From the publishers of THE HINDU
VOL.34 :: NO.34 :: Aug. 25, 2011
England's team of happy mates, this bunch of buddies, pals united strolled to the top spot in the cricket world when they beat India in the third Test at Edgbaston.
This friendship — genuine, not simply for the cameras, or because they are winning, or because India have proved to be less than powerful even though they were the world No.1 side — has proved a major factor as they have put together an impressive string of results.
But there is another side to this team who love a laugh almost as much as they enjoy getting an opposition wicket or scoring a century.
Most important of all, they are never satisfied.
There was a supreme example of this reach for perfection on the fourth and final day.
James Anderson, who developed from the shy teenager who shrank from Nasser Hussain's criticism in Australia on his first tour eight years ago into the leader of the attack, was bowling to a packed slip field when Tim Bresnan allowed the ball to slide under his body to the boundary.
It was not a chance and, as England still had 350 runs in the bank, hardly worth considering. Not for the fiery Anderson. He fairly bellowed at Bresnan who, he must know, is one of the most consistent, thoughtful all-rounders and sound fielders even in this England side, to “close that gap.”
Bresnan looked embarrassed and even though the match ended, with England victors by an innings and 242 runs, even though India have not made one total of 300 in the series, even though England were heading for their third victory on the bounce, went up to Anderson and apologised afterwards.
A few minutes later Bresnan captured the wicket that won the match and Anderson, the slip forgotten, was one of the first to slap Bresnan on the back and trot off the field with him.
This victory over India is one of the most impressive in England's recent history even though they have won three Ashes series and just defeated an undervalued Sri Lanka this summer.
But good enough to top the world?
I think so, first because of their passionate refusal to accept second best.
There is also a factor that is often overlooked. I remember a series in which England's performances were as bad as anything turned in by India in the last few weeks.
That was against New Zealand in 1999 when they won the first Test but lost the series and were booed off the ground. It was this low state of morale that Duncan Fletcher had to pick up later that year. Six years later his new team won back the Ashes for the first time in 16 years.
So if anyone can revive the Indian team it is the new coach — if he is given a free hand or at least a listening ear by his bosses.
There is no doubt that Andy Flower — who now rules England in place of Fletcher, has been a main man, trusted by the players, valued by the board, the selectors and, most of all, respected by the captain Andrew Strauss — is the key to England's success.
He moved into place with the consent of the players who had already seen him as a good guy when he was batting coach.
I saw him smiling when the team returned to the dressing room after their Edgbaston victory — but most of his professional life he is a stern master, who expects maximum effort. Hardly a surprise. He was a member of the Zimbabwe side that got nowhere without maximum effort and then a player with Essex where they would not tolerate an easy-going type. It says a lot for his popularity among the players that he gets the effort he demands.
Let's take just one example of the opposite side of Flower. At the beginning of this Indian tour it was reported that Monty Panesar was bowling to Sachin Tendulkar in the practice nets and suddenly the stories that Panesar might return to favour came to an end.
After the win at Edgbaston, both Ian Bell and Pietersen made a passing reference to the behind the scenes demands that they behave professionally at all times.
Pietersen said: “We are lucky to have a background staff who will keep us grounded” and Bell added: “We are never allowed to get too far ahead of ourselves.”
Hardly Sir Alec Ferguson and the hair-dryer treatment with the Manchester United players but by the standards of a free and easy game like cricket there is clearly a stern discipline at work.
We saw all the other factors for success at work during the Edgbaston Test.
First during the Indian first innings, on a pitch which was typical of those green tops that are common in England and New Zealand and rarely found anywhere else, there was the patience and quiet certainty among the pace attack that one of them would find a way through.
Bowlers like James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Bresnan bowl on such strips frequently during the county season. Putting the ball in what they like to call “the right areas” becomes second nature to these men. There is another factor. Some of those greenish pitches suit one bowler more than another and it is up to the captain to find the right man and put him on at the right end.
Once that is accomplished the other team might as well prepare for the worst.
The rest of the victory was down to Alastair Cook who played a great Test innings. They decided long ago at Essex that he was not aggressive enough for one-day cricket — oddly the England selectors have made him captain of the 50-over side — and that asking him to play in these biff bash matches might spoil him as a Test batsman.
It has proved to be a wise decision. Cook took the calm he found in his schools cricket into the England side, made a double hundred off the 2005 Australian tour side and was soon part of the Test team as if by right.
During his 12 hours at the Edgbaston crease he gave no chances. It was one of the most perfect, most precise innings ever played by an England opening bat. John Edrich, making his England debut, was told by Colin Cowdrey “Test batting is a game of patience” and in this 294 Cook showed he understood that concept.
“He is just so cool,” said one of his team mates. “Perfect to open the innings, perfect to be captain one day.”
Cook knew that Strauss would not declare while he was close to a record, that Flower would not expect Strauss to do so and that the whole training staff understood that too.
That is how this team of pals work. They know that the best results will come if they back one another, if they strive to attain perfection and if they see the other guy's point of view.
It could mean that England will be top of the tree for a very long time indeed.
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