England vs India – the verdict

There are 4-0 series and there are 4-0 series. This was never a 4-0 series. If the same squads lined up at the beginning of 10 series in 10 alternate universes, England would do well to whitewash India twice.

This series was one of those children’s adventure books where every option the kid chooses has a direct consequence – choose option C every time and finally they end up in hell, that sort of thing. This was the tour India kept choosing option C.

England fans might have recognised the signs, seeing as it was basically a low-budget rerun of an England Ashes tour from any time between 1989 and 2007, where absolutely anything that can go wrong does, and then some. 2006-07 will do – for England then read India now, for Duncan Fletcher read, oh, Duncan Fletcher.

India’s injuries were horrible. Losing Sehwag – the one batsman who could have put England’s smugly economical quicks under pressure, was bad enough. Losing Zaheer in the first Test and Harbhajan in the second – leaving them with three bowlers in each, was a cheap shot from fate. Zaheer was the key – with him directing the feisty, frugal Kumar and the sporadic, impressionable Sharma, they would have caused England real problems, as they did on that first morning at Lord’s. Without him India’s attack lacked a leader and their side a chance. Their only hope then was to amass big totals and put pressure on England that way, but only Rahul Dravid read that game-plan.

They were unlucky to run into an England side that has rarely (if ever) been as sure-footed, and with home advantage too. If there is a significant gap between the two sides then it is in how they deal with adversity. England had injuries too, but they were able to replace Chris Tremlett with Tim Bresnan without disrupting their ‘attack through defence’ bowling strategy, and even add some more runs as well. Crucially, when Jonathan Trott injured himself at Trent Bridge, leaving England a batsman down with a first-innings deficit, there was no fuss, Ian Bell just went and got 150 and won them the game.

For India, there was no such depth or strength of character to call upon. The bowling resource was negligible, while the batting line-up reacted to Gautam Gambhir’s one-man injury procession like Anna Wintour stepping in dog shit. That Fletcher was seemingly unable to motivate his team is a huge concern – he has now been whitewashed in two of his last three series as coach and there must be serious doubts as to whether he is the man to stage manage this delicate period of Indian history.

The Indian reaction is key, not just from a board of whom it is easy now to allege an unhealthy obsession with the IPL dollar. Do their players still want it? Preparation for and success over five days of cricket, four times over a month is a lot of hard work. England want it. Rahul Dravid wants it. He’s 38 yet he’s knocking out hundreds like Brangelina do foster-kids. He and Mike Hussey (35 when he stuck 195 on England at Brisbane) are proof that if you want it enough you have a decent chance of getting it. Graham Gooch has made sure England’s batsmen know that – it was instructive to see Alastair Cook in the nets at 9.30am on the last two mornings at The Oval, two days when he was unlikely to get a bat.

For England’s part, Andrew Strauss and Andy Flower are savvy enough not to get carried away. And they shouldn’t. In a weird way England’s players have missed an opportunity this last month – an opportunity to prove themselves against the best side in the world, because that India is not the one we got. What England did is reemphasise what they showed against Australia this winter, that when it comes to beating and demoralising downtrodden, floundering sides there is no team more ruthless.


Two pricks at the Ashes – Episode 24, the finale

Sydney day five

Ashes regained, Goodbye Colly, Malcolm Conn, Vic Marks, Andrew Miller, Simon Briggs, Phillip Brown, farewell montage and lots more

And a working version of the ending…

It’s all over now, England win 3-1, Sydney, day five

From Sam Collins in Sydney

END OF THE ASHES: fifth Test, day five, Sydney
Match score: England 644 (Cook 189, Prior 118, Bell 115) beat Australia 281 (Smith 54*) and 280 by an innings and 83 runs to win series 3-1
Session score: Australia 68-3 England win
Session in six words: England’s 24-year wait is over

It’s been a victory party more protracted than a royal wedding, but this morning England finally got their hands on the Ashes in Australia. An innings-and-83 run victory here secured a 3-1 victory, their first since Mike Gatting’s team in 1986-87, but it is no so much the series win as the margin and the manner that are so impressive. If this was a football match they would say it could have been 10 – all England’s victories were by an innings and the figures didn’t flatter them.

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Anderson takes England to the brink, Sydney, day four

Ho hum. The Sydney Morning Herald

Close: fifth Test, day four, Sydney
Match score: Australia 213-2 (Smith 19*, Siddle 4*) and 280 (Johnson 53) trail England 644 by 151 runs with eight second innings wickets remaining
Session score: Australia 136-5 England win
Session in six words: Anderson and Tremlett superb for England

Alastair Cook will be the man of this series, 766 runs in seven innings demands that but Jimmy Anderson deserves a mention. The man who couldn’t bowl in Australia has, well, he’s shown that he can bowl in Australia, and do it bloody well. The wickets of Usman Khawaja and Michael Clarke this evening took him to 23 for the series, eight more than the next man Mitchell Johnson. Continue reading

Cook and Bell lead the way for England, Sydney, day three

Ian Bell reaches his century

Close: fifth Test, day three, Sydney
Match score: England 488-7 (Prior 54*, Bresnan 0*) lead Australia 280 (Johnson 53) by 208 runs with three first innings wickets remaining
Session score: England 110-2 England win
Session in six words: Cook and Bell slay sorry Australia span>

The headlines tomorrow will talk of the inadequacies of the review system, the questionable morals of the modern player and the mutterings of a former England captain. Ignore them. Think instead of Alastair Cook and Ian Bell. This was Bell’s afternoon, in years to come no one will remember the controversy that surrounded his first Ashes hundred. He had 67 when Aleem Dar adjudged that he had nicked Shane Watson behind the wicket. Bell sent the decision upstairs, Hot Spot revealed no edge, and Dar was forced to overrule himself – Bell stayed.

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