``An analysis of the contestants shows that they are evenly matched and
a scorcher of a series that could go down to the wire at Lords on
September 8 could be a prediction that may not be far off the mark.
Certainly on paper there is little to choose between the two teams.
Forgive me for starting with my own quote but this is what I had
written in an earlier column as I previewed the one day series between
India and England. I am no great cricketing pundit and I have been
proved wrong on numerous occasions. This time however I ended the
preview with the sentence ``I normally love sticking my neck out but
this time I will not hazard a guess as to which team will lift the
trophy at Lords about 20 days from now.
So here I am patting myself on the back for getting this one right. But
truth be told it should not have been difficult to predict that this
would be a tantalizingly close series which in all probability would go
down to the wire. As I said there was little to choose between the two
teams and this was certified by the ICC rankings which had India and
England at No 6 and 7. England can enjoy home advantage through the
wicket and weather conditions in May and June but in August and
September it is almost like playing at home for India. Moreover India
has had a very good record in England in recent years having got the
better of them in the 1999 World Cup and the 2002 NatWest Trophy final.
Englands confidence would have been boosted by the return of Andrew
Flintoff but as luck would have it he could not play in all the games
because of the recurrence of his ankle injury. However when he was
around England certainly looked the sharper side. The proven stars like
Paul Collingwood, James Anderson and Ian Bell all lived up to their
reputation with the last named certainly the man of the series. His
sublime touch was a joy to behold except to the frustrated Indian
bowlers. His superb form covered up for Kevin Pietersen who just could
not get going till late in the series and Alistair Cook who was
woefully out of touch.
But of course England were also indebted to the newcomers and less
established players like Dimitri Mascarenhas, Owais Shah, Ravi Bopara,
Stuart Broad and Luke Wright. This can only augur well for the team not
only in the Twenty20 World Cup but also beyond.
It was again a case of so near and yet so far for India. It must have
been galling for the tourists to come from 1-3 behind to take the
series into a decider and then go down tamely. But in a way they
themselves have to blame for losing a series they could have won
comfortably. Rahul Dravids inexplicable decision to field first in the
first and third ODIs cost the team dearly and the lack of the killer
instinct saw England recover from 114 for seven to complete a fairly
incredible victory in the fourth game. In retrospect India could have
won the series 5-2 instead of losing it 4-3 and this is not just
With an eye on the future India could take heart from the performances
of Piyush Chawla and Robin Uthappa. All the established stars Sourav
Ganguly, Sachin Tendulkar, Yuvraj Singh, Rahul Dravid and MS Dhoni
maintained their reputations but India were handicapped by the fact
that Zaheer Khan and Dinesh Karthik could not get going. A mixed policy
of going in with seven batsmen and four bowlers and at times with six
batsmen and five bowlers did not help matters though it was always a
tantalizing proposition to play two spinners in virtually every match.
This was Indias first serious campaign since the World Cup debacle and
if anything the series underlined the fact that Virender Sehwag and
Harbhajan Singh would find it tough to get back into the side. The
superstars are still good enough and with Uthappa and Chawla making
their presence felt there is little room for maneuvering while Ramesh
Powar is gaining in confidence now that he is more or less a regular in
the side. The nucleus of a good one day side is there and all the
Indian team needs is more imaginative captaincy and a little bit of
flexibility within the seven batsmen four bowler policy. There is no
need to press panic buttons but there is urgent need for improvement in
fielding, catching and running between wickets.