England, led by new captain Alastair Cook on his first tour as full captain, have signaled their intent to put their summer of woe at the hands of South Africa firmly behind them in their bid to regain the Test mace and retain the Ashes over the back to back series coming up next year.

 

And what an emphatic gesture it was: beating India convincingly 2-1 in India and becoming the first England touring side since David Gower’s outfit achieved the feat by the same margin some 27 years ago in the process. But England did not simply follow the blueprint that failed them in the U.A.E, or treats the conditions as if they were from another planet. No! They played world-class cricket, they did the basics right and they applied themselves – they simply played some damn good Test cricket.

Here are the five key factors they have to thank for their success:

Alastair Cook’s freakish batting abilities

Now, England’s leading century scorer (with 23 hundreds) in Test cricket at the relatively young age of 27, Alastair Cook has something which not many other batsmen in world cricket have. He has an insatiable appetite for runs, he has inhuman powers of concentration and he has an unwavering temperament to grind the opposition down for hours on end.

The end result?

562 runs at an average of 80.28 with 3 centuries in 8 innings and a famous series victory. But Cook did not impersonate a sedate Geoffrey Boycott when accumulating these runs either. It is clear that he has added yet another string to his already well-strung bow as he unleashed a wide array of attacking shots throughout his time at the crease. Flowing drives are not semantically linked to Cook; neither are crisp sweeps for four. Dancing down the track and smacking the spinner for a straight six is Pietersen or Bell’s game.

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But in this series the England captain notched into his extra gear, allowing him to score off balls that would have previously gone down as dots. And the scary thing is that he still has about 7 years of Test cricket left to hone such skills.

Kevin Pietersen’s smooth reintegration into the England lineup

It seems ages ago that we were lambasting KP for his stubborn-and-big-headed comments that resulted in his exclusion from the original England squad for this tour. But, a sincere apology to all his teammates later, Pietersen looks as settled in the dressing room as ever and, while it is true that everything’s easier when you’re winning, credit has to go where credit’s due and the smooth reintegration of the batsman is a credit to everyone involved.

With the potential to explode at any minute, The Pietersen Problem, as it was so commonly dubbed, was handled beautifully by Flower, Cook, and the man himself, who crashed back into form after an ignominious first Test with possibly his best innings in Test cricket.

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During his scintillating 186 from 233 balls in Mumbai, Pietersen displayed such mastery over the conditions that it looked as if he were playing on a different surface to everyone else. KP showed maturity, tenacity, and levelheadedness throughout the series and coupled it with his unquestionable talent and work ethic to score 338 runs at 48.28. England fans were also met with a pleasant surprise as well when Pietersen played a three and a half hour rearguard innings in Nagpur, when England found themselves 16-2, to score 73 from 188 balls on what he called ‘the toughest wicket to play strokes on’. This defensive side is one Pietersen keeps in reserve it seems, and it is heartening for England to know he has it in his locker to draw upon at any given time.

The undisputed genius of Matt Prior

Undoubtedly the world’s best wicket-keeper/batsman, Matt Prior showed again why no one will be taking his name from that particular mantle at any time soon with yet another reliably solid performance with both the bat and gloves. His keeping to the spinners was better than in the U.A.E (but was still not completely without blemish, however) and his batting, which seems to keep getting better and better, is reminiscent of a right-handed Gilchrist in his pomp.

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With the English found wanting in finding a consistent figure at number 6, Prior’s dependably first-rate performances at number 7 gave the team a sense of security in their lower-middle order. 258 runs at 51.60 represent a stellar return for the Sussex man, and his value to the England team was displayed no more aptly than in the first Test where he scored 48 and 91 – he and Cook were the only England batsmen to pass 40 in either innings.

The emergence of the Spin Twins

Both Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar clearly out-bowled their Indian counterparts by a fair margin. Swann’s guile, his changes of pace, length, and spin earned him 20 wickets (the joint-most in the series) at 24.75 as the off-spinner continues to show us why he is considered the best in the business.

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He returned to the country where he made his Test debut some 4 years ago, only this time he leaves as England’s most successful off-break bowler in Test history and with his Test tally of wickets north of the coveted 200-mark. Monty made an impressive return to Test cricket in the series picking up 17 wickets in 3 Tests at 26.82 and has, through his immeasurably more mature and rounded performances as a bowler, staked a strong claim to remain in the England team on a more permanent basis.

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And while England are, in all honesty, unlikely to play two spinners regularly in Test cricket, they can have no qualms about turning to Panesar should the need arise: they can count on a wholehearted and skilful performance from him any day, and who knows, Flower does like to reward consistency and tenacity. There may be hope for Monty yet.

James Anderson

Enough said… India is notorious for offering more to spinners than fast bowlers who are forced to toil and writhe on flat, dusty unhelpful wickets where the bounce never rises above knee height and where the swing is a luxury that few can hope for.

The fact that Jimmy Anderson had the Indian batsmen hopping about and flashing all over the place in their own backyard is an appropriate barometer of Anderson’s sheer class as a fast bowler!

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He is quick: his spells regularly touch the 140kmph range and have a mastery over seam and swing (both conventional and reverse), that is frankly unmatched and possibly has been unmatched for the past decade or more in international cricket and an impeccable line and length is guaranteed from Jimmy at all times. He was spellbinding and had Tendulkar at a loss as to how to play him – do not be so quick to condemn Sachin; falling to Anderson is not shameful: he simply is, along with Steyn, one of the world’s two best speed-merchants.

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Courtesy: Jack Marshall – a cricket and soccer enthusiast, who loves to express his passion through words.  

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