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Youngsters propel England forward
by Partab Ramchand
Sep 10, 2007
``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 Lord’s 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 Lord’s 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.

England’s 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 Dravid’s 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 balderdash.

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 India’s 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.

 
More Views by Partab Ramchand
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