Lord’s, day three: England 180-6

It was finally England’s day at Lord’s and it was so close to being decisively England’s day. England at one point led by 184 runs with eight wickets in hand, but finished it effectively 205-6 and need Ian Bell to bat well with the tail tomorrow.

Right up to the last half an hour, however, everything had been going England’s way. England started the day by getting Brendan McCullum in the first over and from there the Kiwis collapsed as dramatically as England had done the previous day. New Zealand lost their last six wickets for just 52 runs and their last seven for exactly sixty going back to the dismissal of Dean Brownlie last night. As would be expected with those figures, England did bowl better. Stuart Broad in particular was consistently the right length and not coincidentally was consistently threatening. It was he who got the wicket of McCullum, admittedly to an ill-advised swipe outside off. The bowling figures would suggest that Steven Finn also improved dramatically, but his was more a case of it being better to be lucky than good. He was still too short; a pitch map late in the innings showed no balls pitched full of a length. Broad was comfortably the better bowler of the two, but Finn managed to mop up the tail.

The standout performer with the ball was James Anderson, however. He got a much-deserved bit of luck when Kane Williamson strangled one down leg, but picked up his five-fer with an unplayable delivery to Bruce Martin. He finished with staggering figures of 24-11-47-5. His eleven maidens were four more than the rest of the attack managed combined. He now has 303 Test wickets and has a chance to go past Fred Trueman when he bowls in the second innings.

England very nearly managed to bat New Zealand out of the game in the evening session. There was a wobble before tea when Alastair Cook and Nick Compton were both out with the score on 36, but Jonathan Trott and Joe Root batted superbly the blunt the New Zealand attack and build the lead. In a match where only Ross Taylor had looked comfortable for the first two and a half days, it was a fantastic performance. It was so close to putting New Zealand out of the match, though it may yet prove to have been enough.

Tim Southee deserves a lot of credit for continuing to bowl testing deliveries even when his cause seemed lost. He did for New Zealand much what Anderson did for England. But England will be a touch concerned with how softly the four wickets went down before stumps. Root was a bit lazy with a defensive shot and edged the ball onto the stumps, then Bairstow got into a bit of a tangle trying to play an admittedly good delivery. Matt Prior continued a shocking game by tamely pulling a ball straight to square leg and Trott’s resistance was ended when he tried to drive a ball that was spinning back into him. In every case the New Zealanders bowled well, but England were just a bit too casual.

England’s lead is at 205 at stumps, so they are still in a good position. Batting has seldom been easy in this match and the ball is turning and bouncing very sharply already. Anderson and Broad can reasonably expect the ball to continue swing in the fourth innings and Swann will be able to turn it out of the footholes created by the New Zealand left-armers. Williamson showed that the turn from there is very sharp and there is some bounce to go with it. England are 27 runs away from setting New Zealand the highest score of the match to win and certainly anything more than 250 will be very tricky. But New Zealand do have an opening now and the match is far from over. The key tomorrow morning will probably be Ian Bell. He was ill for most of today and he will have to bat with the tail tomorrow. He needs to get some runs as England cannot expect much from the tailenders.

Lord’s, day two: New Zealand 153-4

New Zealand are probably on top after two days of play at Lord’s, but today was highlighted by Jimmy Anderson taking his 300th Test wicket, only the fourth English bowler to do so. He was far and away the standout performer for England today; England needed something big after being bowled out cheaply and Anderson came up with a wicket in the first over of the innings. He bowled beautifully throughout the day and not only got his 300th, but he then got the vital wicket of Ross Taylor as he was threatening to take the game away from England. Anderson could have even had a fourth, as Matt Prior dropped a fairly simple chance.

At the start of the day, New Zealand once again bowled very well to England. Although Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow batted well for the first hour of the day, the first wicket triggered a dramatic collapse. It was actually not a good delivery; Tim Southee pushed a ball down the leg side to Root, but the batsmen could only get a nick through to the keeper. This was about the time the second new ball started to swing as well and Matt Prior got a borderline unplayable delivery from Southee next ball for a golden duck. From there the lower order stood very little chance; Southee and Neil Wagner had the ball swinging around corners and none of the bowlers made it into double figures. England were bowled out for 232 just after lunch; even in what looks like a low-scoring match it is almost certainly under par.

England needed to bowl well in response and although New Zealand showed quite clearly how to bowl, only Anderson seemed to be watching. He bowled very well, but the other two seamers did not. In fact, it would probably be fair to say that Steven Finn bowled only one good ball in the entire day. Finn is so tall that he can pitch the ball on a good or even a full length and still get enough bounce to trouble the batsmen. But he spent nearly the entire day today bowling short and in general wide and he was mercilessly punished by Taylor. Stuart Broad was little better, though he did improve as the day wore on and had more threatening spells. But his length was also wrong for most of the day and went for far too many runs.

Taylor did bat very well for his 66 and deserves a lot of credit for it, but the way Finn and Broad to him was utterly dire and it has put New Zealand in a far better position than they might or should have been. Finn especially needs to learn from the one wicket that he took today. It was the one of, if not the only ball that he properly pitched up and he trapped Dean Brownlie lbw. He has the continue to bowl full for the rest of the Test and apply pressure, if he does not improve then Tim Bresnan has to come into the side for the second Test.

Although New Zealand are on top, England should not panic just yet. Anderson bowled so well that they are still very much in the match. In fact, New Zealand are almost in the exact same position as England were at the start of the day; England’s fourth wicket fell on 157, New Zealand’s fell on 147. New Zealand will still likely get a first innings lead, England can hardly expect the Kiwi lower order to collapse as dramatically as England’s did, but New Zealand also need a first innings lead. There is already a lot of turn and bounce for Graeme Swann and New Zealand will have to bat last. If England can keep New Zealand to a lead of under fifty, and that is a big ‘if’, they will still be in a decent position. To do that, they will need Broad and Finn to bowl a lot better tomorrow than they did today.

New Zealand 0-0 England player marks

England barely managed to avoid a series defeat in New Zealand for the first time in 29 years by clinging on to a draw in the last Test. Whilst it was not a good result for England, it was a good series with New Zealand making a mockery of their number eight ranking. One of the notable aspects of the series was that New Zealand named an unchanged side in all three Tests and England were only prevented from doing the same by an injury to Kevin Pietersen. My full series review has already gone up and my marks out of ten for the 23 players to contest the series are as follows:

New Zealand
Hamish Rutherford – 6
Rutherford started the series and his career with a brilliant knock of 171 that put New Zealand in charge of the Dunedin Test. After that, however, he was restricted to just 75 runs in his next four innings. He has still made sure that New Zealand have a coherent opening partnership for the near future.

Peter Fulton – 7
Fulton had a broadly similar series as Rutherford, but in reverse. he scraped by with the bat at the start of the series before scoring a pair of centuries in the last Test, the second coming with New Zealand having been reduced to 8-3. It was certainly a successful return to the side overall.

Kane Williamson – 5
It was a consistently decent series for Williamson, but little more. In five innings he made four scores over twenty and just one over sixty (and none over one hundred). His unbeaten 55 at the Basin Reserve was instrumental in New Zealand saving that Test and he formed a good partnership with Fulton on the first day at Eden Park, but he never played a really decisive innings. He did, despite some questions about his action, finish at the top of the series bowling averages with six wickets for ninety runs.

Ross Taylor – 2
After playing very well in 2012, Taylor struggled badly on his return to the side after the captaincy fallout. The 41* he made batting for the rain at Wellington was important, but his other four innings were quite poor.

Dean Brownlie – 3
Brownlie only got three innings in the series and although he did not have any truly low scores he never made more than 36. He always looked vaguely out of his depth and not quite ‘in’. His dismissal was part of a larger collapse all three times.

Brendan McCullum* – 9
It was a very good series for McCullum, his second as captain, the only thing lacking was a win. With the bat he came to his team’s rescue twice, either stopping or slowing down a collapse and then he took England’s bowling apart on the penultimate day of the series. He showed good attacking intent with his field settings and was comfortably the best captain of the two. He might rue not enforcing the follow-on in the last Test, however.

BJ Watling† – 4
It was not a terrible series for Watling, he did everything asked of him behind the stumps and occasionally made some useful runs down the order. His best innings came at Wellington where he made 60 as New Zealand very nearly saved the follow-on. He did not have a standout series either, however.

Tim Southee – 3
Although he was coming off a very good winter, Southee struggled in this series, taking only six wickets in the three Tests at a cost of over fifty apiece. Five of those six wickets came in the last Test, the only time he looked at all threatening.

Bruce Martin – 4
Martin was rather fortunate to take four wickets in the first innings of the series as England were very charitable. He bowled better in the rest of the series, but his returns actually dropped off and the fact that he took no wickets in the last Test was costly.

Neil Wagner – 7
Wagner was the surprise of the series for New Zealand. He was not even supposed to play, but got a chance after Doug Bracewell cut his foot before the first Test. Wagner responded with 4-42 in the first innings of the series and finished the series as the leading wicket taker on both sides with twelve.

Trent Boult – 8
Although Wagner was the surprise of the series, Boult probably made the biggest impact. He took eleven wickets at less than thirty, but six of those were in the first innings at Eden Park where he swung the ball both ways and was the main reason England were bowled out for only 204.

Alastair Cook* – 3
It was a disappointing series for the England captain. Not only was a 0-0 far from the desired result, he left a lot to be desired with his handling of the team and his form suffered, at least by his lofty standards. He did play an excellent hundred to help ensure a draw at Dunedin, but his other four innings yielded just 74 runs.

Nick Compton – 7
Compton came into the series with questions, albeit rather ridiculous ones, over his place in the side and he got off to a dreadful start with a four-ball duck. But he followed that up with excellent back-to-back centuries and has secured his place for the first Ashes Test.

Jonathan Trott – 8
Trott was one of the few England batsmen to have a very good series in New Zealand. He tried to hold the innings together in Dunedin as he top-scored with 45, before scoring 52 and 121 in his next two innings. He fell off a bit in the third Test, wasting a review in the first innings and throwing his wicket away in the second. Some of his critics might also be surprised to note that he finished the series with the best strike rate of any member of England’s top six. Surprisingly, he also topped England’s bowling averages with one wicket for 27.

Kevin Pietersen – 3
It was a lacklustre series for Pietersen. He was troubled by a knee injury throughout and was forced to miss the last Test. He only managed 85 runs in three innings in the first two, though the 73 he made in Wellington was one of his better innings.

Ian Bell – 4
On paper it was not a great series for Bell; he managed only 158 runs at an average of 38. He was definitely short of his best overall, but those figures do not do justice to the effort he put in to help England save the Test and the series at Auckland. He scored ‘only’ 75 runs, but off a mammoth 271 deliveries before finally succumbing to a loose shot on the stroke of tea.

Joe Root – 2
Root was built up by the media before the series and so was probably always going to fall short in some way. But 88 runs in five innings was much more dramatic than anyone would have expected. Not only is he not about to replace Compton at the top of the order, his own place at six is not secure.

Matt Prior† – 10
England could not possibly have asked any more from Prior than what he delivered. He went past fifty three times in five innings, including his match saving 110* at Auckland. He also made sure that England got a decent score after wobbling in Wellington and throughout the series did his usual sterling job with the gloves.

Stuart Broad – 7
After a very poor and injury-hampered series in India, Broad came back very well in this series with eleven wickets, the best by an England bowler, including 6-51 as England made New Zealand follow-on in Wellington. After looking miserable with the bat for his first three innings, he also played a stunning innings of six off 77 deliveries as England barely hung on in Auckland.

Steven Finn – 5
Finn struggled through much of the series as he appeared to have trouble adjusting to his new run up and was noticeably down on pace. He finally managed to find a troubling length in Auckland and took six wickets in the first innings as England tried to keep New Zealand to a reasonable score. His main contribution was actually with the bat as he scored a fifty as nightwatchman in the first Test.

James Anderson – 4
Especially by Anderson’s lofty standards, this was a poor series. He struggled to get the ball to consistently swing and like most of the seamers bowled consistently too short. He still ended up with ten wickets, but in generally uninspiring fashion.

Monty Panesar – 3
Panesar only played in this series because Swann was ruled out at the last second with his chronic elbow injury. He will be remembered in this series for his contribution with the bat. He and Prior saw out the last few overs in Auckland and his struggle to make his ground after a tight single may be the iconic image of that Test. It should not disguise the fact that he did next to nothing with the ball, however, and may find himself down the pecking order come the summer.

Jonny Bairstow – 0
Bairstow may be the most unfortunate man on the tour. He came into the last Test as Pietersen’s replacement having not played in the only warmup and thus having not played any first-class cricket since being in the same situation in the second Test in India. He can hardly be faulted for making only nine runs in two innings.

Wellington, day two: New Zealand 66-3

The second day of the Wellington Test was a much better one for New Zealand, especially with the ball. I said after day one that their bowlers had to find something more than what they had been showing and they stepped up to take eight English wickets for fewer than two hundred runs. It was certainly not the day for which England were hoping, but they did do enough to get the score up to 465 all out, which is certainly still formidable.

A lot of the credit to that score must go to Matt Prior and Steven Finn. After Ian Bell and Joe Root had got out to a pair of poor shots in the morning, Prior came in and started to steady the ship and after Kevin Pietersen and Stuart Broad departed in quick succession in the afternoon Finn kept him company. The pair came together with the score 374-7 and England still some way short of a good total. But Finn survived for 82 deliveries whilst Prior scored quickly from the other end and the pair put on 83 runs in just under twenty overs. Finn got a bit of criticism during his innings for the slow rate at which he scored, but it was entirely unjustified. Prior can and did score quite quickly and what he needed was a foil to prevent him from running out of partners. Finn provided an excellent one and deserves credit for the way he hung around.

Four hundred and sixty-five was still not as many as England would have liked, but impressive bowling in the evening session was enough to tilt the day into their favour. There was pace in the pitch and a bit of movement through the air, though the seamers did get a bit carried away with the bounce and started bowling a bit too short. This allowed New Zealand to put together a decent partnership for the second wicket, but Broad was the first one to find the right length and promptly took two wickets in as many deliveries.

The forecast for the last two days of the Test has improved slightly, but England will still want to hurry things along. New Zealand need another two hundred runs exactly to avoid the follow-on and England’s best chance to force a victory is to make sure that the Kiwis don’t get there. England will probably need to get amongst the wickets early tomorrow and they can get McCullum out before he can rescue his side again.

Dunedin, day two: New Zealand 131-0

After the first day was washed out, England will probably be left hoping that the third fourth and fifth days will also see nothing but rain. This was probably the worst single day of cricket I have seen from England since 2009; even the debacles in the UAE had more positives than this performance.

I said in my preview that New Zealand could be a dangerous side and although they did show that today, England were simply far too careless. The fact that the spinner Bruce Martin ended up with four wickets on a pitch that wasn’t turning tells the story all too clearly. It’s hard to know exactly where to put the blame for England’s batting performance. They should have had another warmup match, but I don’t think the lack of one is a sufficient explanation. The fact that the entire first day was lost may have also taken a toll on concentration, but that is purely speculative and it certainly did not seem to hurt New Zealand. I worry that in fact England simply thought that there was nothing in the pitch or bowlers to concern them and paid dearly for that thought.

That said, some credit must also go to New Zealand. Neil Wagner in particular bowled very well and as a group they had clear plans in mind and showed very good discipline in bowling to those plans. Brendan McCullum, controversy about being handed the captaincy notwithstanding, did an excellent job. Never could he have hoped that England would so carelessly fall into the traps he set, but he and his bowlers did everything right to set them up. This is not a surprise in itself, but something England did not seem to have recognised.

What was rather more of a surprise was how well New Zealand batted. Certainly England were deflated after being bowled out for such a low total, but there was not a lot expected from Hamish Rutherford and Peter Fulton and they went about showing just how tame the pitch was. New Zealand have had a lot of problems with their opening combinations in the past, but Rutherford in particular looked very composed and competent on his debut. It’s far too early to say too much about him, but seeing someone finally succeed at the top of the order must give New Zealand supporters a lot of hope.

England bowled fairly well in the evening session, but it took them a bit to get going and with so few runs on the board the bowlers really had little chance. Stuart Broad was probably the pick of the bowlers; he was the most economical and also produced three clear chances. Unfortunately for England, two were dropped (one a sitter) and the other flew through a vacant third slip. It was very much that kind of day for England. Jimmy Anderson and Steven Finn also caused problems, but never managed to actually take a wicket or even produce a clear chance.

England were bowled out so fast that the loss of the entire first day now doesn’t make a lot of difference, though it does give England at least a sniff of a chance of a draw. They will probably have to approach the third day as a clean slate and although they are utterly up against it, they will have to get whatever they can out of this innings and then see where they are. They may take some heart that on this ground a year ago South Africa were bowled out for around 230 in the first innings before putting up 450-5 in the third innings. Obviously we saw last summer that England are not as good as South Africa, but it does suggest that the pitch won’t get much worse for batting as the match goes on. (New Zealand also got off to a very good start in their chase in that match, before the weather intervened.) The next three days will be a very interesting test of England’s resilience and whether New Zealand can make the most of a good situation, something with which they have often struggled. The match isn’t over, but England will really have to improve to get anything out of it. And maybe do a rain dance for good measure…

Suggested England Test squad

Tomorrow England will announce their touring party for the three Tests in New Zealand in March. I don’t think there will be any great surprises, but I am keen to see how they decide to pick players on the first tour to more English conditions after the loss to South Africa last summer. As I mentioned a few days ago, Nick Compton ought to retain his spot in the playing XI and although Joe Root will certainly be on the plane I would play him either at six or not at all. It’s also already been confirmed that it will be a 15-man squad with Jonny Bairstow as reserve wicket-keeper.

It is the question of who to bat at six which I think will dominate the squad discussions and lone warmup, though now at least it is because England have many good options instead of none. But they still have both Root and Bairstow and neither have done anything to be dropped and really neither has James Taylor. England seemed to forget about him when naming the side to tour India and I’d like to see him recalled for the series in New Zealand. Samit Patel will presumably be missing out after his poor performance in India and Eoin Morgan should definitely be dropped as well, but with the squad size being cut overall I think Taylor may still miss out. I would have him on the plane though, as injury cover if nothing else. The selectors need to keep him in the picture though even if he does miss out; I thought he looked perfectly capable in the two Tests against South Africa that he played and I think that if England had gone to New Zealand before India he would be in the squad.

The bowling can’t be completely ignored though. There is still the nagging doubts about Stuart Broad’s fitness after his latest injury kept him out of the ODIs in India. He’ll be in the squad, of course, but England should have a plan in place in case he gets injured again. It’s tempting to want to add another bowler as cover (Stuart Meaker the likely candidate), but England do have four other fast bowlers who can expect to be on the plane which should be enough and possibly even more than enough. I would drop Panesar from the squad though as spin is unlikely to play a major role and Root and Kevin Pietersen should be all England need to support Swann. I would either just leave his spot empty (the squad is being cut by three players compared to the India one) or replace him with a batsman.

My squad in full would then be:
Cook*, Anderson, Bairstow, Bell, Bresnan, Broad, Compton, Finn, Onions, Pietersen, Prior, Root, Swann, Taylor, Trott

England 2012 marks out of ten

Twenty-one different players represented England over fifteen Tests this calendar year. There were, as one can imagine, varying degrees of success and I have given them my year-end marks out of ten here:

Andrew Strauss – 4
The year leading up to Strauss’ resignation and retirement was, as one would expect, not the best for him. He did score a couple of battling fifties in the subcontinent and a pair of centuries to start the summer, but two defeats in four series led to him stepping down.

Alastair Cook – 8
Cook was England’s leading run scorer in 2012 and finished the year by captaining the side to a historic 2-1 series win in India and setting a new English record for most career centuries. He also just barely missed out on finishing the year with a career average above fifty.

Nick Compton – 7
After an incredible season with Somerset, Compton got a chance to open the batting for England in India. He did not quite grab his chance with both hands, but he did play quite solidly throughout and should open again in New Zealand.

Jonathan Trott – 5
It was only an okay year for Trott; he never really played poorly and had a very good innings in Galle. But at the same time he seldom seemed to really click, at least until the excellent 143 he made to help secure a draw in Nagpur.

Kevin Pietersen – 7
On the field it was a great year for Pietersen as he made three excellent centuries, but it was rather more rocky off the field. He came around though and then played the best crafted innings of his career to help put England in a winning position in Calcutta.

Ian Bell – 4
It was a sub-par year for Bell; Saeed Ajmal ran rings around him in the UAE and although Bell batted well after that (he scored six fifties) his mind never quite seemed settled until the last match of the year.

Eoin Morgan – 0
Morgan started the year with a terrible tour of the UAE, scoring only 82 runs in six innings. This wasn’t massively worse than the rest of the team, but coming from a player whose big strength was supposed to be spin bowling it cost him his place in the side. With the number of better options England now have, he should not appear on this list in twelve months’ time.

Jonny Bairstow – 4
Bairstow had a tough start to his career as he was worked over by the West Indies quicks then dropped for the start of the South Africa series. Finally recalled for the Lord’s Test, he made a pair of excellent fifties that helped give England a sniff of victory. He then only got one Test in India and may have fallen behind Joe Root in England’s pecking order.

Ravi Bopara – 0
The reasons why Ravi Bopara should not only not be picked again, but should not have been picked in the first place are fairly well documented here. Suffice to say he did nothing to disprove any of that and seems to have finally fallen completely out of the England picture.

James Taylor – 5
It’s very hard to say anything about James Taylor. He played only two Tests and batted fairly well, being run out by Prior in his last innings. He was then inexplicably left out of the side to tour India in favour of Eoin Morgan. Hopefully he will get another chance, but there are a fair few ahead of him now.

Samit Patel – 3
Patel was picked as a subcontinent specialist in Sri Lanka and India and whilst he never really failed he never did anything of note either and gave no indication that he was a Test player. He was rightly dropped for the last Test.

Joe Root – 7
Root was included in the party to tour India after an excellent season with Yorkshire and although he missed out on the opener’s spot in favour of Compton he did get a chance at six in Nagpur and played an exceptional innings after coming in at a tricky point in the first innings. He is probably the front-runner for the spot in New Zealand, though it’s still not settled.

Matt Prior – 9
It’s hard to ask for much more from Prior. He had another almost flawless year with the gloves and batted brilliantly with England often in strife and with the tail. His biggest problem right now is needless run outs.

Stuart Broad – 6
It was a mixed year for Broad; he started out by demolishing Pakistan in the UAE and taking eleven West Indian wickets at Lord’s. But he struggled to find his pace after that and after a middling series against South Africa he had injury problems in India and was dropped after a pair of shocking Tests. He still finished with a creditable forty wickets in eleven Tests.

Tim Bresnan – 2
After coming off a brilliant 2011, Bresnan started this year with elbow surgery that kept him out of the series in the UAE. He was never quite himself after that; his pace was down and he was not swinging the ball as much. His high point was running through the West Indies at Trent Bridge, but by the end of the year he was only picked due to injuries to other bowlers. His batting is down from what it was as well.

Graeme Swann – 9
He was helped by having nine Tests on the subcontinent, but Swann finishes 2012 as England’s leading wicket taker with 58 in 14 Tests. He was a consistent attacking threat for England and even finished the year with a stylish half-century in the first innings at Nagpur.

James Anderson – 9
Anderson had an incredible year as he seems to quite often. He got swing, both conventional and reverse, even on the notoriously unhelpful subcontinent wickets. He instigated top order collapses in all conditions including twice dismissing Kumar Sangakkara first ball and becoming the all time leading wicket taker against Sachin Tendulkar.

Chris Tremlett – 0
Tremlett played one Test in 2012 in which he failed to take a wicket. Subsequent injury and the success of Steven Finn and Graham Onions means he will have a tough time getting back into the team.

Monty Panesar – 7
Panesar came in as England’s second spinner for six of the nine subcontinent Tests and overall did very well. He took eleven wickets on the raging turner in Mumbai and had a some good performances in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and the first innings at Calcutta as well. He did have some trouble maintaining it and Swann will not fear for his place.

Steven Finn – 8
Finn only managed to play in five Tests partly due to injury, but in those Tests he bowled with consistent pace and an improved accuracy, taking twenty wickets. If he can stay fit he looks like he will replace Bresnan as England’s third seamer.

Graham Onions – 6
Onions was probably unlucky to only get one Test this year and especially unlucky to have that Test be almost completely washed out. He did take 4-88 in the only bowling innings though and should stay in England’s thoughts for next season.

India 1-2 England review and player marks

Ten months ago I stayed awake through the night and listened in horror as England capitulated against Pakistan’s spinners in Abu Dhabi. The contrast between that and staying up through the night in this series could hardly have been more pronounced.

England played remarkable cricket to win this series. They had a horror start as India piled on the runs in Ahmedabad and then England’s displayed their same problems against spin. To come back from that massive hole and nine wicket defeat was a massive achievement. After that they batted much better (actually they batted much better starting in the second innings at Ahmedabad) but more importantly they outbowled India. England’s spinners comfortably outperformed their Indian counterparts in Mumbai and then James Anderson took over in Calcutta and Nagpur. England’s willingness to adapt, sometimes ruthlessly, was perhaps their most impressive aspect. Stuart Broad had a shocking two Tests and was dropped despite being the vice-captain. England knew they had someone better. The same thing happened with Samit Patel; he did not play terribly, but England decided they had better batsmen to fill that role and Joe Root performed brilliantly.

That came in sharp contrast to India, who now have a lot of questions to answer. India’s selection throughout the series was muddled, their tactics were questionable and their players badly underperformed. They seemed to have watched England struggle to play spin last winter and at Ahmedabad in the first innings and then simply refused to believe over the next Tests that England had improved in that regard. They seemed certain that they were going to win the series and never responded when England started to get he upper hand. Their minds also seemed out of it. They showed some fight, but very seldom at times that were really important. When their chances of winning the series started to slip away in the second innings at Calcutta their entire middle order surrendered and left it to Ashwin to spare the humiliation of an innings defeat. On the fourth evening at Nagpur they lashed out at the batsmen and umpires instead of trying to actually get wickets before coming out the next morning, still with an outside chance to make something of the series, and doing absolutely nothing for five hours until they could shake hands. MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli showed admirable fight and application in their first innings at Nagpur, but it served mostly to highlight the absence of that mentality for the rest of the series.

As important as the tactics and relative mentality of the two sides were, however, England in the end simply outplayed India. Alastair Cook led the way and could seemingly only be denied a ton by dodgy umpiring. But six of the seven batsmen to get more than one Test for England scored a fifty in the series and so did one of the two who got only one Test. Four of them scored a hundred at some point and as a team England scored more than four hundred in three of their five completed innings. India managed to do the same just one time in six innings. Part of that was down to the bowlers; Stuart Broad aside, England’s generally turned in very good performances. They either took wickets or kept the batsmen tied down. India simply never had the same kind of control. Ashwin had a shocking series, Zaheer Khan was so bad he was actually dropped. Ishant Sharma and Pragyan Ojha were the only ones to do much and even they sometimes looked helpless. India did not help themselves with selection though; picking Piyush Chawla for the last Test was mystifying and it was clear well before he was dropped that India had better bowlers than Khan.

England deserved their victory, their first in India for 28 years. My marks for the individual players are as follows (and unlike the Times I don’t think any of them played for Chelsea at the weekend):

England (88/150, average 5.87)
Alastair Cook* – 10
Perfect ten for the captain. To use the old cliché, he led from the front with the bat and would have finished with the highest average fro England were it not for Joe Root getting his runs with only one dismissal. He also led the side well; his tactics were good, his bowling changes were good and he did not let heads drop after the defeat in the first Test. Now if only he could get a coin toss right more often than once every six times…

Nick Compton – 7
It was a good, if unspectacular series for Compton. He batted solidly in the first three Tests and helped England lay an important platform in the first innings of the Mumbai and Calcutta Tests before getting the winning runs in style in the first and keeping his head on the last day of the second. His final average does not do him justice.

Jonathan Trott – 5
Trott had a bit of trouble at the start of the series; he was a little bit scratchy and got out to some good deliveries and some only mediocre deliveries. But he finished strongly with 87 in Calcutta and 143 in Nagpur to see England to Test and series winning scores. His fielding at slip followed a similar pattern; he put down a sitter in the first Test, but took some very good catches later in the series.

Kevin Pietersen – 8
Pietersen was successfully reintegrated into the England side and marked this by attempting to sweep a ball that went on to hit his off stump. But that was the nadir of the series for him; he went on to play the best constructed century I have seen from him on a very difficult wicket in Mumbai and followed up with a pair of solid fifties in Calcutta and Nagpur.

Ian Bell – 5
Much like Trott, Bell had a poor start to the series. He played a horrific shot in Ahmedabad and although he looked in decent touch throughout he got a bit careless at times to get out. He came through in the last Test, however, playing a vital unbeaten hundred to ensure England’s safety.

Joe Root – 8
Root looked like a Test batsman from the first ball of his debut in Nagpur. He came in with England in a bit of trouble and played very mature 73 to see England most of the way to a good total. He will certainly be on the plane to New Zealand.

Matt Prior† – 9
Prior was very solid throughout the series; he had few errors behind the stumps as usual and scored runs at an average of better than fifty. His biggest blemish was the terrible run out that precipitated England’s collapse in Mumbai.

Tim Bresnan – 1
Bresnan only played the first and last Tests and he had an absolute shocker in the first. He was not threatening and had no control. He was a lot better in the second Test, though could not pick up a wicket on the lifeless Nagpur pitch. He did cause problems and keep the scoring down, however, which was about all a bowler could do.

Graeme Swann – 8
Swann was statistically England’s best bowler in this series. He took a team best twenty wickets at a team best 24.75 average. He never had a single standout performance, but he was always a threat to pick up wickets and made the most of the Mumbai track in taking 8-113 in the match.

James Anderson – 9
Swann was statistically England’s best bowler, but Anderson was England’s actual best bowler. He could only keep the runs down in the first Test and had little to do in the second with the spinners bowling, but turned in exceptional performances in the last two Tests. With the pitches still not giving him any assistance he took six wickets in Calcutta and four in the only innings he bowled in Nagpur.

Monty Panesar – 8
Panesar was left out of England’s defeat at Ahmedabad, but recalled for the raging turner at Mumbai. He took his chance as well as eleven wickets in the match. His performances in Calcutta and Nagpur were significantly less impressive, but he was able to bowl long spells that kept the runs down and pressure on.

Jonny Bairstow – 0
Bairstow only played one Test, filling in for Bell at Mumbai, and contributed nine runs to England’s first innings total before playing a terrible shot and then failing to realise that he wasn’t actually out off it. It was a poor innings and he did not get to bat in the second. He’ll have to fight to get his number six spot back in New Zealand.

Samit Patel – 3
Patel played in the first three Tests as and never really did anything wrong. But he never managed to convert any starts of follow up the promise he showed in the warmup matches and was dropped for Joe Root.

Stuart Broad – 0
Broad was appointed vice-captain before the start of the series, but was troubled by a heel injury and bowled utterly appallingly in the first two Tests. He was then dropped for the fit-again Steven Finn and ultimately returned to England for treatment.

Steven Finn – 7
Finn bowled very well in the only Test he played. But two different injuries (the first of which had a recurrence) kept him out of most of the series. It was a blow to England who clearly missed his pace and bounce in the other three Tests.

India (46/150, average 3.07)
Gautam Gambhir – 6
Gambhir had a surprisingly good series for someone who came into it so out of form. He made a nice rearguard fifty as the rest of the side collapsed around him in Mumbai and similarly made a few runs before the implosion at Calcutta. But he never managed to do anything with those starts and also ran out two partners in Calcutta. He’s only a few overs of surprisingly effective rubbish bowling away from being India’s answer to Shane Watson.

Virender Sehwag – 3
Sehwag scored a blistering 117 on the first day of the series, then returned to his usual form making only 136 runs in the next five innings. A lot of this was down to his terrible technique, but he also was run out by Gambhir when he was looking dangerous in Calcutta.

Cheteshwar Pujara – 8
Started the series by looking like Rahul Dravid had in England. He scored an unbeaten double century at Ahmedabd before scoring a fighting 135 in Mumbai to get India to a respectable, if ultimately insufficient, score. He fell off from there (how could he not), but between incorrect decisions and being run out by his partner he still comes out of the series well.

Sachin Tendulkar – 1
Tendulkar’s top score in this series was the 76 made whilst trying to arrest a collapse in Calcutta. That much is quite respectable, but his next highest score in the series was 13 and he failed to get to double figures in six of his eight innings. He looks very much like a fading force and it his not clear what he gains by hanging on any longer.

Virat Kohli – 3
Kohli scored a fantastic century in Nagpur that rescued India from a position of considerable danger. It was a great innings in which he completely abandoned his usual game and just accumulated runs. But he waited until the last innings of the series to do that; in the first three Tests his top score was exactly twenty.

MS Dhoni*† – 1
Dhoni took some responsibility for his side in the last Test and fought hard for his 99. But his tactical deficiencies throughout the series were glaring and his selection muddled. As much as he fought in the last Test, he surrendered just as much in the third Test. He will be lucky to hang on to the captaincy.

Ravindra Jadeja – 1
Jadeja gets a very low score, but only got to bat once and was trapped by a vicious inswinger from Anderson. There’s really not enough there to judge for the long term. His one point comes from the wickets he picked up bowling.

Ravichandran Ashwin – 3
It’s very hard to judge Ashwin in this series. He was meant to be their main spin bowler and a decent bat down the order. But he was utterly innocuous with the ball and took his wickets at over fifty runs apiece. But he still managed to keep his batting average higher than his bowling one with some excellent rearguards. But those all came too late to help his country; he needed to perform with the ball and didn’t.

Piyush Chawla – 2
Chawla somehow took four wickets in England’s first innings despite bowling fairly poorly throughout. He was never threatening in the second innings and actually never should have been picked.

Ishant Sharma – 4
Sharma was India’s best bowler in the last Test and did okay in the third as well. But that was all relative and it was not a pair of Tests he will put on his highlight reel. The nadir was probably dropping an easy return chance from Alastair Cook, but his fielding overall was worse than lazy.

Pragyan Ojha – 6
Ojha was the only Indian bowler to really show up in the series and he finished level with Swann as the lead wicket taker in the series. Those wickets still came at a cost of over thirty apiece, however, as he was often made to toil during England’s long innings in the second and third Tests.

Yuvraj Singh – 1
Yuvraj Singh was apparently selected off a desire for a fairy-tale comeback story and a thought that he would be useful against Kevin Pietersen. But he has never really been Test quality and he showed that again in the first three Tests before being dropped for Nagpur.

Harbhajan Singh – 0
Selected as a third spinner for Mumbai, Harbhajan Singh took only the wickets of two tail-enders and scored 27 runs in what very well might turn out to be his last Test. Certainly he did nothing to suggest that he was still good enough to play Test cricket and did not even get a recall when India played four spinners at Nagpur.

Umaesh Yadav – 7
Yadav looked very good in the one Test in which he played. Unfortunately for India he then picked up an injury and missed the rest of the series. It was a story very similar to that of Steven Finn for England and like Finn India missed him quite a bit.

Zaheer Khan – 0
Khan is another who may very well have played his last Test; he managed just 4-213 in the first three Tests and three of those came in the first Test. For the most part England were happy to hit him around and happy to find him in the field as well; he was distinctly disinclined to pursue balls hit near him.

Calcutta Test preview

The Calcutta Test starts on Wednesday (or late on Tuesday here) with each side looking to secure at least a share of the spoils for the series. After all the fuss about the pitch and groundstaff, it sounds like the wicket will be similar to the one from the Mumbai Test. It is another used one and should have plenty of bounce and turn like the one at Mumbai did. I expect this will suit England; Dhoni may have correctly identified a weakness against good spin bowling, but his spinners will need to bowl a lot better than they did at Mumbai to exploit that weakness and even then they have the problem that England’s spinners are still better. The pitch also means that whilst it is still probably going to be a good toss to win, it will not be vital.

The other good news for England is that Steven Finn is fit and Ian Bell is back from his paternity leave so they can field an improved XI to the one who won in Mumbai. Finn looks guaranteed a place in the XI; England badly missed him in the first Test and although it got lost in the second innings romp by the spinners he was missed in Mumbai too. England looked definitely short a bowler in the first innings and Stuart Broad’s inability to keep things tight was a big part of that. Assuming England will play four bowlers again there is very little else they could do but drop Broad to make way for Finn. But with Samit Patel only bowling four overs in Mumbai he ought to be the one to make way with England playing five bowlers. That way if Broad regains his form he will still play a role, but if he does not England still have the resources to cover him with the bowling and with very little impact on the batting. (Broad’s career average is actually higher than Patel’s and even taking form and Patel’s bad luck into account I don’t think there is a large difference between the two.)

Bell should also come straight back into the side, but there is a bit more question around that. His first innings dismissal in Ahmedabad was terrible and although Jonny Bairstow did play a poor shot for his dismissal in Mumbai he was unlucky to be given out. But I would have Bell return; he looked more convincing in his second innings than Bairstow ever did in Mumbai and he is the overall better batsman in any case. Although I would have Bairstow at six in New Zealand (unless something radically changes between now and then), the only way he should play in Calcutta is if England drop Patel, but decide not to go with five bowlers. There’s probably a better chance of that happening than of them actually going with five bowlers, but I think Patel has shown a bit more with the bat than Bairstow did (admittedly in only one innings) and if he is to be dropped it should be for a bowler.

The worry for England with respect to the batting is that they still only had two players really fire in Mumbai. A lot of that was admittedly to do with the pitch, India also had just two scores over thirty in their first innings, but it does bring up the worry that if Alastair Cook fails this time England might be in trouble. Kevin Pietersen played the best crafted innings I have seen from him in Mumbai, but it’s impossible to know if that Pietersen or the Pietersen who panicked twice against Pragyan Ojha will show up in Calcutta. What England will really be hoping is that this time Jonathan Trott and/or Ian Bell can get themselves in and play a big score. As well as the team did in Mumbai, they do need someone to step up and take some of the burden off Cook and Pietersen.

Especially with Finn back fit and looking like he will be tough to play plus the increase in confidence coming from the Mumbai victory I would say England are probably just favourites in Calcutta. But I would have said India were favourites in Mumbai and we saw how that turned out. England look to have comfortably enough bowling to keep India down to a reasonable score, the question will be if the batsmen can do as well or better than they did in Mumbai. Without that it will just be a replay of the UAE.

My XI for the Calcutta Test: Cook*, Compton, Trott, Pietersen, Bell, Prior†, Broad, Swann, Anderson, Finn, Panesar

Mumbai Test: England win by ten wickets

The morning session of the fourth day of the Mumbai Test was not quite a formality; there was still a worry that India’s tail could hit out and give England a tricky target. But when Graeme Swann got Harbhajan Singh out in the second over of the day that possibility all but vanished and in fact India just managed to grind out another 25 runs over the course of about an hour before setting England 57 runs to win.

But the Test was really won long before the fourth day and it was just as a comprehensive win for England as the scoreline suggests and just as comprehensive a win as India recorded in the first Test. England beat India at their own game in this Test; their spinners comprehensively outbowled India’s spinners and their batsmen put last winter behind them and outdid their Indian counterparts to make a match-winning score in the first innings. That’s not to say it was a perfect victory for England by any means, however. There are still things to address if they want to avoid the tables turning again in Calcutta.

The first is that whilst the batsmen did manage to put up a good score it was off the performance of Cook and Pietersen almost exclusively. A lot of that is down to the pitch; it was never easy to bat on and only five of the 35 batsmen to come to the wicket for both sides even made it past thirty. It was that clear difficulty which made the innings of Cook and Pietersen so special. But not all of England’s wickets fell to good bowling and there is still some uncertainty about the middle order. Trott played very poorly for his duck and then Bairstow played a terrible shot to precipitate the controversy about his dismissal. England will at least reinforce the middle order with Ian Bell in the next Test and hopefully Nick Compton’s fluent thirty not out in the run chase will settle him down. He has never really been at fault in his dismissals, but he has been very nervy at times. If the Calcutta pitch is anything like the Mumbai one, however, England should not necessarily expect a lot from the middle order; they just need to make sure none of the batsmen give their wicket away and deny themselves a chance to get set.

Despite bowling India out for 142 in the second innings, England could look at the bowling as well. Swann and Panesar did pretty much all of the damage which was always going to be likely after it became clear how much the pitch was turning and indeed would turn later. But that was a slight problem in the first innings. England bowled well to restrict India to 119-5, but as the day wore on the batsmen settled in and the spinners started to look tired. England needed another option and although Anderson did manage to look threatening at times the only other seamer was Stuart Broad and he was a liability in this Test. He wasn’t threatening and he wasn’t economical and England really needed him to be at least one of those to give the spinners a break in the first innings and to give the batsmen a different look. If there had been a third seamer that would not have been as much of a problem, but as it was India recovered to 327 all out. If Broad plays in the Calcutta Test then it has to be as part of a five bowler attack, but I don’t think he will or should play at all. What I would have liked to see before the next Test is Broad play in the England Performance Programme match that started today to try to find some bowling rhythm and make sure that he is at full fitness. Steven Finn is playing in it and so is Graham Onions, however, so they might be in the mix for the next Test. Broad is a major asset to England at his best, but he’s been far from that in this series.

India have some questions ahead of Calcutta too, however. Not only did India win what looked like an important toss, but they played three spinners on a pitch that MS Dhoni had specifically asked to be a turner. To lose from there must be alarming. But the fact is that the only one of their spinners to consistently trouble England’s batsmen was Pragyan Ojha. Ravichandran Ashwin was poor for the second innings in succession; he did manage to get Cook which is o small feat with his current form, but he bowled far too many loose deliveries and the only other wicket he got in over 42 overs of effort was Monty Panesar. The decision to recall Harbhajan Singh was clearly an error. Singh was once a great bowler, but his career is coming to a close and this was at least one Test too many. The only wickets he picked up were Broad and Anderson late in England’s innings and generally looked ineffective. He won’t get many better pitches on which to bowl than this one and I don’t see how he can reasonably be picked again.

India’s top order had a fairly poor Test except for Cheteshwar Pujara who hit another century in the first innings. He has shown excellent temperament and technique and batted very well again for his runs. Gautam Gambhir also played a good lone hand in the second innings to possibly save his place in the XI and was unlucky not to carry his bat. But the rest of the top order had a match to forget. Sehwag, Tendulkar, Kohli and Yuvraj Singh made just 89 runs between their eight innings with a combination of poor shots and excellent bowling accounting for them. Kohli’s dismissals were both particularly bad and combined with his dismissal in the first Test might throw up some red flags for India. For Tendulkar this is a continuation of his poor form. Despite what some think, he isn’t immortal and he has now not made more than 27 in any of his last ten innings. I would be amazed if he does not play out the rest of this series, but either this one or the next should be his last. With Tendulkar undroppable, however, it’s Singh who might really be feeling the pressure having made nought and eight in this Test. It’s still a tough situation for the selectors, because Singh of course just made his incredible comeback from lung cancer and everyone wants to see him do well. But he was never really a Test-calibre player even before his illness, he had a batting average under 35 and a bowling average over 55, and that is showing again now. Unfortunately for India the first replacement would appear to be Suresh Raina and he would not only not appear to be an improvement, he actually has an average even worse than Singh’s.

Neither side need to make any sort of decision on their XI for the Calcutta Test this early of course, but I would be surprised to see either of them name the same bowling attack. England will be desperately hoping Finn is fit and India need to look at their other spinners to see if any of them can perform better than Harbhajan Singh. Other than that, I doubt either will change their batting apart from the return of Ian Bell to the England side. Both sides probably should look hard at their number six, however.