BY Pete Starr
The first Test of the India Tour of England has already proven gripping stuff as controversy and drama reign supreme. The last time these two great nations locked horns they produced a quite staggering series of cricket, back in 2011. We didn’t know it then, but that was as good as it was going to get for English cricket fans…
Summer 2011 – simpler and happier times for the average England cricket fan. England were cresting a wave of fine form in all formats of the game, Mitchell Johnson was a mentally frail scattergun and Gareth Bale was still well mired in his seminal ‘Emo-chimp’ phase.
The big cricketing news story of the summer, however, was that England, the World’s No.2 ranked Test side, were to take on top dogs and freshly crowned World ODI champs India in a four Test home series – arguably the most tantalising prospect for English cricket fans outside of an Ashes year. Victory by two clear matches would see the Three Lions leapfrog their opponents to sit top of the ICC Test table for the first time since 1980. Whilst India are notoriously ropey tourists, their batsmen - led by Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid, both of whom were making their English swansongs - were seen as too classier acts for this to be anything other than a tight contest.
Tendulkar, more so than usual, was at the centre of every story as he continued to chase a record setting 100th international century having spurned the chance of the perfect send off after lifting the World Cup in his home city of Mumbai just months before.
For England, Stuart Broad was, as ever, a bone of contention as injury and no form of note had spectators flabbergasted at his repeated inclusion whilst India’s continued refusal to embrace DRS dominated back pages in the lead up. As has been the case for seemingly the last century, Eoin Morgan and Ravi Bopara were locked in an utterly futile duel for a middle order spot that neither fancies, whilst Graeme Onions continued to be the most unlucky England cricketer of all time.
The first test started with disaster for the tourists, Zaheer Kahn, India’s senior paceman and only bowler with any sort of touring pedigree pulled up on the first morning, having just made light work of England’s openers, with a hamstring twang that would rule him out of the series. Having not brought a third seamer, team India were left in dire straights as they faced four and a half days with just three recognised bowlers – even MS Dhoni ended up trundling in with some filth at one point. A majestic KP double ton and some brutal hitting from Matty Prior and Broad in the second innings saw England declare twice. James Anderson, following the lead set by a rejuvenated Broad put on a masterclass of zippy swing bowling as England romped home with 30 overs to spare, winning by 196 runs.
Things only got worse from this bad start as England racked up the daddy tons (Cook, 294, in the third Test and Bell, 235, in the final game being the standout knocks) whilst lusty innings lower down the order from Broad, Prior, Bresnan and Swann explosively dug England out of the odd hole they did find themselves in. With ball in hand England, and specifically Broad, were spectacular as the Nottinghamshire tearaway came of age as a Test heavyweight in spectacular fashion. His hat-tick consisting of Dhoni, Singh and Kumar on the way to figures of 6 for 46 in the second Test remained a highlight in a series full of peaks.
As good as England were, however, India were just a terrible as their series descended into farce characterised by sub par bowlers entirely lost in the alien conditions of the English summer, entirely disinterested fielding and a remarkable inability, or willingness, to forge any sort of partnership at the crease. Tendulkar, out of sorts and on the wane, was accused of playing for his cricketing golden fleece at the expense of the team. In the final wretched Test at the Oval, Sachin looked to have secured some redemption as he honed in on his personal milestone only for Tim Bresnan to charge in with the first ball of his spell and trap him LBW with a big fat in-ducker for 91. Dravid was the only Indian to leave the tour with any kind of credit, averaging 57.6 for the series whilst watching on grimly as wickets tumbled at the other end. As poor as the tourists were, this side was one packed with icons of the modern sub-continent game who were made to look like rookies by England with Tendulkar, MS Dhoni, VVS Laxman, Virender Sehwag and Harbajan all sent packing with tails between their legs.
Despite the drubbing, there was, in the second Test, what must remain - especially in light of last week’s accusations and counter slurs - as one of the last great moments of gentlemanly conduct on the cricket field. Ian Bell, well on his way to a big fat ton, swanned off for lunch in the 2nd Test assuming foolishly that a four had been scored with the last ball of the over. It hadn’t, and when the ball was lazily lobbed back and bails we’re optimistically whipped off, the umpires were left to review a bizarre if entirely legitimate dismissal. Stupidity from Bell or play 'not in the spirit of the game’ from India? The tiresome debate rumbled on over lunch before Bell remarkably appeared for the afternoon with it transpiring that Dhoni had sportingly withdrawn his appeal.
The whitewash, only the third in England’s history in series of 3+ Tests, secured their place atop the World Rankings for 12 blissful months. Two all time greats, Dravid and Tendulkar left England never to be seen again. The latter hightailed it with his reputation, if even possible, polished further, whilst the Little Master saw his tainted just a smidge after a sorry tour.
For England the series win would prove to be a giddy high point as just twelve months later South Africa arrived in Blighty to beat us 0-2, snaffling our top ranking in the process, as Pietersen let loose thumbs sink the English ship and Captain Strauss became yet another victim of Biff Smith and his marauding boerewors guzzlers.
Despite intermittent successes since, notably the return tour to India 2013 we’ve frankly never had it so good as English cricket fans we did in the heady winter of 2010 followed the summer of 2011. A red hot, tight knit and deep bowling attack (despite Tremlett’s injury in the 1st Test, the likes of Onions and Steven Finn were surplus to requirements throughout) ensured we won games, whilst a batting line up capable of piling on the runs at the top of the order, complete with a tail that wagged time and again, ensured there was never any chance of losing matches. Oh and KP was scoring heaps, whilst, very briefly, NOT being a complete penis. A rare and potent combo indeed.
Was India 2011 the real zenith of England’s golden generation and their performances? Are the results a tempered by the Indian’s malaise or is it fair to say England inflicted that through their own intensity?