England ignite series with ruthless win in Mumbai
The old cliché that Test cricket is a dying art has once again been shattered. After a poor defeat in Ahmedabad England roared back this week to beat India by 10 wickets in Mumbai. In a match that swung and danced back and forth between the two teams it was England’s ruthlessness that eventually won through on the 3rd and 4th days. The victory levels the 4 match series at 1 – 1 with two matches to play.
The game began in worryingly familiar circumstances for England, with India once again winning the toss and choosing to bat. Cheteswar Pujara continued his dominance, completing another century with good support from Ravichandran Ashwin further down the order. Ashwin eventually fell for an impressive 68 off Panesar for LBW, ending a partnership of 111 runs. Pujara was finally out for the first time in the series when he was stumped off Swann on the second day for 135. With this 9th wicket the England spinners soon wrapped up the innings for a tidy 327, a mediocre total that seemed to lack large contributions from India’s big name batsmen. That Sachin Tendulker only managed 8 runs in each innings may not be a surprise anymore, and he played in this match more like the retiring force many have painted him as.
England’s reply of 413 opened up both the match and the series. Alastair Cook, reliable as ever, ground out a solid 122 as Kevin Pietersen raced to 186 in a way only he can. It was two innings of class from two highly contrasting batsmen. Both men resumed on the third day in double digits and dismantled the Indian bowling to move into an overall lead of 86. Pietersen’s innings in particular could go down as a turning point in the series. With more than a point to prove for his inclusion in the team, Pietersen’s aggression towards India’s spinners was the perfect answer to his critics. It is what all England fans want to see, one of the most exciting players of his era letting his bat do the talking rather than his twitter account. Smashing 20 fours and 4 sixes at a strike rate of 79.82, it was enough to pile pressure on to India and earn him the man of the match award.
At the crucial point in the match it was India’s batting that crumbled and not England’s as so often before. In an action packed day Cook and Pietersen’s heroics were followed immediately by a titanic Indian collapse to 117/7; 7 wickets down with a lead of just 31.
Once again, the all-star Indian batsman seemed well under par. Gautam Gambhir’s 65 was the only gritty performance as every other batsman fell for 11 runs or less. Sehwag 9, Tendulker 8, Kohli 7, Dhoni 6, even Pujara looked shell-shocked as he was caught for 6 by Bairstow off Swann. In an innings that needed resilience and caution 142 was very poor indeed.
Credit though must go to England’s best spin partnership since Lock and Laker. Between them Monty Panesar and Graham Swann pulverised the Indian line up taking 19 out of the 20 Indian wickets in the match. By day 3 the ball was turning significantly for both teams but it was Panesar in particular that made it count with 11 wickets in the match.
This will be particularly pleasing for Andy Flower who later admitted it was a mistake to leave Panesar out of the first Test. The reason is that Dhoni’s Plan A for this series has now gone spinning out of the window. Even with his selections for the warm up matches it was clear the mind games were beginning. Refusing to let England get a glimpse of his spin attack, Dhoni’s plan was clear and ruthless – out spin England. The pitches have been prepared with this in mind and India’s selectors have followed suit. England pick one spinner in the first match? India play two. England pick two in the second match? India play three. What Swann and Panesar have done is out play India at their own game in their own back yard.
Though Pietersen’s innings may have turned this match, Panesar and Swann’s double act may have gone a long way to winning the series. With Dhoni’s tactics not coming off and his batsmen short on runs the momentum is with England as they head to Eden Gardens in Kolkata.
That said there are still enough issues for both teams to make this series too close to call. Aside from Cook and Pietersen runs were not exactly abundant from the rest of the England team. Stuart Broad in particular is a worry. No wickets in two matches may be just about forgivable on such slow pitches but his contribution with the bat (a series average of 11.3) hasn’t justified his overall place in the team. Ian Bell’s return is imminent but is it wise to change a winning side?
Then there is Tendulker. Though the Little Master has been out of sorts so far this year he remains capable of genius at any time. One big innings from him could take the series away from England. He is, as they say, due a big one.
With just 57 needed to win England dusted off the game before lunch on day 4 – Compton and Cook reaching 58 with ease.
England’s win has ignited the series. Expect the next showdown in the 90,000 capacity Eden Gardens to be one of the best cricketing contests of the year.