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October 04, 2007

Summer Round Up

After a dismal display in the Ashes and the World Cup this winter, with a CB series victory as the only highlight, England had a lot to prove this summer.

They set about their campaign armed with a new head coach, Peter Moores, who immediately made his mark on the team by installing Matt Prior from Sussex as the wicketkeeper, a position which has been under much scrutiny with Geraint Jones and Chris Read failing to provide enough of an all-round package for the modern international game.

England’s first opponents of the summer were the once mighty West Indies who toured for 4 Tests, 3 ODIs and a 2 match Twenty20 series. Moores was quite fortunate to have West Indies as his first challenge in the Test arena. Having been a once feared Test nation they command the respect of the cricketing public so a Test series defeat will always be regarded as more than ‘just as expected’.

On the other hand, they are not the team they once were, being ranked 8th out of 10 Test nations and therefore the England camp would have put their money on a healthy series victory at the start, should the team play as they can.

This they did, West Indies were convincingly beaten 3-0 in the 4 match series, the drawn match being the rain affected series opener at Lord’s. West Indies were never really in the series but this aside, there were a number of highlights from an England perspective.

Michael Vaughan made his return to Test cricket in the second test at Headlingley with a captains knock of 103 and Matt Prior became the first England wicketkeeper to score a hundred on debut when he played his first Test at Lord’s, the HQ of cricket.

Moores also showed during the Test series that he was willing to give those county players who have performed consistently well at domestic level a chance at Test level when Ryan Sidebottom made a surprise return to Test cricket after an absence of nearly six years.

Early on in his position as coach, Peter Moores has shown that he is willing to make decisions based on his own instinct, the inclusion of Prior and Sidebottom for example. The players themselves have repaid his confidences with good performances on the field to secure their own places and possibly that of their coach.

With Michael Vaughan relinquishing the position of captain of the One Day team, Paul Collingwood was appointed as captain of England’s Twenty20 and ODI teams. The Durham all-rounder got off to a flyer, winning his first match in charge in both forms but failed to capitalize on that advantage.

England lost the second T20I and the last two ODIs to draw the Twenty20s and lose the ODIs 2-1. This was not helped by the fact that Collingwood won only one out of five tosses against the West Indies. He himself in fact remarked, with tongue firmly in cheek, “I suppose I’m not really a good tosser am I?”

With the departure of the West Indies brought the arrival of India, fresh from a tour of Ireland where they played their hosts in one match and South Africa in a three match series and a return to Tests.

In the longer format of the game, the Indians were always expected to provide more of a resistance to Michael Vaughan’s men than the West Indies team of late, despite the fact that Indian touring sides generally have a poor record. It has been remarked in the past that India were always welcome tourists because they “were well mannered, played the game in a good spirit and always lost”.

Rahul Dravid’s side, however, didn’t disappoint and despite the Test series being somewhat punctuated (only three matches were played), the cricket was of a high quality from both sides.

India took the series 2-0, despite an impressive debut series from the Hampshire fast bowler Chris Tremlett and the fact that none of the Indian top order managed a century in the series. (However, legspinner Anil Kumble registered his maiden ton in the final match of the series to deny England the victory they needed to maintain their 6 year unbeaten home record)

Before the start of the ODI series, many pundits had been lamenting about the number of matches to be played. There is a reciprocal arrangement between the England & Wales Cricket Board and the Board of Cricketing Control in India which states that each team must play the same length series as tourists as they do as hosts.

With One Day cricket being the rage in the subcontinent, England played a mammoth 7 matches when they toured India in 2005/6 and as a result the same was required when India visited this summer, making the ODI series the longest series between two nations in England.

Those who were complaining about the length of the series finished the summer helping themselves to a serving of humble pie. The 7 match rubber turned out to be one of the most interesting 50 over exchanges to have taken place in England for some time, despite Collingwood barely improving on his tossing, winning only two out of the seven matches.

England won the first match convincingly with maiden hundreds from Alastair Cook and Ian Bell setting the stage brilliantly but India came back strongly in the second match to level the series. England took the next two matches and with them a 3-1 lead in the series. This was thanks to a brilliant 99 run stand between Stuart Broad and Ravi Bopara to steal victory from the jaws of defeat in the third match, a match that should India have won, would have given them a 2-1 lead in the series.

At this point, an Indian revival looked unlikely but the tourists reacted to the pressure brilliantly, proving why they are one of the best one day outfits around by taking the next two matches to level the series once again and take the series to a last match decider at the Oval.

The final match did prove to be a somewhat anticlimactic end to an enthralling series. India posted a total of under 200, vastly under par in the modern game and England chased down the total with relative ease thanks to strong performances by England’s two main ODI batsmen; Collingwood and Pietersen.

All in all, India showed they are still a force to be reckoned with in world cricket following their disappointing exit from the World Cup at the group stage. The spin combination of Ramesh Powar and Piyush Chawla particularly impressing, with Chawla appearing to have Kevin Pietersen completely foxed for the most part of the series. At the end of the day (and the end of a long series) England came out on top as Paul Collingwood lifted what was only England’s second one day trophy against a major nation in three years.

It has been a mixed bag for England this summer. They have not yet established themselves back on the road towards becoming world beaters but with a new coaching staff and a slightly different outlook they have begun to move on from the embarrassing 5-0 Ashes whitewash and look to the future.

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