ENGLAND captain Alastair Cook rated his side’s historic 2-1 Test series win in India every bit as special as their 2010-11 Ashes success in Australia.
Cook led his team to a victory, in his first tour as permanent Test captain, which many thought was beyond them. In fact, after a nine-wicket defeat in the first Test in Ahmedabad, Ashes-winning captain Michael Vaughan was among a vast majority – experts and otherwise – predicting a 4-0 defeat.
However, Cook’s team fought back with successive victories in Mumbai and Kolkata and yesterday, thanks to centurions Jonathan Trott (143) and Ian Bell (116 not out), they finished the job with a series-clinching draw in Nagpur.
Cook led from the front throughout, including a defiant 176 in that initial defeat and then a big century too in each of the next two Tests. But it was after watching Trott and Bell combine so relentlessly to keep India at bay for more than 150 overs in England’s second-innings 352 for four declared yesterday that Cook naturally felt the greatest sense of satisfaction.
“I think it’s on a par with the Ashes,” he said, having scored a mountain of runs both then and now.
Success in Australia came after a wait of almost a quarter of a century. Success in India was the first since 1984-5.
“As an Englishman, winning in Australia after so long meant a huge amount,” Cook added. “But in that dressing room there for that last half an hour, knowing what we had achieved, it was a very special place and it will live long in my memory.”
England always professed public belief that they could overturn history and refute perceived wisdom of their surefire failings on the sub-continent.
Cook admits nonetheless that, after their nine-wicket defeat in Ahmedabad, they needed to convince themselves as well that they could succeed here. “Of course there was doubt,” he added. “There is always doubt, especially after halfway through day two when we were getting rolled. I was surprised at the level we managed to achieve so soon after Ahmedabad. I was talking [there] about playing to our potential, but I was surprised we managed to do it straight away and put all those doubts to bed and prove it to ourselves.”
Cook’s runs could not salvage a first-Test draw, but they did show his team-mates what was possible.
“When you go to bed at night realising you can play out here, that is a very encouraging thing,” he added. “After that second innings in Ahmedabad we thought ‘Yes, we can score runs out here’. As I said then, if we could play close to our potential as a side we had a chance of winning a game and we did that.
“Then we backed it up in Kolkata and in this game we continued in that form. It was about transferring what we’ve been practising and working on out in the middle and trusting our ability to do that, especially with the bat.
“The lads really stood up in those three games with the bat and we know what a quality bowling attack we had, we have proven that over a number of years.”
It fell to Warwickshire pair Trott and Bell to finish the job.
“It has been an incredible tour and to end it today and how convincingly we managed to bat out [was great],” Cook added. “It was obviously a pretty nervy dressing room for the last 140 overs, knowing how close we were to something very special. But we went out and did it convincingly, especially obviously Trotty and Belly today, who were a very calming influence.
“I can’t praise the guys enough, the whole squad. Everyone has contributed and the willingness to learn and to front up to what is a very tough challenge out here was fantastic.”
Spinners Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar took 19 wickets between them in Mumbai, where Kevin Pietersen’s wonderful 186 helped Cook lay the foundation for victory.
All along, linchpin seamer James Anderson – man of the match in the final Test for his four wickets – has been a paragon of discipline and supreme reverse-swing skill. Cook was grateful to them all, adding: “[There was] Monty coming in, Jimmy outstanding with the reversing ball and Swanny the leading wicket taker. Those three were fantastic.
“Clearly we got it wrong in Ahmedabad in not playing Monty, but when we put it right he has been outstanding. What was it, 50 overs for 80 yesterday? He’s a captain’s dream. You just throw him the ball and you know he’s going to be there or thereabouts.”
Above all, though, it has been a collective effort and a learning curve for the tourists. “We took a big hit in Ahmedabad and we looked at ourselves and we tried to turn it round,” Cook said. “We have to give ourselves a lot of credit for the way we played.”