The four match Test series between England and India ended a couple of weeks ago (it’s taken me a while to get around to writing this because I was too busy playing Deus Ex: Human Revolution), with England winning the series in emphatic fashion with a 4-0 series whitewash. Victory in the series places England top of the ICC Test ratings, for the first time since their inception, and demotes India from first to third. Before the series started, many were predicting a close contest (me included), but it was the complete opposite, with England dominating almost every day’s play and winning each match by a very wide margin (winning by, in order, 196 runs, 319 runs, an innings and 242 runs and, finally, by an innings and 8 runs).
England’s bowling throughout the series was excellent, confirmed by the fact that during the series the highest total India’s batsmen could achieve was a mere 300. The pick of the bowlers was Stuart Broad, who took 25 wickets at an average of 13.84, the highlight of his series being a hat-trick during the Second Test that really shifted the balance of the match; before it India were looking on course for a big first innings lead, already being 52 runs ahead with five wickets in hand, but after it their lead was restricted to a relatively insignificant 67. The other bowlers all performed well too, with Jimmy Anderson taking 21 wickets at an average of 25.71, and Tim Bresnan, who only played three Tests, taking 16 at 16.31. Graeme Swann had a slightly disappointing series by his high standards, taking 16 wickets at an average of 40.69, but he was only really offered any assistance by the pitch during the last Test, and he obliged by bowling England to victory on the final day, taking nine wickets in the match. Chris Tremlett only played in the First Test, picking up four wickets before he aggravated hamstring and back problems that would keep him out of the next two matches. Interestingly, Tremlett was deemed fit for the final Test but was not recalled, mainly because Bresnan played so well in the intervening matches, with the bat as well as the ball.
It was an interesting selection dilemma for England. Tremlett had a great series against Sri Lanka earlier in the summer and against Australia in the winter, but Bresnan had come into the side and was bowling superbly against the Indian batsmen, and hit a couple of decent innings with the bat, including an innings of 90 during the Second Test. There is a striking similarity between the Test records of Tremlett and Bresnan. Both have played in ten Test matches, and, while Tremlett has the edge in wickets taken, having 49 to Bresnan’s 41, Bresnan edges him out in many other stats, having a better bowling average, 23.60 to Tremlett’s 25.67, strike rate, 49.5 to 52.2, and economy rate, 2.85 to 2.94. As the closeness of these stats show, as bowlers there is little to separate the two, where Bresnan really has an edge is with the bat, averaging 45.42 to Tremlett’s 13.85. Tremlett has actually batted in 11 innings to Bresnan’s 8, yet has only scored 97 runs to Bresnan’s 318. As Anderson and Broad are the more senior members of the side, when everybody is fit Tremlett and Bresnan are fighting for the remaining spot as England’s third seamer. And, if either slips up in any way, England have more seamers they can call up in the shapes of Steven Finn and Graham Onions, both of whom have played well at Test level before. England have a real embarrassment of riches in the seam department at the moment; even though they can’t get in the England team at the moment, I would think that if India could swap their current seamers for trio of Tremlett, Finn and Onions then they’d do so without a second thought, indeed so would the rest of the Test nations bar South Africa. I think in the future England will probably pick between Bresnan and Tremlett on the basis of which one’s style will most fit the pitch they’ll be playing on. So while he didn’t get his place back for the final Test of this series, I think Tremlett will probably get back into the side at some point in the near future, as on some wickets his height (he’s 6 ft. 7) and the extra bounce it gives him will be an asset the team will want to have, and his batting is immaterial given how well the team’s batsmen are playing.
With the exception of the first innings of the Second Test, where they were all out for 221, England looked at ease while batting throughout the series, making India’s bowling attack look completely toothless in the process. Runs were plentiful; in the Third Test England scored their highest ever total in a non-timeless Test match, 710/7 declared, and three batsmen scored double centuries in the series: Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell, and Alastair Cook (with 202 not out, 235, and a mammoth 294, respectively). It was a particularly good series for Pietersen, hitting two centuries and two fifties, and averaging 106.6 during the series, the best series average of his career so far. Of the batsmen that played all four matches, all except Andrew Strauss got at least one century, and Broad and Bresnan both hit two fifties each, once again proving that England can bat all the way down the order. Jonathan Trott picked up an injury during the Second Test and was replaced by Ravi Bopara for the last two matches, with Bell moving up the order to bat at three from the second innings of the Second Test onward. Several times in the past Bell was given a chance at three, but he never quite managed to make it his own, this time however he fared much better. In his three innings at three he hit 159, 34, and finally 235, his career high score. It’s unfortunate for him that Trott has made such an impact at three that he will automatically return there when fit, because if it were anybody else he’d probably get an extended berth in that position.
Bopara didn’t get much chance to show his skills, in the Third Test he came in after a mammoth 222 runs stand between Cook and Eoin Morgan and only got 7 before being given out LBW, while in the Forth Test he hit 44 not out, but under no real pressure. He will probably have to wait a while for his next chance in the team, though it’s possible he won’t get one, as there are several other batsmen who are younger than him playing well in county cricket, and it’s by no means guaranteed that he will remain the extra batsman in the squad for future series. I think the problem Bopara may face is that he’s sort of caught between two generations of cricketers. He’s 26 now, so in four or five years, when players like Trott, Pietersen and Bell (who are between 29 and 31 now) might begin to contemplate retirement, and thus free up a permanent space in the team, he’ll be 30, which the selectors might consider too old to begin a proper Test career. Instead they’ll probably favour a younger player, who could conceivably keep a place in the team for the best part of a decade. Apart from retirements, the only way a space in the team could open up is through someone being dropped, but the only batsman whose place in the team doesn’t look totally secure right now is Eoin Morgan’s; he averaged 32.33 in the series, the lowest of the England batsmen who played all four Tests, and, when he did score runs, it was under little pressure (in the Third Test, for example, where he scored his high score of the series, 104, he came in after England had already surpassed India’s first innings total).
Bopara and Morgan’s respective Test records are remarkably similar at this point in time; Morgan’s played 13 Tests, has an average of 36.35, and has scored two hundreds, while Bopara has played 12 Tests, has an average of 34.56, and has scored three hundreds. What Morgan has in his favour is the fact that he’s one of England’s best one-day players at the moment, and he’s also a very unorthodox player, so he adds something different to the batting line-up. Of course, Bopara is a useful part-time bowler with a similar style to Paul Collingwood, who bowled quite a few overs during his Test career (317 and a half overs, or 1905 balls, according to Cricinfo), so he also adds something different. At the moment I think Morgan’s place in the Test team is based on his one-day performances as much as his Test match ones (his ODI average is higher than his Test average, which is something you don’t see very often), and the jury is still out on whether he’ll be as successful in the longest form of the game as he has been in the shorter ones, but I think England will persevere with him for some time, because he’s young and undoubtedly very talented. Their thoughts may change if his average doesn’t improve a bit in the coming year or so, and if they decide to go for someone else that someone may be Bopara, but it could just as easily be someone else entirely. Time will tell.
Of all India’s batting stars, only Rahul Dravid had a good series, averaging 76.83 and scoring 461 runs, his sole resistance to England’s bowlers being exemplified by his 146 not out in the first innings of the Forth Test, where he carried his bat (having moved up the order to open due to an injury to Gautam Gambhir). The rest of the Indian team all averaged under 40, the next highest after Dravid being the leg-spinner Amit Mishra, with a respectable 38.25. He only played in the last two Tests, but his performance in the Forth Test is worthy of note. In the first innings he scored 43 in a 87 run partnership with Dravid, the highest partnership of the innings, and in the second innings he came in as night-watchman and went on to hit his highest Test score of 84, forging a 144 run partnership with Sachin Tendulkar, India’s highest partnership of the entire series. The partnership lasted for the entirety of the morning session on the fifth day, the only time in the series India managed to bat a full session without losing a wicket, and held up England’s push for victory so much that it was beginning to look like a draw would be the likely result.
Throughout the series India had trouble building partnerships, only managing two century stands to England’s ten, and while watching them bat a wicket always looked likely, only Dravid looked comfortable at the crease for extended periods. It must be said that they weren’t helped by injuries to their batsmen, which resulted in several changes in batting line-up. Most notably they started each Test with a different opening partnership. But, regardless of where in the order they appeared, the batsmen underperformed. Tendulkar had a poor series by his standards, averaging 34.12, and missed out on getting his much hyped hundredth hundred with a high score of 91 (achieved in the second innings of the Forth Test alongside the aforementioned partnership with Mishra). His colleague in the middle order, VVS Laxman, fared worse, averaging 22.75 with a high score of just 56. 12 times an Indian batsman went past 50, but only three of these instances was converted to a century, all by Dravid. By comparison, England’s batsmen went past 50 18 times, but scored seven centuries, a much higher conversion rate.
India’s bowling attack was dealt a severe blow during the opening day of the series, when Zaheer Kahn picked up a hamstring injury which would rule him out of the rest of the series after he’d bowled just 13.3 overs, though he did take two wickets beforehand. India never really recovered from his loss, and the team’s bowling figures during the series do not make good reading. Only Praveen Kumar can really be proud of his work during the series, taking 15 wickets at an average of 29.53 during the first three Tests, missing the fourth with an ankle injury. The rest of the bowlers all averaged over 50 in the series, and only one other bowler took more than 10 wickets, Ishant Sharma with 11, at an average of 58.18. Part of India’s problem was an inability to build pressure, while Kumar managed a fairly respectable economy rate of 2.79 runs per over, the economy rates of the rest of the bowlers all ranged between about 3.5 and 4.5 runs per over. The bowlers’ cause wasn’t helped by some rather lacklustre fielding, with many extra runs being scored through fielding errors and numerous catches being dropped; even Dravid dropped a few fielding at slip, a position where he is usually very reliable. In particular, MS Dhoni had a poor series behind the stumps, there were times when he only seemed to be taking every other ball cleanly. His shortcomings were even more evident when compared to how well Matt Prior kept during the series; there’s no comparison between the two purely as keepers.
The series was a very good one for England, their performance definitely befit their new number one raking. They still have challenges ahead though, and will be hoping to continue their success overseas and to extend it to the 50 over game; winning the 2015 World Cup has already been stated as a goal. For India however, the series won’t be remembered fondly. They are a better team than their performances showed, but it will take a lot for them to recover from such a heavy defeat. They’ll start by trying to win the one-day series, and, had it not rained last Saturday, they may well have got of to a winning start in the first match. As it was, England were probably a bit relived there was no result. I’m looking forward to the rest of the series though, as it looks like it’s going to be very competitive.