England completes drubbing

At the end of the Test the English players sat for long, talking, joking, picking out their favourite moments of the series, reaffirming to themselves the results of the hard work they had put in. By S. Ram Mahesh.

An hour after the fourth Test ended, long after the champagne had drained, the fireworks had burnt away, the trumpets had gone silent, the England team trooped out to the middle of The Oval. They sat on its turf, which had just received the final footfalls of England's 4-0 win; they soaked in the success. They sat for long, talking, joking, picking out their favourite moments of the series, reaffirming to themselves the results of the hard work they had put in. The scene captured England: united, committed, hard-nosed, but happy to have a good time after administering a good beat-down.

India had repaired to their hotel, faces glum. They had expected this to be a tough series, but not even in their worst nightmares would they have seen such a drubbing. In the words of Rahul Dravid, the only Indian to emerge from the series with his reputation enhanced, “We expected them to play well; we expected us to play better.” Dravid's third century of the series — an epic, unconquered 146 — helped India reach 300 for the first time, but it still fell 291 short of England's first-innings score. The second innings appeared in reasonable health at 262 for three on the fifth afternoon, India seemingly in with a chance of saving the match, but in one of those collapses that have been seen so often in the summer, seven wickets were surrendered for 21. Included in these seven were Sachin Tendulkar, who made his highest score of the tour but fell short of his hundredth hundred by nine, and Amit Mishra, who added to his first-innings 43 with a first-rate 84 that mitigated only slightly the disappointment of his leg-spin.

Graeme Swann finished with six wickets, helping complete a truly all-round England performance: whenever a man was needed for the job, he was more than willing. The spinner's role is particularly important when his captain has enforced the follow-on. Not only is he the thrust of the attack on what's likely to be a worn wicket, he is also the workhorse, allowing the seamers enough rest after their exertions of the first-innings. Swann, who had had a quiet series before the fourth Test, did this brilliantly. There was a danger of him losing patience when Tendulkar and Mishra added 144; he certainly seemed frustrated. But he wheeled away, varying his pace, his turn, his angles at the crease. Eventually he was rewarded for his persistence and imagination.

The victory was set up by Ian Bell's brilliant 235. Together with Kevin Pietersen, who made 175, Bell enabled England compensate for the loss of playing time. Bell's development has been heartening for England: where he once appeared a batsman unsure of mind and timid of approach, he has finally realised the potential countless experts saw in him. With the run-hunger batting coach Graham Gooch has instilled in each of his wards, Bell is now close to the total package. Both his and Pietersen's runs weren't tough runs — they weren't, like Dravid's three centuries, made against a world-class attack, but they were driving runs, runs that advance a game. Besides, they were tested on occasion. Ishant Sharma and Sreesanth showed that they must be persisted with, their fitness and workloads monitored. When at their best, they challenge very good batsmen. Bowlers are precious, and Ishant and Sreesanth must be treated carefully. Those in charge need look no far than R. P. Singh, who played a Test after three years, to see how things can go wrong. R. P. Singh appeared an overweight shadow of his former self. India must see if it can rehabilitate the left-armer, for he still swings the ball. But shouldn't someone with aspirations of playing for India watch his fitness? Or did the selectors treat him in such a manner that he had no aspirations?

England outplayed India in every department, and central to it all was its superior fitness. There are several issues the BCCI has to look at. Its defence that the media was highlighting these matters only after defeat is neither here nor there; it isn't accurate either. Even when India was No. 1, there were several voices, not least in this magazine, that spoke of the importance of nurturing bowlers, prioritising Test cricket, and scheduling more intelligently. England has committed itself totally to the format. When Andy Flower took over as team director, he mapped the journey to the top in painstaking detail; India pencilled in Test series in reaction, to hold on to the No. 1 spot. Something good can still come of the embarrassing beating. England had the Schofield Report after its Ashes disaster in 2006-07 and Australia has recently had the Argus Review. England has done excellent work in implementing the suggestions that made cricket sense; Australia will likely do it as well. In both cases, a respected outsider was allowed to independently assess the workings of the administration, addressing everyone involved with the game. It remains to be seen how the Indian board, with its love for secrecy and its facility for incompetence (when it comes to cricketing matters), responds. Will it allow its workings, for so long kept under wraps, to be independently scrutinised?

The BCCI certainly has to be aware that India reached the pinnacle because it had a singular group of passionate, skilful cricketers who were determined to do well abroad. They succeeded despite the system — it was a player movement, not a board enterprise. Can the BCCI be shamed into administering the game as it should have all along? Will grassroots cricket, the wickets and coaching, the culture of fitness and performance, be looked at? Will the process of selection in junior cricket and the system of administration by vote-soliciting be corrected? Can there be reform at any meaningful level? Or will it be same old, same old?

THE SCORES

Fourth Test, Kennington Oval, August 18-22, 2011. England won by an innings and eight runs.

England — 1st innings: A. Strauss c Dhoni b Sreesanth 40; A. Cook c Sehwag b Ishant 34; I. Bell lbw b Raina 235; K. Pietersen c & b Raina 175; J. Anderson c Laxman b Sreesanth 13; E. Morgan c Dhoni b Sreesanth 1; R. Bopara (not out) 44; M. Prior (not out) 18; Extras (b-6, lb-8, w-7, nb-10) 31. Total (six wkts., decl.): 591.

Fall of wickets: 1-75, 2-97, 3-447, 4-480, 5-487, 6-548.

India bowling: R.P. Singh 34-7-118-0; Ishant 31-7-97-1; Sreesanth 29-2-123-3; Raina 19-2-58-2; Mishra 38-3-170-0; Tendulkar 2-0-11-0.

India — 1st innings: V. Sehwag lbw b Anderson 8; R. Dravid (not out) 146; V. V. S. Laxman c Prior b Broad 2; S. Tendulkar c Anderson b Swann 23; S. Raina st. Prior b Swann 0; Ishant Sharma c Cook b Swann 1; M. Dhoni c Prior b Anderson 17; A. Mishra c Bell b Bresnan 43; G. Gambhir c Pietersen b Broad 10; R. P. Singh c Anderson b Bresnan 25; S. Sreesanth c Morgan b Bresnan 0; Extras (b-8, lb-9, w-7, nb-1) 25. Total: 300.

Fall of wickets: 1-8, 2-13, 3-68, 4-93, 5-95, 6-137, 7-224, 8-264, 9-300.

England bowling: Anderson 16-7-49-2; Broad 21-3-51-2; Bresnan 17-3-54-3; Swann 31-5-102-3; Pietersen 7-1-27-0; Bopara 2-2-0-0.

India — 2nd innings: V. Sehwag b Swann 33; R. Dravid c Cook b Swann 13; V. V. S. Laxman b Anderson 24; S. Tendulkar lbw b Bresnan 91; A. Mishra b Swann 84; S. Raina lbw b Swann 0; M. Dhoni c Swann b Broad 3; G. Gambhir c Morgan b Swann 3; R. P. Singh c Prior b Broad 0; Ishant Sharma (not out) 7; S. Sreesanth b Swann 6; Extras (b-12, lb-7) 19. Total: 283.

Fall of wickets: 1-49, 2-64, 3-118, 4-262, 5-262, 6-266, 7-269, 8-269, 9-275.

England bowling: Anderson 17-4-54-1; Broad 20-6-44-2; Swann 38-6-106-6; Bresnan 11-2-30-1; Bopara 3-0-13-0; Pietersen 2-0-17-0.