More games of patience will be needed to stay on top of the mountain

 

The Oval

There is nothing quite like blasting the opposition into submission with more than a day to spare – and England have done a fair bit of that on their journey to the top of the Test mountain. But patience can be a useful tool to have in the kitbag, too.

Most things have gone the way of Andrew Strauss and his team since they put a 1-0 defeat in the Caribbean behind them and embarked on a sequence of success that now stands at nine series unbeaten (eight wins and a draw) with power to add.

Many of their victories in the last year have been straightforward, ultimately at any rate, with Australia losing by an innings on three occasions last winter, Sri Lanka being blown away in not much more than the blink of an eye at the start of this summer and India succumbing all too easily – especially at Trent Bridge and Edgbaston.

Yesterday, though, England had to dig deep, overcome misfortune and mishap, and show everyone just how much it meant to them to finish a fabulous summer on a triumphant note.

Thanks to a rat-a-tat-tat burst from Graeme Swann and Stuart Broad, Strauss's men eventually won by an innings again with plenty of time in hand to complete a first 4-0 Test series whitewash since West Indies were routed in 2004.

For all of the morning session and much of the afternoon, though, England had to graft: to keep believing that, despite dropped catches, desperately tight lbw decisions and the apparent (if mistaken) certainty that Sachin Tendulkar would register his 100th international century, everything would come right in the end.

There were times when they seemed close to accepting that, for once, they would not be able to find a way through – most obviously when, in the same over, Swann had Tendulkar dropped by Matt Prior and then saw a leg-before verdict go against him.

The spinner, who has kept away from centre stage for most of this summer because of the excellence of England's seam and swing bowlers, took his cap from umpire Simon Taufel and looked towards the home dressing room with hands spread wide.

This was the moment, surely, when India and their many fans inside The Oval must have thought frustration was about to get the better of their opponents – just as it did, in fact, a year ago when Pakistan were the visitors.

England were having things pretty much their own way in that series as well and became decidedly grouchy when Test debutant Zulqarnain Haider had the nerve to hold them up for a few hours at Edgbaston with a battling 88.

It was rather like Amit Mishra's act of defiance yesterday, in fact. But whereas Haider suffered a painful blow on his hand after a petulant and totally unnecessary throw from Broad, Mishra was subjected to nothing more damaging than a bit of backchat.

Instead, England concentrated their efforts on trying to complete the task they had set themselves. "This is a good test for them," remarked Shane Warne during a commentary stint on Sky TV. "The challenge for them is to keep their standards up."

And to be very patient. As Rahul Dravid pointed out on Sunday evening, England's biggest challenge now as the world's No 1 Test team is to win series on the subcontinent – and in India, in particular.

It is there, when the fast bowlers are searching in vain for seam and swing, that these players will have to keep plugging away, hoping to prise an opening before piling in.

England did it to perfection yesterday and deserve all the accolades that are coming their way. And, as they showed, there is more than one way to stay on top.

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