Test series without reply to both Pakistan, when they floundered against high spin, and at home to South Africa, who were simply superior. The team and their management were then derailed by the Kevin Pietersen affair, which now seems part of another universe.
Funny that when people were saying that it was only a cricket team and that everybody should just get on with it, the England management said it all ran much deeper than that. Now, they wonder why outsiders might be intrigued why what went wrong could be put right so quickly. But it was, and England were the stronger for it. If Cook was by a distance the man of the series, Pietersen played the single most outstanding innings in it. His 186 in Mumbai was memorable and transforming.
"I wasn't surprised that we stood together," said Cook. "But I was surprised at the level we managed to achieve so soon after Ahmedabad. I was talking about playing to our potential but I was surprised we managed to do it straight away and put all those doubts to bed and prove it to ourselves. When you go to bed at night realising that you can play out here, that is a very encouraging thing. After that second innings in Ahmedabad we thought, 'Yes we can score runs out here'.
"The fact that in Mumbai we were playing on a wicket that we knew there would be a result on, because it was turning so big, freed us up and took the pressure of us. No one was expecting us to win apart from ourselves so that really helped."
Cook also praised his three leading bowlers, Graeme Swann, the leading wicket-taker, his spin partner Monty Panesar and the best swinger in town Jimmy Anderson. Perhaps above all Anderson. M S Dhoni, the defeated captain, who joins C K Nayudu, Bishen Bedi and Sunil Gavaskar in being a captain beaten by England at home, was in no doubt. "I thought the major difference between the sides was James Anderson," he said. So he might have been but he was not the only difference.
Graeme Swann: What a feeling, winning the series and get to see my kids again in the morning. Oh and the wife.
Kevin Pietersen: #28years later! Such an incredible team effort! #BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM
Matt Prior: Where's that tweet predicting 4-0 win to india @MichaelVaughan? The boys can't seem to find it?
Steve Finn: Awesome effort from the lads in India. Its not the same from your living room. Enjoy tonight lads!Reuse content