England top of the world – but aiming higher
Swann spins superb England to series whitewash over India but Strauss still not satisfied
It's official – and now they have a trophy to go with their title. But England had no sooner taken possession of the International Cricket Council Mace as the world's No 1 Test team than captain Andrew Strauss started talking about aiming even higher.
An innings and eight run victory over India at The Oval yesterday not only completed a 4-0 series whitewash but also gave Strauss's side a little more breathing space ahead of second-placed South Africa.
A capacity crowd of around 23,500 saw Graeme Swann spin England to their latest success before tea, and most spectators remained inside the ground to witness Strauss being presented with the ICC symbol of success after leading his men on a lap of honour.
"It is fantastic to receive that mace and be No 1 in the world," said Strauss, who has led England to eight series victories since becoming full-time Test captain. "But we are all very conscious that it can be taken away from us very quickly. We are going to be judged by higher standards now and we need to keep pushing ourselves to improve and get better."
England do not play another Test series for five months. Then the contests come thick and fast with Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates followed by Sri Lanka away, West Indies and South Africa at home and, before Christmas next year, India away.
"The nature of international cricket is that you are always looking forward to the next challenge," said Strauss. "Rightly we should celebrate that we have had a fantastic Test match summer. We've had plenty of questions asked of us and we have answered them, but we have to start looking towards the winter.
"We have some very stern challenges ahead in the subcontinent, and that is an area of the world we still need to improve in. Winning away from home is always more difficult. And then it is about maintaining performance and being consistent."
Given the way England have played over the past 18 months, what could possibly go wrong? "The greatest pitfall is the feeling that you've done it all and therefore you are not willing to put in the hard work to continue it," suggested Strauss. "But I would be very disappointed if our side fell into that trap and it's certainly not what we are about as a unit. If there are signs of it then it's important we nip it in the bud."
For now, though, no one can begrudge England a party. "I might have a hangover in the morning," admitted Strauss. As for India, any headaches today will be caused by their latest capitulation. Having looked on course to draw the final Test, they lost their last seven wickets for 21 runs.
A few months ago, MS Dhoni led India to World Cup glory. Now he has become only the third captain to be whitewashed by England in a series of more than three Tests. Yet he insisted last night: "I am very satisfied with the amount of effort the boys put in."
Dhoni did accept, though, that his team should have been able to bat out for a draw yesterday. And they might have done, but for England's determination to finish on a high note.
"There might have been a temptation to take the foot off the gas, having won the series," said Strauss. "But I'm very proud of the way the guys have reacted this week with some outstanding performances.
"We were very motivated at the thought of making it 4-0 but we had to dig deep to do it and that is what I'm most proud about – the guys did it when we didn't really have to. I think that bodes well for the future."
Stats magic: the numbers that matter from the final day
56 Scarcely believable but Sachin Tendulkar's highest score in the series, before yesterday, was 56 – made in the second Test at Trent Bridge.
6 Even with a spinner on, only six overs were bowled in the first 30 minutes yesterday as two lengthy delays were allowed with Jimmy Anderson fitting an ankle support and Amit Mishra receiving treatment for taking a blow – on the pad.
1 Until yesterday morning, India had not batted through a session in the series without losing a wicket.
84 Amit Mishra beat his previous Test best of 50 but could not get beyond his highest first-class score – also 84, and made for Haryana.
1959 England last beat India in a Test at The Oval in 1959. Before yesterday's result, there had been five draws and an away win.
9 As well as scoring 51 Test centuries, Tendulkar has also reached the 90s on nine occasions, although the look on his face yesterday suggested, in his opinion, that last figure should still read eight.
79 From the moment England took their first wicket of the day, Amit Mishra, it took 79 minutes and 94 balls to take the next six and win the match.
34 In a sweeping finale to a series in which he had been prominent for his lack of prominence, Graeme Swann took 4-7 in 34 balls.
8 Of their last 17 Test matches from the second against Bangladesh last year, England have won eight by an innings.
How the action on the final day unfolded
10.59: Start 129-3
All eyes are on Tendulkar: can he secure his 100th 100? England fans might not begrudge him doing so, so long as he doesn't stick around too long after.
11.26: Milestone 150-3
Tendulkar reaches fifty by cutting a wide delivery from Anderson to deep point and jogging through for a run. Loud cheers greet the single as India bring up their 150.
12.40: Landmark 200-3
Mishra brings up India's 200 by flicking an inswinger from Bresnan down to long leg for a single. India are battling hard to save this Test match.
12.50: Drop 204-3
What a chance! Swann finds the rough and Tendulkar bat-pads a sharp catch to Cook at short leg. But Cook can't hold on as the ball cannons hard into his chest.
12.58: Fifty 209-3
Mishra taps a short delivery down to backward square leg off the back foot, returning for two runs to reach his fifty. An impressive knock from the nightwatchman.
12.59: Lunch 216-3
A good morning session for India as Mishra and Tendulkar graft well. India are now just 75 runs behind England. A bit of luck for Sachin; could it be his day?
14.07: Not out 237-3
Huge lbw appeal from England as Tendulkar is trapped in front attempting a sweep. Taufel says no but it would have been out with the DRS review system.
14.11: Drop 249-3
Tendulkar is dropped behind the stumps by Prior as he outside-edges an attempted cut-shot. A tough chance but how many more lives will Tendulkar get!?
14.12: Not out 249-3
Tendulkar survives another strong lbw appeal as he offers no shot and the ball raps his pads. Taufel says no. An action packed few minutes leaves Swann fuming.
14.14: Milestone 252-3
Mishra runs the ball off the face of the bat and wide of the slip cordon for three runs off Pietersen. That well-timed shot brings up 250 for India.
14.18: Wicket 262-4
Mishra goes for 84 as he plays inside the line to Swann and has his off-stump knocked back. That partnership of 144 was India's highest this series.
14.24: Wicket 262-5
Tendulkar is out for 91! Sachin is struck on the pads by Bresnan and umpire Tucker makes a brave call: replays show the ball was just clipping leg-stump.
14.37: Wicket 266-6
England strike again. Raina is harshly given out lbw as he inside-edges a Swann delivery on to his pads. That's a pair for Raina. England are buoyant.
14.59: Wicket 269-7
Dhoni goes for just three as he edges Broad to Swann at second slip. The Indian captain's feet were nowhere near the pitch of the delivery; it was a wild heave-ho.
15.03: Wicket 269-8
R P Singh goes for a duck as he edges Broad straight behind to Prior. That's five wickets for seven runs now. India have fallen apart and they still trail by 22 runs.
15.21: Not out 274-8
Swann thinks he has his five-for as Sharma is given out after seemingly bat-padding to silly point. But Sharma reviews, wisely, and the decision is overturned.
15.26: Wicket 275-9
Swann has five. Gambhir is out for three, flaying at a wider delivery and slicing the ball to Morgan at backward point. India need 16 to avoid an innings defeat.
15.36 Wicket 283 all out
Sreesanth tries to slog Swann, but misses completely and middle stump disappears. 4-0 whitewash: England have laid down a real marker to world cricket.
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