Series turnaround shows hallmarks of England's growth

After their heavy eight wicket defeat in the first ODI at Trent Bridge, this series looked like it would be a wake- up call for England after the whitewash of a mediocre Australia earlier in the summer. India’s victory was so commanding that the home side were being written off in some quarters. So for England to end the series as victors against a fine one-day team, and to have won the last two matches of the rubber in such dominant fashion, marks this as one of their very best series wins since the last World Cup.

It should not be forgotten that India are currently number two in the world rankings and have Virat Kohli, a man who averages 89.33 in ODI cricket since the start of 2016, as well as two wrist-spinners who are the two leading wicket-takers in the 50-over game over the past year. Throw in the class of Rohit Sharma, the experience of MS Dhoni and the all-round skills of Hardik Pandya and you have a top-class Indian side. It is certainly the strongest team England have come up against in the last year.

The visitors were, of course, missing their two best limited-overs bowlers, Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuveneshwar Kumar, for most of the series but that is no real mitigating factor given they were at full strength aside from that. It should be noted that England too were without Chris Woakes, the leader of their ODI attack, as well as batsman Alex Hales, who scored a massive hundred against the Australians as England racked up a world record total 481 at Trent Bridge in June.

What will England take from this series? Firstly, their two victories were achieved on pitches which offered assistance to the bowlers and were similar to those on which they have suffered defeats in the past such as the Champions Trophy semi-final last year against Pakistan. At Lord’s, there was some spin and the surface was a little slow. Here at Headingley, there was far more turn as well as some seam movement on offer. In the final match of the series against Australia at Old Trafford, another slow and low pitch, England also emerged victorious. It is a developing area of their game.

Although this was a series in which England’s collective performed well, with different players stepping up at different times, there were also some excellent individual performances. Root’s hundreds at Lord’s and Headingley were two, the bowling of Adil Rashid, Mark Wood and David Willey in Leeds another and that of Liam Plunkett at Lord’s yet another still, while there were also some outstanding pieces of fielding. It’s hard to think of one player who had a poor series and no real weaknesses in personnel have emerged.

The way Eoin Morgan’s men responded to the threat posed by left-arm wrist-spinner Kuldeep Yadav has been mightily impressive, too. Unusual and unorthodox, his 6 for 25 in the first match, bamboozling England’s batsmen with a combination of a different, new angle, some sharp spin and googlies, suggested that things might be a struggle for the home side but in the second and third matches, Kudleep took three for 123 conceding 6.15 runs an over.

That is testament how quickly England adapted although suggestions that they could have done better against Kuldeep during the opening game itself at Trent Bridge are valid. Some of the shots against him were poor and he took two wickets in his last over when England should have been seeing him off. Since that game, however, they have played him particularly well and some credit must go to batting coach Graham Thorpe for that. An early sight of Kuldeep ahead of next year’s World Cup is no bad thing, either.

Nor is beating India in a knock-out type situation as they managed at Headingley. Although there is plenty of time until next summer’s tournament, and the pressure then will be far greater than it was in Leeds, teams do not get many opportunities to test themselves in these types of situations. England and India both had that chance and it was the home side who handled the pressure best, just as they did during the winter’s series against New Zealand. These victories can only be good preparation for the demands of next year.

England have enjoyed plenty of success since the shambles that was the last World Cup in 2015. This is now their 11th bilateral series win from their last 13 series and it is surely the best of those, surpassing the victory in Australia earlier this year. Since the last World Cup, perhaps only the 3-1 defeat of Pakistan in UAE in the winter of 2015-16 compares in terms of achievement but even then, with this series billed as a dress rehearsal for next year’s World Cup between number one and two in the world, this is arguably the most significant.

“The challenge is trying to stay on top of our game and like the first game at Trent Bridge,” said Morgan after the victory in Leeds. “Come up with different challenges and be better at dealing with them from the start as opposed to making big mistakes and then improving on them as we go along.”

As a result, it should be a huge confidence boost for England ahead of next year’s World Cup. They have comfortably beaten India twice on surfaces which have not been the batting paradises on which they have become expert in a collective effort where no weak links have emerged. Morgan described the defeat at Trent Bridge as a “healthy” learning experience and the way his side have responded since has proved they have the capacity to learn quickly and learn well. Even as the world’s number one team, England continue to grow and grow.

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