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England in India: Series Review
17 Apr 2006
By: Neil Pickup


We were treated to three weeks of gripping Test match cricket - but then we had to pay for it with three weeks of increasingly limp one-day action. England, stripped of four key men, matched India blow for blow in the longer game. The closest contest in the ODI series was the police against the rioting crowds after the fifth game in Guwahati was abandoned.

It would be easy to say that England's tour of India symbolised the wider malaise of fixture congestion, diminishing the significance of every game, and driving player after senior player to burnout and breakdown. But that's been said both elsewhere and before, and it's more fun to concentrate on the plus points.

Each country will view the tour as a whole as broadly successful, after the history-making English win in Mumbai - the first in India for 21 years - not even 7-0 could have taken the sheen off the trip. Team India, meanwhile, had something to prove in the ODIs as their preparations for next year's World Cup gather pace, as well as a phalanx of pacemen to try out.

As the series ended at Indore with each side's young pace battery spraying the ball around the wicket, it's difficult to remember that it was just a month ago that each side's veteran spinner made their marks on the Test matches. After an opening game at Nagpur, chiefly memorable for three innings - any one of which may be looked back upon in five years as a coming of age for Paul Collingwood, Mohammad Kaif or debutant Alastair Cook.

Come Mohali, come Kumble. Not content with ending England's first innings in a blitz to cross the 500-wicket landmark, he rediscovered his leg-break and, alongside a resurgent Harbhajan Singh, scripted a second-innings tumble to put his side one game to the good - and India couldn't lose to England in Mumbai, could they? Oh yes, they could.

The tourists were somewhat aided by Rahul Dravid's best Ponting impression at the toss, as he inserted England to the despair and disapproval of everyone in the Wankhede, schoolchildren included, before watching Andrew Strauss collect a composed century and Owais Shah - in for Cook, struck down by food poisoning - a debut 88. Matthew Hoggard then dismissed Virender Sehwag - again - the shaggy-haired seamer having by now firmly earnt the right to describe the opening batsman as a member of the family oryctolagus. James Anderson, returning to the Test side after Steve Harmison became the latest addition to the injury list, followed with four wickets as England claimed a significant first innings lead.

As the track deteriorated, Kumble, Andrew Flintoff's fourth consecutive fifty was the highlight - firmly burying the idea that he couldn't play spin - setting the home side 313. It was 213 too many, as seven Indian wickets slid away inside just 16 overs - the concepts of saving the game and playing for the draw seemingly proving too much for the lower order to understand. The words may sound harsh, but how else can you explain Mahendra Dhoni hitting two out of three balls straight to mid-off?

Batting for time might have been over-complicated, but batting to chase runs certainly isn't. India have now won 16 consecutive ODIs batting second, and England were grossly under-equipped to stop them, without a bowling attack to speak of (38 wickets all series) - or anyone bar Kevin Pietersen and Paul Collingwood contributing with the bat. In contrast, seven Indians averaged above forty with the bat, the two left-handers Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina catching the most attention. The Indian slow bowlers - the two Singhs, Ramesh Powar and even Virender Sehwag (plus, if you're being particularly facetious, Irfan Pathan) both prevented England from scoring quickly, and got them out, comfortably making up for the fact that Vikram Singh showed few signs of being any good whatsoever.

The World Cup's beginning to peek over the horizon, and India - who missed Sachin Tendulkar, and were hindered throughout by Sehwag and Kaif making 102 runs in ten tries between them - have much to be cheerful about. As for England? Well, so long as there are now several more red lines through the player list in Duncan Fletcher's diary, I guess it hasn't been a complete loss.

Cricket Web Player Ratings

England

10 - Andrew Flintoff
Massive. Whether with bat or ball in hand, or with the captain's armband on, Freddie stepped into the breach and led England to what nobody back home dreamed possible. Even with a disappointing ODI series, Flintoff's stature at home is - if possible - greater than ever.

9 - Paul Collingwood
Smart tail-end marshalling in the First Test plus a series of useful contributions throughout the Test and ODI series mean Collingwood now has his hands on a first-choice place.

9 - Matthew Hoggard
Never again will be the tag of swinging conditions specialist be applied to the Yorkshireman. Running in forever, swinging the ball conventionally and reversing it, and eating Sehwag for breakfast. Such a shame he has a pyjama aversion.

9 - Alastair Cook
It's not great preparation for your Test debut to fly in from ten and a half time zones away with a handful of days' notice, but 161 runs showed that it didn't do the 21-year-old any harm.

8 - Kevin Pietersen
Five half-centuries in both forms, and even took a wicket. Now, go on with one and stop getting out to Yuvraj Singh.

7 - Owais Shah
A major, and measured, contribution to England's series-levelling triumph in Mumbai, but soured by 11 runs in three ODI attempts. Still, it's not like everyone else wasn't getting out.

7 - Andrew Strauss
More of the same from the left-hander, scoring big when he gets in, and not much else. Struggled in particular against Pathan in the ODIs, and his only major score came with the left-armer rested.

7 - James Anderson
Impressively returned to the Test side after sixteen months away in Mumbai, but failed to find the wickets befitting his new-found rank of sixth-most successful English ODI bowler. Nothing to be ashamed of.

7 - Steve Harmison
Unlucky to miss out through injury on a Mumbai pitch that offered the faster men more help, Harmison continued where he had in Pakistan - playing his supporting role within himself, and waiting for a pitch without all the life rolled out of it.

7 - Shaun Udal
Completed the coup de grace in Mumbai as England sealed the series. It may be the final act of his Test career, and he couldn't have chosen a better way to go out.

6 - Ian Bell
Sometimes he looks brilliant. Others (generally walking back to the pavilion having edged to the keeper or the slips), he doesn't. Sharp fielding and top-order coolness may signal an ODI opening as Test door shuts, however.

6 - Geraint Jones
The glovework's improved since last summer, but he's still getting bowled too much. Prior's struggles may have bought him time to finally make the role his own... unless Chris Read returns.

6 - Monty Panesar
As far as first Test wickets go, you could do far worse than Sachin Tendulkar. Unfortunately, there were only four others - and if Ashley Giles had come back from somewhere with a strike rate of 141, then his head would be on a chopping block.

4 - Ian Blackwell
England's most miserable Test debut since Gavin Hamilton started as Nasser Hussain's tenuous description of Blackwell as a 'batsman' was rewarded with a flat-footed smear to deflect a Pathan long-hop into off stump. It was one of his better shots of the winter. He bowled tightly in the ODIs, but where India's spinners broke through, Blackwell couldn't.

4 - Liam Plunkett
Another Test match struggle, only slightly brightened by a reasonably economical showing in the ODIs. The jury's still out on whether he's capable of the step-up, but at least he's better than Kabir.

4 - Matthew Prior
Aside from a dehydrating himself by performing starjumps at 45 degrees, six completed innings for Nelson scarcely talk of a specialist batsman.

3 - Sajid Mahmood
One day good, two days very bad. Will have to do something about the disturbing similarities between his pitch maps and Rikki Clarke's boyish looks if he wants to progress.

2 - Vikram Solanki
Please, Duncan. No more.

2 - Gareth Batty
One point for each run scored (2) and wicket taken (0).

2 - Kabir Ali
See Solanki, Vikram. The occasional good ball doesn't make up for the other five being in the slot.

India

9 - Anil Kumble
Age and experience carried the day in Mohali, and was one of the few Indians to escape the fingers of blame in Mumbai. 500 wickets strong, and as good - if not better - than ever.

9 - Rahul Dravid
Aside from showing a disturbing tendency to get out to Liam Plunkett, and the even more disturbing decision to insert in Mumbai, there was barely a foot wrong - no more than we expected.

9 - Robin Uthappa
There's not much wrong with making the highest score by an Indian on ODI debut. Still, he'll feel that it ought to have been a century.

9 - Suresh Raina
Given his opportunity by the enforced absence of Tendulkar, the former U19 captain grasped it with both hands, in the process giving Greg Chappell a headache similar to the one he'd encumbered the England bowlers with.

8 - Sri Sreesanth
It's not often that someone goes from debutant to leading the seam attack in the course of the tour, but Sreesanth - who removed Kevin Pietersen on his first day, and ended with six for 55 in the final ODI at Indore - came out as the winner of the seamers' lottery.

8 - Irfan Pathan
Having added Andrew Strauss to Salman Butt in the list of left handers inexplicably unable to either score runs against him, or avoid getting out, he also averaged 41 with the bat. I've made no secret of the fact that I don't rate him, but if he keeps performing like this, I might have to start doing so.

8 - Yuvraj Singh
A Test match struggle faded out into his third consecutive ODI man-of-the-series award as he continued to make the middle-order finisher's role his own, as well as crafting a surprise jinx upon Kevin Pietersen's batting.

8 - Munaf Patel
A narrow second to Sreesanth in terms of impact, Munaf Patel's debut efforts in the Second Test went a long way to laying the foundations for England's eventual triumph. Disappointed in the ODIs, but no-one reversing the ball as much as he does will be easy to play for long.

8 - Ramesh Powar
Bouncy, bubbly and always up for the challenge, the unique brand of gentle off-spin purveyed by 'Phil' - as England's close fielders, apparently oblivious to darts' negligible pulling power in the subcontinent, nicknamed him - proved more than enough to check out several English batsmen.

7 - Wasim Jaffer
A century at Nagpur was the high point, as England's nip-backer plan defeated Jaffer in the following games. Will need to overcome this if he's to succeed at the highest level.

7 - Harbhajan Singh
A disappointing Test series faded into memory as his all-round (yes, all-round) efforts sealed the first ODI and led to 12 wickets at a shade under 16 in the six limited-over games, by far the standout bowling effort.

6 - Mohammad Kaif
Dropped after a 91 at Nagpur that may have saved the match, Kaif looked short on confidence and form in the ODIs, where a miserable run of ducks may soon cost him his place there as well.

6 - Mahendra Dhoni
He may have carried on his spectacular ODI batting form, but everyone in India knew that he could do that. His aberrations in the Test - with gloves and in particular bat at Mumbai, were inexplicable if not quite unforgivable.

6 - Dinesh Karthik
Caught everything he was asked to in his sole outing to consolidate his place as Dhoni's understudy.

5 - Gautam Gambhir
Two tries, two twenty-somethings. Not bad. Not great.

5 - Ajit Agarkar
Two tries, two wickets. Not much to write home about here, either. As always, it's not enough to get him a regular place, nor to get him permanently discarded.

3 - Sachin Tendulkar
The whispers are growing louder. He may have been around forever, but this run of form is like nothing he's experienced before. We may well be witnessing the fading of a star - for the first time, England weren't unduly concerned when he was at the crease. The aura is slipping.

3 - Virender Sehwag
Another series best forgotten, Sehwag fell to Matthew Hoggard as a matter of routine and only accrued 173 runs all tour - 76 of which came in one effort.

3 - Venugopal Rao
There's only so much you can do with one outing. Ten from eleven balls doesn't provide much to form a rating from.

2 - Piyush Chawla
Fast-tracked into the Test side at just 17, Chawla suffered at the blades of Pietersen and Flintoff as well as failing to impose himself with the bat.

1 - VVS Laxman
A point for each ball faced.

1 - RP Singh
A point for not being the worst fast bowler called Singh.

0 - VRV Singh
Twelve overs, none for 105. He doesn't get points for bowling fast.

England in India 2006

First Test, Nagpur - Match Drawn
Second Test, Mohali - India won by 9 wickets
Third Test, Mumbai - England won by 212 runs

First ODI, Delhi - India won by 39 runs
Second ODI, Faridabad - India won by 4 wickets
Third ODI, Goa - India won by 49 runs
Fourth ODI, Cochin - India won by 4 wickets
Fifth ODI, Guwahati - Match Abandoned
Sixth ODI, Jamshedpur- England won by 5 wickets
Seventh ODI, Indore - India won by 7 wickets

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