England head into the third Test of the series in India buoyed following one of their greatest Test victories in recent times. The 10-wicket win in Mumbai was England’s finest performance since their demolition of Australia at the Adelaide Oval in December 2010 and provides Alastair Cook’s men with key momentum as they head to Kolkata.
India’s shortcomings were exposed in Mumbai. Barring the brilliance of Pujara, India’s top seven were ruthlessly dismissed in both innings, with only Gambhir acquitting himself successful second time around against the diligent spin attack of Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann. It was a real triumph for the former, who has now taken 27 wickets in his past four appearances for England. His performance in the second innings had Monty’s supporters drooling, and the two dismissals of Sachin Tendulkar to silence the partisan crowd, were moments that will live long in the memory of any England supporters who set their alarms for 4am last Sunday morning.
As magnificent as Panesar and Swann were, full credit should be paid to the way Cook and Kevin Pietersen went about neutralising India’s spin attack. They showed the perfect combination of power, footwork and patience to nullify an attack who had made England’s batsmen look like Sunday League amateurs at Ahmedabad. Pietersen’s 186 was in his own words ‘his finest England innings’ and put to bed any lingering doubts that he hadn’t been fully ‘integrated’ back into the fold. When he bats like he did in Mumbai, England possess the most destructive batsman currently playing Test cricket.
Steven Finn is expected to replace vice-captain Stuart Broad in Kolkata. Fit-again Finn’s four-wicket haul in a warm-up match last week convinced the selectors that he is ready for action once more and it makes sense to replace Broad, who looks short of pace and accuracy and remains wicket-less in the series so far. It will do Broad good to be dropped, a bowler who appears to believe in his own hype once too often. His Twitter row following the series opener with England legend Ian Botham certainly did him no favours and as he has contributing nothing with bat or ball in this series, it is only right that England’s quickest bowler returns to the fray.
Ian Bell will return to the side after missing the second Test to attend the birth of his son, Joseph, which he incidentally missed! Flower and Cook’s loyalty to their senior players is highlighted here, with Bell viewed as a reliable source of runs at No.5.
England’s spinners will undoubtedly have a big say in this match, but I feel the Test will be won and lost on the performances of each side’s middle-order. Apart from Pujara, India’s key batsmen struggled for runs in Mumbai, whilst England have not had a single half-century from their number two, three, five or six so far in the series. It is time for Nick Compton to justify his selection with big runs, following confident yet ultimately short innings thus far. Samit Patel must start contributing with half-centuries in Kolkata, otherwise he will continue to resemble the overweight boy in the school team who doesn’t contribute with bat or bowl and struggles to make himself useful in the field.
Fundamentally, this is make or break for England. On top of the world after a marvellous win in Mumbai, they must knuckle down to the task in Kolkata, knowing full well that they will have to improve once again in order to take a 2-1 lead with them to Nagpur.
Finally, I would like to pay a small tribute to Ricky Ponting, who retired from Test cricket this week. A true great, he was snarled and shouted at, but ultimately respected, by every England supporter who has had the pleasure of watching him bat. His 156 at Old Trafford in the 2005 Ashes was one of the greatest innings played on these shores and the 15,000 who were there that day could only admire his sheer doggedness in refusing to give up his wicket. English supporters and cricket fans around the globe will no doubt wish Ponting all the best for whatever the future holds.