England hold heads high after tour of redemption
India 453 & 251-7dec England 302 & 64-1 (Match drawn; India win series 1-0)
In the end it was slightly inevitable that this much-debated Test series should end in such a tedious and low-key manner. In the build-up, greater attention had been paid to the safety and security of the players than the quality of cricket being played, and it would have been gluttonous to expect a repeat of the first Test in Chennai, where nearly all the fireworks, emotion and energy were seen.
The draw consigned England to a 1-0 series defeat, a result that means they have now lost five consecutive series to teams placed above them in the Test rankings. These are the type of statistics that do not suggest Kevin Pietersen's side are making progress. The only comfort, with the Ashes only two Test series against the West Indies away, is that Australia are in a similar, if not worse, run of form.
But it would be unfair to be too critical of Pietersen's side. The England team entered the series amid a unique set of circumstances and they performed far better than many could have imagined. India are undoubtedly a superior side to England, and there is no disgrace in being beaten by a Sachin Tendulkar hundred, especially when he considers it one of his best.
At the start of the tour Pietersen insisted that he would make no excuses and he was true to his word. But the terrible events of Mumbai did deprive England of any worthwhile practice before the first Test. Indeed, Andrew Strauss, Monty Panesar and Stephen Harmison entered the match having not played a meaningful game of cricket since September.
Despite these hindrances England performed remarkably well, competing hard against a top outfit arguably playing the best cricket in the world. There were several times in each Test when England could have wilted but they continued to fight and they can leave India with their heads held high. Australia may be on a downward spiral but they are no mugs, and it should not be forgotten that Ricky Ponting's well-prepared side were totally outplayed by India in three of the four Tests they recently played here. But for Tendulkar and the irrepressible Virender Sehwag, England would probably have produced one of Test cricket's most remarkable turnarounds.
But there was far more than a series at stake here. Had England not returned it would have had serious implications for the game. Cricket needs India, not just for the money it brings in but because its supporters are the most passionate in the world. Compared to other sports cricket is small, being played to a reasonable level by fewer than a dozen countries. Two of those destinations – Pakistan and Zimbabwe – are currently out of bounds, and were India to be looked at in the same light – well, it does not bear thinking about.
But it was safety and security, and not Indian Premier League contracts, that decided whether Pietersen's side would return. And the game can be thankful they did. If teams do not travel when security assurances have been given there might be a split between Asia and the rest of the world. International cricket might come to a halt.
For the third consecutive morning a pea-soup fog delayed the start of play, this time for two-and-a-half hours. There was a feeling that cricket could have been played earlier but neither side seemed particularly enthused about performing their craft.
Yet when the players finally emerged the action, if you were an Indian fan, was magnificent. Yuvraj Singh continued in limited-over mode, smashing the ball to all corners of the ground, and Gautam Gambhir joined in, too.
Yuvraj struck three further sixes in his 86, and each was a stunning shot. James Anderson was clipped effortlessly over the midwicket boundary and Stuart Broad hit for successive maximums. The first was a left handed, tennis-serve swipe at a bouncer that flew over long on, and it was followed by a huge drive over extra cover. Broad is becoming used to getting flogged by Yuvraj; it was he who smashed him for six sixes in an over during the 2007 World Twenty20.
With India's lead of 367 at lunch a declaration seemed imminent but Mahendra Singh Dhoni opted to continue batting after the interval. Dhoni's decision will have been influenced by wanting to offer Yuvraj the chance to score a hundred in his home city, and Gambhir the opportunity to become the third Indian to score a hundred in each innings of a Test.
With 55 overs of the game remaining, he also knew that in short run chases the advantage lies with the batting side and he did not want to give England even the slightest sniff of a chance.
Ironically, both batsmen failed. Yuvraj became the third Indian batsman to be run out when an Ian Bell throw from short fine leg hit the stumps. Gambhir fell three runs short of reaching his landmark when he cut Graeme Swann to backward point. His dismissal for 97 forced Dhoni, who had earlier fallen tamely to Monty Panesar for nought, to declare leaving England requiring 403 in 43 overs.
Alastair Cook edged Ishant Sharma to second slip in the eighth over of England's reply but there was never any possibility of defeat. Strauss and Bell comfortably survived the next 20 overs, taking England's score to 64 for 1. Bell scored an unbeaten 24 but the innings should not influence the England selectors who will be announcing their touring squad for the West Indies in five days' time.
The game ended on an amusing, if slightly farcical, note with Dhoni bowling the final over. The Test may not have been a classic but Dhoni's over ensured the players and crowd finished with a smile on their faces. For that, and England's willingness to return to India, cricket should be grateful.
Winners and Losers: The England players who thrived – and those whose form dived
Andrew Strauss The England opener knew this was an important tour for him. By scoring a hundred in each innings of the first Test in Chennai he removed any doubts.
Graeme Swann Has impressed everyone with the way he has dealt with Test cricket. In the two Tests here he has out-bowled fellow spinner Monty Panesar. The selectors have a tricky decision to make in the Caribbean.
Kevin Pietersen The role Pietersen played in getting England to return to India is yet to be revealed but, publicly, the England captain has handled the affair brilliantly. By scoring a superb hundred in Mohali he proved that he could handle the dual responsibilities.
Ian Bell Will nervously await the announcement of the squad for the West Indies on 29 December. Owais Shah is favourite to replace him, but Michael Vaughan cannot be ruled out.
Monty Panesar Travelled to India as England's premier spinner but he can no longer take that position for granted. India's batsmen targeted him and ruthlessly exposed his lack of confidence. By the end, he looked a forlorn figure.
Stephen Harmison Where do the England selectors go with their spearhead? Pietersen dropped him from the one-day side two games into the winter and after one Test. Harmison's threat will no doubt win him a place in the Caribbean, but who knows how he will perform?
Final day of five; India won toss
India – First Innings 453 (G Gambhir 179, R Dravid 136).
England – First Innings 302 (K P Pietersen 144).
India – Second Innings (Overnight: 134 for 4)
G Gambhir c Bell b Swann 97
331 min, 229 balls, 6 fours
V V S Laxman run out (Flintoff-Prior TV replay) 15
80 min, 49 balls, 2 fours
Yuvraj Singh run out (Bell TV replay) 86
135 min, 93 balls, 6 fours, 4 sixes
*†M S Dhoni c and b Panesar 0
5 min, 2 balls
Harbhajan Singh not out 5
11 min, 10 balls, 1 four
Extras (b10 lb8 w5 nb3) 26
Total (for 7 dec, 331 min, 73 overs) 251
Fall: 1-30 (Sehwag) 2-36 (Dravid) 3-44 (Tendulkar) 4-80 (Laxman) 5-233 (Yuvraj Singh) 6-241 (Dhoni) 7-251 (Gambhir).
Did not bat: Zaheer Khan, A Mishra, I Sharma.
Bowling: Anderson 19-8-51-1 (7-4-23-0, 8-4-9-1, 4-0-19-0); Broad 14-2-50-1 (w4) (9-1-18-1, 2-1-4-0, 3-0-28-0); Flintoff 13-1-39-0 (nb3, w1) (5-1-7-0, 4-0-9-0, 4-0-23-0); Swann 17-3-49-1 (5-2-6-0, 2-0-9-0, 4-0-16-0, 6-1-18-1); Panesar 10-0-44-1 (7-0-37-0, 3-0-7-1).
Progress: Fifth day: fog delayed start until 11am. 150: 252 min, 54.4 overs. 200: 280 min, 60.5 overs. Lunch: 216-4 (Gambhir 80, Yuvraj Singh 79) 63 overs. 250: 328 min, 71.4 overs. Declaration: 1.46pm.
England – Second Innings
A J Strauss not out 21
107 min, 83 balls, 1 four
A N Cook c Laxman b Sharma 10
34 min, 19 balls, 1 four
I R Bell not out 24
72 min, 70 balls, 2 fours
Extras (b4 w1 nb4) 9
Total (for 1, 107 min, 28 overs) 64
Fall: 1-18 (Cook).
Did not bat: *K P Pietersen, P D Collingwood, A Flintoff, †M J Prior, S C J Broad, G P Swann, J M Anderson, M S Panesar.
Bowling: Zaheer Khan 3-0-11-0; Sharma 5-1-7-1 (nb1, w1); Harbhajan Singh 11-3-25-0 (nb1); Mishra 8-1-16-0 (nb2); Dhoni 1-0-1-0.
Progress: Fifth day: Tea: 31-1 (Strauss 6, Bell 8) 13 overs. 50: 86 min, 20.4 overs. Match drawn. India win two-Test series 1-0.
Man of the match: G Gambhir.
Man of the series: Zaheer Khan.
Umpires: Asad Rauf (Pak) and D J Harper (Aus).
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