Pitch takes gloss off England success

India 214 and 219 England 313 and 121-2 England win by 8 wickets
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The Independent Online
It took England just 65 minutes to wrap up this first Cornhill Test, Graham Thorpe turning Javagal Srinath off his legs for the single to secure an eight-wicket victory for his side. His captain Michael Atherton, unbeaten on 53, was by his side, which was fitting, for he has endured more ire than most for his side's recent failures, and he and his team can now journey to Lord's in 10 days time, armed at last with something to smile about.

It is not often that England, despite a healthy home record, win a Test match as convincing ly as this one. But if the margin suggested it was an easy win, another early finish on a pitch ill-suited to five-day cricket - the second in successive years - must place Edgbaston's right to stage a Test match in jeopardy.

Many of course will point to India's poor batting in the match and to the two centurions' ability to cope as vindication. But if Tests here are to be marketed as a five-day event, much smooth talking and top-soiling will have to be done if the first Test of next year's Ashes series is to be played here as scheduled.

Despite that, England's win over India came almost exactly a day later than their defeat last year. But what a difference a whole day seems to have made to the mood of the crowd.

Then, a large angry mob gathered outside the pavilion to vent its spleen upon Atherton and Illingworth as they walked to the press conference. Yesterday, cheers replaced boos and almost nobody took up Warwickshire's offer to picnic on the outfield.

That placidity, however, does not mean the pitch was any more acceptable than the one a year ago - just slower. Atherton, so outspoken about last year's surface, was more guarded when asked yesterday about this year's offering. "I got my knuckles rapped a few times over the comments I made last year, so I think I'd better be careful," he said, grinning. What he conveniently neglected to mention was that when he was not digging out scuttlers he was again getting his knuckles rapped, but this time it was from balls that fizzed and nipped.

It was a fickleness that even England's centurion and man of the match, Nasser Hussain, saw fit to mention, although it seemed to go unnoticed in the Warwickshire committee room. In a classic exchange of "Well he would say that wouldn't he," the club's chief executive, Dennis Amiss, said that he felt pleased with the pitch, adding that "the carry of the ball had been good and the bounce fairly consistent".

As a scorer of more than 40,000 first-class runs, well over half of them at Edgbaston, Amiss will know that if he had his career again on pitches like this one, a good 10,000 of them would have to be deducted.

Sadly the man who took all the flak last year, the groundsman, Steve Rouse, can do little about the situation, having inherited a relaid square, which is unable to grow an even covering of grass. To compound matters, the surface becomes riven with cracks as soon as the moisture departs from the top six inches of soil.

If further evidence to condemn was needed, one need look no further than the changed technique of Nick Knight, Warwickshire's and England's opening batsman. When he was at Essex, Knight's first movement with his feet was to move forward. After two seasons at Edgbaston, his initial movement is back towards leg-stump, as if expecting the worst, rather than back and across as detailed technicians like Geoff Boycott would advocate.

But if the nature of the pitch takes a modicum of gloss off England's win, the way in which they went about achieving it should not, and they have gone about their task with energy, enthusiasm and a well directed sense of aggression. Forget the odd gripe and gesture, modern cricket cannot be played in a vacuum of good manners.

As long as they are not overdone, occasional incidents like Cork's goodbye wave to a departing Anil Kumble and Atherton's sermon to Tendulkar must be tolerated, and umpire David Shepherd - who had a good game - showed it does not take much to keep heated blood from curdling. In the heat of battle the only thing Atherton was guilty of was hypocrisy, when he too pointed out what the ball had struck, after a bouncer that had hit him on the helmet was held at cover.

Fortunately, in between the isolated moments of controversy, some fine cricket was played by both sides. For England's three debutants it will be a victory to savour. Ronnie Irani was crucial in getting England's first innings going, while Alan Mullally gave the bowling attack some extra pace and a new angle of attack.

As ever Dominic Cork's involvement was paramount, and his six wickets were the fruits of another fine performance. Most pleasing was the twin renaissance of Chris Lewis and Hussain, which bodes well for the future, providing both are prepared to keep improving and honing their cricket.

But it was far from being all England and if Hussain's knock set up the match, Tendulkar's was simply the innings of the match. In the first innings he had tried to hit his favourite bottom-handed on-drive too hard, and was bowled through the resulting gate.

In the second innings, he let the ball come to him, either dropping it down in defence or dispatching it with thrilling precision and power in attack. On a pitch where others struggled throughout, and hard work was always in excess of the amount of runs scored, Tendulkar barely missed or mis-hit a ball.

The exception was the tired hook that dismissed him and unless India can lift themselves, and bat like a team, there is unlikely to be any respite either for him or for India's persevering pair of opening bowlers in this series.

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