A variety of factors helped Cook & Co. scale a slippery peak
Much energy has been invested in lampooning the Indian cricket team’s performance, which was inarguably flaccid and reeked of indifference when confronted with challenges — both from within and outside. In the light of such a sentiment, it’s easy to gloss over England’s watershed 2-1 victory in the four-Test series — its first on Indian soil since 1984-85 when David Gower’s men rejoiced after a glorious conquest.
The team got many things, small and big, right on this tour. It would be remiss to not spell out some significant factors that helped Alastair Cook & co. scale an admittedly slippery peak.
Follow the leader
While many theories have emerged about captaincy, ‘leading from the front’ remains the oldest and most definitive way to go about the job. Cook, with 562 runs and three tons, was the highest run-getter on either side and finished as the man-of-the-series. More importantly, on his first tour as full-time Test captain, he led with remarkable equanimity and courage both on and off the field, in victory as well as defeat.
Before the start of the series, Cook refused to be drawn into a debate over India ‘A’ not including spinners for the practice match against England. Neither did he fret and fume over umpire Kumar Dharmasena adjudging him out wrongly twice in the Nagpur Test.
He was graceful to acknowledge that umpiring was a “tough enough job and I am not going to hold grudges against him.” The 27-year-old also refrained from playing pre-match mind games and focussed instead on the processes. The team was only glad to follow its leader’s example.
This English side turned out to be refreshingly different than those of the past that have reeled off long lists of complaints about the weather, playing conditions, and food in the sub-continent. The players spoke about “embracing the culture” and did it in style.
England was also upfront about its mistakes. No excuses were offered when it lost the first Test. For instance, Andy Flower, the team director, frankly admitted it was wrong to omit left-arm spinner Monty Panesar for the Test.
“Adapt and learn” was the team’s mantra, said Flower. This was one of the key reasons for England’s impressive performance following a number of disappointments this year, including a humiliating 0-3 loss in the Tests against Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates.
There was flexibility and imagination when it came to ringing in changes, like Joe Root’s selection in Nagpur. England’s desire to counter the Indian spin threat translated into a preparatory camp in Dubai ahead of the series. It also played three practice games in India, reinforcing the importance of sound preparation and learning.
One for all, all for one
Kevin Pietersen’s ‘re-integration’ was supposed to be fraught with risks given the champion batsman’s mercurial past. But, to his as well as the side’s credit, it was achieved seamlessly.
The bonhomie naturally aided KP’s coruscating show with the bat. At the end of the Nagpur Test, Pietersen was captured on camera sporting an England tee splashed with autographs of his colleagues.
The likes of Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell, who were not in the best of form, were also backed wholeheartedly. When Bell completed his century at Nagpur, Cook and James Anderson jumped and cheered much like star-struck seventh-graders. That there was harmony and camaraderie in the dressing room was never in doubt.
Core group clicks
Lastly, but most importantly, each of England’s core group of players pulled his weight: apart from Cook himself, Pietersen, Graeme Swann, Anderson, Panesar, and Matt Prior.
It certainly helped newcomers such as Nick Compton find their feet. The coaching staff, comprising Flower, batting coach Graham Gooch, bowling coach David Saker, and spin bowling coach Mushtaq Ahmed, laid emphasis on stability and hard grind, quickly dispelling negative notions.