Barren tours: India v England
A measure of the task facing Alastair Cook in his first major tour as captain is that it is nearly 28 years since England last won a test series in India. That come-from-behind, two-one victory happened five tours ago.
The chart below shows England’s longest sequences of Test tours to particular destinations without victory. A defeat for Cook, or a tied series, would push the current Indian sequence up to equal second place.
Thirty-six years and six tours elapsed between series victories in the West Indies. Spanning the cycle of West Indian ascendancy, dominance and decline, five England captains left without mission accomplished: Denness, Botham, Gower, Gooch and Atherton (twice).
There has been one even longer period between English series victories: 38 years and five tours of Pakistan. That record is put into perspective by a review of the match results – depicted below.
The series in Pakistan and India were relatively short and the hosts did not defeat England with the frequency achieved by West Indies and Australia. Nonetheless, India have dominated England during this recent barren tour period, which is shown by the aggregate batting and bowling data.
The surprise of the bowling figures – shown below, split by fast and spin bowling – is that India’s seam and swing bowlers have a better average than England’s and are on a par with their own team’s slow bowlers. England’s spin bowlers’ aggregate bowling average and economy rate are respectively 50% and 25% higher than India’s slow bowlers. Anil Kumble is by some margin the most successful bowler in this period, with 56 wickets at 23.6. For England, Andrew Flintoff has the most appearances (8) and wickets (24 ar 30.4).
The series that preceded the barren tours, in 1984/85, was tightly fought. For Mike Gatting, it was the highwater mark of his career as an England batsman, scoring over 500 runs. The teams traded victories in the opening two tests, with the third drawn in damp weather in Calcutta. The fourth test in Chennai was the decisive match. Another England player to experience a personal best was Neil Foster who took twelve wickets in that match. Looking back at the scorecard, with the hindsight of nearly three decades of disappointing results for England in Asia, what surprises is the size of that victory and control England had over the game.
The template for England victories, if two victorious series (Pakistan and Sri Lanka 2000/01) in the intervening years can provide a template, has been dogged batting allied to a bowling attack that seizes rare opportunities created by conditions favourable to swing bowling or incautious batting.
England of 2012 seem capable of that sort of approach in the field, with Anderson and co able to extract any advantage from the new ball. The batting, despite Cook and Trott’s plodding presence, is less reassuring, so poor was the response to very similar challenges in the Pakistan series earlier in the year.
So, after 600 words and four graphics (reputedly worth another 4,000 words) of pessimism for England, I should explain why I am very excited about the series. The lowered expectations, the vacancies in high-profile positions, create opportunities for players to do just as Gatting and Foster did 28 years ago and make a break through. That’s not a purely partisan view either, as those same openings exist in the Indian team as well. Whether or not England manage to end their streak of series without victories over India, I am hopeful this series could be a defining contest for players of the post-Strauss/Tendulkar/Dravid era.