Everyone a winner despite defeat
Posted in England in India 2008
It was hardly in keeping with a series laced with emotion that the fifth day of the final Test in Mohali ended in distinctly lacklustre fashion.
India’s decision to bat on after lunch effectively ruled out any chance of a positive result, although England exhibited so few nerves in negotiating the remainder of the day on a pitch which remained remarkably well behaved suggested that the timing of Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s declaration was ultimately of little consequence.
One of the drawbacks of a two-Test series is the huge importance placed on the opening game, and India’s remarkable victory in Chennai left England facing the stiffest of tasks in their attempts to return home with a share of the spoils.
Despite allowing India to charge to 320 for one after losing a toss upon which so much rested, England fought back admirably with the ball – a feat they repeated in the second innings to underline their immense spirit on a testing tour.
Both captains spoke glowingly of their players’ performances after an absorbing series which almost never took place following the terror attacks that rocked Mumbai and beyond.
And Dhoni and Kevin Pietersen had good reason to dish out the platitudes.
India’s record fourth-innings pursuit in Chennai - at the time the fourth highest in Test history - will be the feat for which this series will be remembered.
Sachin Tendulkar’s masterful unbeaten century in that sensational run-chase added weight to the argument that he is the greatest batsman of the modern era, Virender Sehwag having served further notice of his incendiary talents with a brutal 83 off 68 balls the previous day.
The same, emotional game saw Andrew Strauss score twin centuries – among the finest individual achievements in an England shirt in recent years – and Paul Collingwood make a typically doughty hundred, while Graeme Swann will never forget the two wickets he took in his first over in Test cricket.
Zaheer Khan showed throughout the series why is he regarded by many as the best left-arm seamer in the world, and Andrew Flintoff’s performances with the ball in both matches were never less than awe-inspiring.
The second Test boasted an equally impressive list of personal performances as the first - from players on both sides.
Gautam Gambhir supplied further proof that he is maturing into a prolific Test opener with innings of 169 and 97; there was the re-emergence of Rahul Dravid as a player of the highest class courtesy of a first-innings century; and Yuvraj Singh took a step towards convincing himself – and many others – of his Test credentials with a stunning counter-attacking 86 to complement the 85 not out he contributed to the Chennai chase.
For England, Pietersen’s audacious 144 – constructed from the depths of one for two – is unlikely to be matched for some considerable time, and Flintoff’s first-innings figures of 30.2-10-54-3 were nothing short of heroic by sub-continental standards.
The cricket was never less than keenly fought throughout the 10 days on the field, and though England’s ongoing battle with Yuvraj added an element of spice to proceedings, the series was played in a spirit that matched the standard of the cricket.
England left India without a win in a competitive match – they lost the first five games of the abandoned one-day series – and one senses the pens were being sharpened even before they landed back on home soil.
Myopia is one of the most common afflictions of the modern sportsman and sports fans, but Pietersen spoke with great common sense, and no little emotion, when he said: “For the pure fact of playing here, there is nothing more fun or more enjoyable.
“The Indian people have been magnificent. For us to come back here and play Test cricket in front of people who are religious about the job you love, there's nothing better.”
The result barely mattered. The performances were mere sidebars. That England were in India at all was the greatest cause for celebration.