A triumph for teamwork and methodical preparation, a victory for hard work and perseverance. That’s what England’s performance in the just-concluded series against India was all about. Learning from mistakes and taking steps to rectify them is a sure way of going forward and that’s what England did right in notching up a victory in India for the first time in 28 years.
On that occasion too David Gower’s team came back from the loss of the first Test to win the five-match contest 2-1 becoming the first team to win a series in India after being 0-1 down. Now in more ways than one, Alastair Cook and his men have emulated their predecessors.
In both cases England were the underdogs going into the series and came up trumps. In 1984 England came over to India after suffering an unprecedented 5-0 "blackwash" at the hands of the West Indies while this time England had gone down to South Africa and surrendered their No.1 position.
I well remember how England were written off as no hopers in 1984-85 once they had lost the first Test at Bombay by eight wickets. India were expected to romp home but the fightback started in the very next Test at New Delhi which England won by a similar margin.
The shock waves had been clearly registered, suddenly the home team looked vulnerable and the Indian selectors panicked by dropping Kapil Dev for the next game at Calcutta. The hand of Sunil Gavaskar who was the captain was seen in this move and the so billed "clash of the titans" by the media distracted enough attention from the happenings on the field.
England benefited from all the adverse publicity surrounding the two superstars and after the Calcutta Test was drawn, they went ahead in the fourth Test at Madras and duly wrapped up the series after a tame draw at Kanpur.
This time too England no doubt benefited from the squabbling between the Indian captain and the curators over pitch preparation and even as the home team appeared listless and distracted, England remained firmly on course first to level the series and then emerge triumphant.
But too much should not be made of this for England had many positives going their way. And the most important of these was the manner in which Alastair Cook batted and captained the team. He took the phrase "leading from the front" to a new dimension. Undaunted by the loss in the first Test, Cook inspired his men to greater deeds by his marathon knock of 176 in the second innings at Ahmedabad.
It was this innings that paved the way for the fightback, for taking a leaf from the captain’s book, the other batsmen rallied around and ere long the hunter became the hunted. Even as the Indians slid sharply, the visitors went from strength to strength and almost before one realized it England were one up in the series and in a position from where they could not lose.
Even in a batting line-up studded with stars, Cook has always stood out ever since he made that debut hundred in India in 2006. Great things were predicted for him and at about the halfway mark of his career it can be said that he has lived up to the highest expectations. Verily the sky is the limit for Cook. The England captain is a complete batsman for he is solid in defence and fluent in strokeplay.
Moreover he thrives on responsibility and nothing illustrates this more than the fact that he scored five hundreds in his first five Tests as captain. He could not have started off in a better manner than winning a tough series in his first full campaign as England captain and obviously has it in him to become an outstanding leader.
Much was made at the start of the series as to how the England batsmen would combat the Indian spin bowlers and by the end of it all it was clear who had won the battle. The stats underline this and in fact the Indian batsman reputedly the best players of spin bowling in the game came a cropper against Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar.
The former was always expected to be among the wickets given his reputation as the best spin bowler in the world today but the exploits of the latter came as a major surprise. Panesar had a pretty mediocre record against India before the Mumbai Test but he stuck to the basics and utilized the conditions better than his Indian counterparts.
The batting revolved around Cook who got hundreds in the first three Tests but taking the cue from their captain, the others too dug it out there in the middle, displaying patience and concentration, dedication and determination.
Kevin Pietersen of course was the exception to this rule, not surprisingly, given his swashbuckling approach to batting and his 186 at Mumbai underscored his genius. By the end of the series, even the out of form Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott were getting hundreds and Cook’s inspiring show was complete.
England could go from strength to strength after conquering the "final frontier" and as Cook said, this triumph was right up there with the victories in the last two Ashes contests. England clearly played above their potential and none signified this more admirably than James Anderson.
In unhelpful conditions to swing bowling, the pace spearhead showed a willingness to bend his back and send down spells that had the Indian batsmen in acute discomfort, the highlight being his dismissals of Sachin Tendulkar. And symbolizing England’s bright future is Joe Root who on his debut at Nagpur displayed Test cricket’s traditional qualities of substance over style.
England can now look forward confidently to the back-to-back Ashes contests next year as they take on Australia and South Africa for a battle royal for the No 1 spot. It would not come as a major surprise if England claw their way back to the top.