England will be very happy to finish their difficult winter in a positive note by gaining their first win of the winter in which their true potential and the knack to tackle the art of spin bowling in sub-continent was tested over a period of 5 tests. But I would never agree to call it as a disastrous winter for England because they were only defeated and not outplayed in the end. Overall, it was a difficult winter for England where they did feel the cold, but did well not to freeze.
England has been receiving criticism this time not from their homeland in particular, but from every nook and corner of the cricketing world. But when we analyze the performance overall it does not display a humiliating picture as that of overseas tours by India to England and Australia.
The basis for this theory is very simple. Pakistan is a much improved test team under Misbah but that was never leashed out to the cricketing public over the last year or so. Sri Lanka is a totally different bunch of cricketing nation under the morale boosting leadership of Mahela along with a bunch of serious young talented cricketers. England fought against good test playing nations which produced their true potential when they were being pushed against the wall. Remember, Pakistan was trying to get out of the crater filled with controversies, corruption cases, legal charges, match fixing scandals and bomb threats. Their cricket was a huge void. Sri Lanka on the other hand was struggling to get into position as a competitive test team after losing the legend Muralitharan. So, England did lose, not to a 5th or 6th ranked test team, but to quality cricket. In the 5 tests played by England against Pakistan and Sri Lanka, the scoreboard will read that they lost 4 but it never tells the intensity of cricket being displayed by the English side.
With the exception of the 1st test against Pakistan in which they were outplayed, England lost the other 3 tests only with faint margins of 72, 71 and 75 runs. But yes, even during a chase of 145 runs England faltered by getting all out for a mere 72 but they did well to place themselves in the driver’s seat in the first 3 innings of that test. In those 3 test matches England lost the match only by failing to grasp the most critical session of the entire tests they lost. They were meek against spin bowling but they balanced it out by playing out the seam attack and also displaying true quality fast bowling in tracks where even the host’ pace attack was unable to penetrate. And yes, Swann can bowl in the sub-continent pitches too. England deserved and was not just lucky to retain their #1 ranking in tests.
But then why such hefty criticisms, harsh remarks were pushed against a team with a balanced batting line-up, a top notch quality spinner and very powerful pace attack supported by ample bench strength and a team which rightfully earned its #1 test ranking test status? This is the talking point which leads us to serious thinking whether expectations were high on England to display outstanding cricket even in the sub-continent because they are #1 test playing nation or is it because the world is really jealous and unhappy to see England, a team often mocked and used as a joking tool (“ha, founders of the game unable to win a single world cup!), dominate cricket?
Why suddenly people started to listen to noisy voice when they considered them as nothing but empty vessels? People were happy to see this England lose so badly rather to be disappointed that such a quality test side is losing. There was a sense of hatred followed by anger and agony when England slowly climbed their way to the top. And yes, there is nothing wrong to boast as the #1 test side when you know the wait has been too long and painful. India did boast themselves as #1 side and world cup champions recently only because the pain and sweat behind was so fierce and intense. So, why can’t you accept it when England does the same and it is shameful to call they are boasting. It is a matter of being proud about the efforts, hard work and commitment that has finally given you fruitful rewards.
According to me, England will definitely stay on top and produce even good quality cricket in their upcoming home series against West Indies and South Africa. I would have probably said that West Indies could be easy going some weeks ago but seeing them perform against Australia has changed my views on their team. It is a very positive sign that West Indies are on the right recovery track and progressing to become a very strong side despite they are doing well in their home turf. But the series which the cricketing world will have their eyes gazed upon with their seats glued is when South Africa tour England toward end July. Once again a battle between the top two sides in cricket will be witnessed and I still believe England has the team under the leadership of Strauss to dominate cricket for some time to come.
PS: Those people even thinking about to debate on the so called “curse of #1 ranking” are an endless bunch of fools.