Reflections on a winter of cricket in India

England play India at cricket

One of my pleasant distractions during winter “lockdown” was to follow the fortunes of the English men’s cricket team (in all three forms: Test, T20 and ODI) in the Indian sub-continent, which came to an end three days ago, with England winning in Sri Lanka but then losing all three series played against India.

Covid had a bearing, given often crowds were not allowed in, the BBC coverage which I follow was done mostly remotely and no ball by ball (TMS) commentary, and players themselves were locked down and restricted in their movements and often joining, leaving, and re-joining the squads for the duration of the tour. Even so, I kept abreast with day-by-day happenings. When there was no spoken commentary (in the case of T20 and ODI) I could follow regular updates on the BBC website. After years of no terrestrial TV coverage, we got it for the India tests, but I didn’t get to watch it.

So here are my thoughts … England made a promising start by winning convincingly in Sri Lanka, followed by a creditable first test victory in India. But India are a far better side than Sri Lanka and had home advantage – dodgy pitches and all. Proof of this was their outstanding Test series win in Australia, not long before. And so it turned out – India won the next three tests by a large margin, and were deserved 3-1 winners of the Test series. No doubts the pundits will analyse reasons but the bottom line was England were not good enough, especially in spin bowling and batting departments. India, on the other hand, had outstanding players and it was not just Rishabh Pant. There was always someone to step up to the plate when needed, whether batting or bowling (especially in the spin department) and this has generally been the hallmark of the two great sides in my own lifetime: Australia and West Indies.

Things were a lot closer in the T20 and ODIs, which India won 3-2 and 2-1 respectively. I actually enjoyed both and my Test match only stance is definitely softening. These were exciting, high-scoring, close games but in both these series it would be difficult to argue against India being the better side. I actually think India have the makings of being the next great side – but to do that they need to win in England this coming summer, where England’s superior (at least on paper) pace bowling attack, led by legends Anderson and Broad and well supported by Archer and others, could well prove the deciding factor. With money, e.g. the large sums cricketers can attract in the Indian IPL, some of the romance of yesteryear may have gone, but I would love to see India become the next great side (and they have the players to do so) – but to do that they will need to beat the other major Test playing countries, home and away, and over a period of years and not merely be a flash in the pan.

As for England, it is back to the drawing board. Despite their India set-back they have the makings of a very good side, especially in the pace bowling department; a world class all-rounder in Ben Stokes and excellent wicket keepers who can bat and just maybe there have been enough signs in the batting department, besides Joe Root, to give us hope – but alas not yet in the spin bowling department. It is back to the drawing board, and the proof will be in their home test series this summer – against New Zealand, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and of course India, where home advantage will make a significant difference. And then there is their winter overseas tour – firstly against Pakistan and then the biggie – against Australia, where the challenge will be to try and regain the Ashes. Whether England can ever become a great Test cricketing side in my lifetime remains to be seen – too often they have flattered to deceive – but we live in hope and, notwithstanding, I will continue to enjoy following cricket.

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