The plea was in danger of falling on deaf ears. They listened but they did not necessarily hear. When England were crushed in the opening match of the Test series against India, their coach Andy Flower was disappointed but rational.
In a considered discourse he asked three times that judgement should be delivered not then, not in the immediate wake of the nine wicket drubbing, but at the end of the series. It was an entirely reasonable request which equally could not entirely conceal the suspicion that he was playing for time.
England were fragile against spin yet again in that first Test in Ahmedabad. Worse still, their seamers looked off the pace as well. Flower genuinely thought matters could improve but he was probably working as hard at convincing himself as well as others.
Judgement day finally arrived in Nagpur three matches later. Long before the close of a dull but vastly significant draw, England had turned the series round. They won it 2-1, defeating their opponents by ten wickets in Mumbai and seven wickets in Kolkata.
It was a superb triumph, almost matching their Ashes win in Australia two years ago. They outsmarted India at their own game. When it mattered (when they were both picked, that is) England’s spinners were too slippery for India’s batsmen, England’s batsmen foiled India’s spinners, England’s seamers, and one in particular, probed and harried and never gave a moment’s rest.
The verdict is that England confounded observers outside the small world of the dressing room; they probably surprised themselves. There comes a time in the affairs of man when the constant refrain that self-belief still exists, that talent will out is mere bluster.
Yet they did it and England won a series in India for the first time since 1984-85 when David Gower’s side also had to come from one behind. Flower should be accorded his due because he admitted his mistakes and held his nerve.
But this series belonged to Alastair Cook, England’s new captain. After the shambolic first innings in Ahmedabad he seized control of affairs. He recognised that the way to win was to grind India down. He grinded and he kept grinding. His sequence of 176, 122 and 190 was interrupted only by his 18no to win in Mumbai.
Long before the end, this team had become Cook’s team. As with his predecessor, Andrew Strauss, it seemed to be moulded in his image. He was measured, stoic, patient and so were his men.
Cook has played international cricket for six years and India in general and Nagpur in particular will always have a special place in his soul. It was in this city that he appeared in a Test match for the first time and it was in this city that he completed his first series win in his first as captain.
Added to the two matches in Bangladesh nearly three years ago when he acted in a caretaker role while Strauss had a rest and it is clear he might have something. But he is a different man now, sure of himself because it is his team. This could be the start of a great adventure.
England were not quite there when they turned up. Although this has been far from a vintage Indian side they were still prepared to fight to hang on to the vestiges of their home record. Work was still to be done.
Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell duly performed it. Having come together at 94 for 3 when it still had potential to become tricky they took their partnership to 208, England’s second highest for the fourth wicket in England.
Both scored hundreds. It was Trott’s eighth hundred for England, his second this year, and Bell’s 17th, his first of 2012 in which he played 25 innings. Each will have scored tougher ones, probably all 23 that jointly preceded the pair yesterday, but they knew there was a series on the line and history to be made.
They played normally in the first hour which was exactly what the position demanded – nothing reckless, nothing overly defensive. Trott was out for 143 when he glanced a shot to leg slip, Bell might have been caught at slip when he was 75, attempting a cut.
He was there at end, on 116no, playing the last ball defensively, when England declared their second innings 356 runs ahead. Joe Root, the debutant, was there with him having batted in a composed way for the second time in the match.
This time there was not the immensity of the first innings when he had to deal with a parlous position of 139 for five and he was able to enjoy himself, hitting his first six in Test cricket, something Trott is still waiting to do after 38 Tests.
Considering the rarity of this win, the brilliant manner in which it was achieved and the fact that it came at the end of a troubled year it seems almost churlish to deride the last match and the pitch it was played on. But a series standing at 2-1 to the tourists, who had come from behind, deserved a better finale.
The pitch was hard, slow, encouraged no-one and kept getting better instead of worse. One pitch like this for a form of the game which often seems to be fighting for survival is one too many. It was too easy to stay in on and too difficult to get people out on. In five days 24 wickets fell and some of those were gifted.
It was perfectly correct therefore that the man of the match award went to Jimmy Anderson, the leader of England’s attack, who had a wonderful series when he found his range after the first Test. His burst on the second afternoon when he dismissed three of India’s top four with swing bowling of intelligent precision was effectively a series clincher. Watching Anderson was to enjoy a craftsman.
Cook was man of the series for scoring 562 runs. India have problems in batting, bowling and fielding but it was England that made them. The feeling was almost as good as winning in Australia. It was bloody marvellous all over again.
- More about:
- Alastair Cook
- Graeme Swann
- Higher Education
- Monty Panesar