England confound doom-mongers

Posted in England in India 2012-13

Let no-one suggest that Test cricket is predictable.

Less than three weeks ago, England were facing criticism following a nine-wicket defeat in the series opener against India in Ahmedabad.

With last winter's 3-0 reverse at the hands of Pakistan still fresh in the memory, many doom-mongers were forecasting another painful tour.

Even the most optimistic England followers will surely have been concerned, yet Alastair Cook's side have turned things around in quite stunning fashion.

Much will be said and written about India's shortcomings, but England deserve the highest praise following their victories in Mumbai and Kolkata, which both came after the toss had gone against them.

Last month’s second-Test triumph was widely acknowledged as one of this country's finest - a magnificent win against the odds in conditions designed to favour India's army of spinners.

Yet England were arguably even more impressive at Eden Gardens, where they dominated the first three days before blunting a belated home fightback with a sensational bowling performance on the fourth afternoon.

Ravichandran Ashwin, showing a level of fight and application that many of his colleagues lacked, ensured India avoided a humiliating innings defeat.

However, his defiance - together with England's subsequent wobble in pursuit of 41 - did little to mask the clear gulf between the two sides this week.

Cook once again led by example with an epic first-innings 190; in truth, ecb.co.uk is running out of words to describe the opener's brilliance.

Graeme Swann & Monty Panesar

Spin twins Graeme Swann, left, and Monty Panesar, right, have helped England move into a 2-1 series lead with one Test to play

He boasts 548 runs in this series at an average of 109.60 and is now England's most prolific Test centurion, having reached three figures in each of his five matches as captain.

Statistics alone do not do justice to Cook's efforts. The 27-year-old continues to evolve as a batsman and has added greater attacking potency to his armoury, while also taking to the captaincy like a duck to water.

There were numerous other positives for England as they inflicted a first defeat on India at Kolkata since 1999.

On the batting front, Nick Compton appears to get better with each innings and recorded a maiden Test fifty, while there were welcome returns to form for Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell.

Trott's first-innings 87 clearly represented a weightier contribution than Bell's breezy unbeaten 28 in England's run-chase, yet the latter will surely benefit from his assured performance today.

By compiling a first score in excess of 500 this year, the tourists capitalised on a stunning display in the field.

James Anderson led the way with a reverse-swing clinic; Steven Finn operated with pace and hostility on his return from injury, while Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann comfortably outshone India's spinners for a second successive fixture.

It was Swann who sparked a dramatic collapse when India threatened to work their way back into the match yesterday.

The off-spinner's dismissal of Virender Sehwag was the first of six breakthroughs in the space of 80 absorbing minutes, which ultimately left Ashwin with too much to do.

After seeing just how quickly fortunes can change, team director Andy Flower will know complacency is not an option for his charges ahead of the final Test at Nagpur, which starts on Thursday.

For the time being, however, things look pretty sweet for Cook and Co, who have the opportunity to record England's first series triumph in India since 1985.