The Changing of the Guard

By Anthony K

Put away those Headingley ‘81 videos and forget any talk of the good old days. England have the best team they’ve put out for at least 40 years and probably since the mid 1950s. Yesterday’s annihilation of a storied Indian line-up was the confirmation that, unless South Africa produce something quite unexpected when they visit next year, England are the best side in world cricket. Many challenges, not least beating the best sides away from home, await before there can be any talk of greatness and dynasties, but whereas Brearley’s aging team won their victory while Clive Lloyd’s patently superior West Indies looked on, there is little to suggest anything but a steady march to unquestioned pre-eminence for this mostly young and improving England.

This correspondent loves to talk cricket with opposition supporters. Indian fans are unfailingly knowledgeable, fair-minded and passionate about the game and this team has been an obvious source of pride to them. World champions, number one ranked in tests and with a new-found steel not always apparent outside the sub-continent, evidenced in a stirring comeback from a heavy first test defeat to a South African side able to unleash a superb pace attack in its own conditions, they seemed a world away from the serial under-achievers of old.

So, it was no surprise that a week ago at Lord’s, there should be widespread optimism that India might bat out time and save the game. At Trent Bridge yesterday, the hope was gone, replaced by a creeping dread of capitulation, the fear expressed before play that England might rack up another 100 runs in a hurry and bowl India out for about 180 some time after tea. Of course, as we all know now, this is pretty much how it panned out and nobody who watched the wilting of Mukund, Yuvraj and especially Raina, whose efforts rivalled Harbhajan’s second innings at Lord’s for unmitigated idiocy, before England’s superbly directed hostility, could have felt sanguine at the prospect of a future without the big three of India’s middle order.

By the close, painted faces had become pained, chants of “we are number one” were perfunctory and lacked conviction, flags hung limply and the fervour was turned inward. The team lacked fight, senior players went missing, they were poorly led, they concentrated too much on the IPL and personal aggrandisement. These were the immediate reactions to what was an astonishingly heavy defeat for a side to suffer after holding a healthy first innings lead. Any English fan who’s been following the game for more than two years doesn’t really need to be told how this feels and to recognise the familiar stages of cricketing grief.

One hopes that this fellow feeling is not abandoned for the shallower waters of sneering and gloating. We were treated to a display of class by MS Dhoni’s side over the Ian Bell run-out on Sunday and by Andrew Strauss’s men over the four days. There are great times ahead for England fans. At last we have a side whose talent, professionalism, unity and joy enable us to say without hesitation that they are ours. After decades of being let down by the team, it is time for us to live up to them.

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