England call shots but acid test awaits
Green pitches fuel dominance but boot will be on the other foot on upcoming tours of India
In late 2008, it was possible to ponder if England would ever defeat India again. Three years later the pondering is, so to speak, on the other foot.
Then, India were 5-0 ahead in a series of seven one-day matches which, had it not been halted by terrorist atrocities, could easily have been stopped by the match referee on the grounds that England were taking too much punishment. When the postponed tour eventually resumed, India went and won a Test match they should have lost.
Now, England have won seven matches without response: four Tests, a Twenty20 and two one-day internationals. There are two more of the last-named to play. The fourth of the series is at Lord's today and the fifth at Cardiff next Friday, which will seem an interminable wait for all concerned if England are 3-0, or indeed 8-0, ahead by then. Nobody would blame the match referee on this occasion, Jeff Crowe, if he inter-vened for compassionate reasons.
There might be several reasons for this stark difference. India had the better team then and England have the better team now would count as two. But the pitches bequeathed by having home advantage are as high as anything in the pecking order.
England were ineffectual on the low, slow surfaces they encountered in some Indian odd spots last time; India have been incompetent against the moving ball on English grounds wherever they might be. It was, however, almost embarrassing when the pitch at The Oval was unveiled on Friday afternoon.
Had England been given a detailed recipe of their requirements – and nobody, of course, is suggesting that they did any such thing – it could not have been more beneficial to their seam bowlers or less amenable to India's batsmen. So it proved, and while it was the closest match of the summer, the damage was done while the ball was moving about sharply in the opening overs.
What type of surfaces England can expect to be greeted with both in the return one-day series next month and in Test and one-day series late next year and early in 2013 hardly bears thinking about. But contemplate it they must, because grass of any kind is unlikely to be involved.
If this inequality of surfaces seems to bestow unfair advantages, far betterthat than the bland alternative. It provides an examination. The hegemonyof homogeny must be resisted.
It has the potential to be as horrible for England in the near future as it is for India in the present. Except that England are a truly accomplished team who, if they learn to be patient, will operate with aplomb anywhere.
Next year could be the making of them. First they have South Africa at home, and if that series will unfortunately be burned alive by the Olympic torch it will still be significant. The tours of India, split by Christmas, follow. Win both of the Test series and this England's greatness will be established forever. One thing at a time, though, and that means the present one-day series. England's batting is brittle in parts and will be the more fragile next month for lacking Eoin Morgan, who is having surgery on his right shoulder this week and will be out for three months. This will give Ben Stokes a golden opportunity.
His innings in challenging circumstances on Friday was both frenetic and bold. He played shots that were not appropriate for the circumstances, he was slightly overawed, but the six he struck over long on off his 34th ball in international cricket was a sign of real promise. Jonathan Trott has yet to clear the ropes after facing 1,950 balls. Each to his own, to an extent.
This an important period for Ravi Bopara. He did the hard work on Friday but he was out with the line in sight. Morgan's absence means he will go to India.
Bopara is the sort of cricketer who should be wished well but talent goes only so far and 62 matches with only five 50s is quite a long way. But then Ian Bell is in magical form and still the one-day secrets elude him. England are winning. For now that may be enough.
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