Winning with a calm head on their shoulders

Winning with a calm head on their shoulders

Cook & Co have changed their approach

Winning with a calm head on their shoulders

Until recently, England’s reputation as travellers to the sub-continent wasn’t so flattering, especially so in India.

England hadn’t won a Test series in India for 28 years and they had gone without a victory in the last 11 ODIs. Their solitary success, in fact, in the last 16 matches had come way back in 2005 in Jamshedpur. Even after finishing the home series against India with an all win record in all three formats of the game in mid 2011, England found out how formidable India can be at home when they were routed 5-0 in the ODI series later that year.

Prior to visiting India for a return Test series late last year, England had lost to Pakistan in the Gulf 0-3 and had barely managed to save the series in Sri Lanka. A similar humiliation was waiting for Alastair Cook and company in India and the heavy loss in the opening Test at Ahmedabad only reaffirmed those beliefs. On slow turners, one would have foreseen, England were going to die a quick death. The Englishmen, however, scripted one of the greatest comebacks to turn the series on its head, stunning India in Mumbai and Kolkata to clinch the series 2-1 after drawing the Nagpur Test.

Now, Cook’s men want to set their ODI record straight and it shouldn’t come as a surprise if they actually realise their dream of winning a 50-over series in India, again after David Gower’s team did so in 1984-85. England at the moment appear to have got the wood on this Indian team. Unlike in the previous visits when they turned up at the ground having lost the battle in their minds, this English side’s resolve to fight shines through.

Given the nature of pitches, weather and the boisterous crowd, India is generally considered a tough cricketing nation to travel and the results over the last few decades drive home that point. Beating India in India is not just about bringing a set of skills to the table. Of course, that’s a crucial part, but it’s also about conquering the conditions that are totally alien. India successfully did that from early to late 2000s when they won series in Pakistan, the West Indies, England and New Zealand and regularly won Tests in Australia and South Africa. Annoyed by the constant taunt that they are ‘tigers only at home’ a bunch of pride men – Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Anil Kumble, VVS Laxman and Sourav Ganguly – made a conscious effort to shed that tag and were quite successful in that endeavour.

This English squad under Cook appears as determined. They no longer complain about designer tracks (for Tests) and they have stopped worrying about batting beauties (ODIs). They gave India a dose of their own medicine in Tests by unleashing Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann and in the opening one-dayer at Rajkot, they beat India at their own game, by outbatting them on a barren strip. Irrespective of the way the results go in the next four matches, England have shown that they are here for a scrap.

England also no longer get worked-up with the general chaos in India, especially in smaller centres. Swann had cited ‘embrace-India’ attitude to their success in Tests and Cook epitomises this England’s new approach. In Rajkot, no one would have blamed the English skipper if he had shown his disapproval at the way how things were organised, rather disorganised, during his press conferences. But he dealt with them through a quiet smile, even if it appeared sarcastic.

A largely partial Indian crowd too can sometimes get on to you and England all-rounder Samit Patel felt that in Rajkot on Friday. “As a batsman, you hit a boundary and you don’t get a clap, that’s quite hurtful,” he admitted. “You know for a fact that you played a good shot, but no one’s really appreciating. That could get a bit under your skin. But it’s how you handle it. I think all the lads stay pretty calm out there and we’re learning every time we go out to the middle,” he remarked.

England have realised that to win in India (or in an Indian stadium), which is characterised by commotion in the stands, you need to have a calm head on your shoulders.