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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 March 2006, 12:46 GMT
England overcome the odds
By Martin Gough

Fletcher and Flintoff with the series trophy
Fletcher had good reason to smile as England celebrated
Coach Duncan Fletcher is not normally given to great statements so when he said England's tied series in India was almost equal to last year's Ashes win it proved the extent of their achievement.

Five members of the side that beat Australia 2-1 last summer were sitting at home in England by the time they won by 212 runs in Mumbai to recover from a 1-0 series deficit.

But some impressive displays from inexperienced players, the return to form of more established stars and some inspired captaincy by Andrew Flintoff brought them success.

And, finally, there was some good fortune too.

England backs were against the wall as long ago as December as the shine from the Ashes victory was tarnished by a 2-0 series defeat in Pakistan.

And their woes continued:

  • On 7 February, leading spinner Ashley Giles was finally ruled out of the trip after failing to recover in time from hip surgery.

  • Captain Michael Vaughan had also undergone surgery in December, on his knee, but he hobbled through England's eight-wicket defeat to India A.

  • And just before the end of the game, on 25 February, vice-captain Marcus Trescothick left the ground in tears and flew home, citing "personal reasons".

  • Two days later, Vaughan was joined on the plane home by bowler Simon Jones, whose catalogue of injuries continued as he twisted his left knee in practice.

  • England had the best of the opening Test but collapsed to a nine-wicket defeat in the second with echoes of Pakistan, where they surrendered the final match too.

  • Paceman Steve Harmison bowled just four overs in the second innings in Mohali and was ruled out of the series decider with a shin injury.

  • And on the morning of the final Test, replacement batsman Alastair Cook came down with a virus and was unable to play.

But Cook's success prior to that cruel blow was mirrored by the rest of the young players called in to fill the breach.

Arriving in India just days before the first Test, Cook became the youngest England player to score a Test century for more than 60 years.

Jimmy Anderson has been out in the wilderness and for him to come back has been a really good achievement
Duncan Fletcher
Owais Shah and James Anderson, also called up from the England A tour of the West Indies, were both in action by the end of the series in Mumbai.

Shah only discovered he was playing on the bus to the ground but hit 88 on debut.

Anderson, written off by many just three years after his explosive debut in international cricket, was back to his best to take six wickets.

At times during the series, spinners Monty Panesar and Shaun Udal both stepped into Giles' shoes, Udal taking 4-14 to complete the victory.

"You can only be impressed with what they did," Fletcher said of the late call-ups.

"We always say, 'When you have an opportunity, take it' and they did that.

"Jimmy Anderson has been out in the wilderness and for him to come back has been a really good achievement."

In the excitement over younger players it is easy to overlook Paul Collingwood, whose joy at his maiden century in Nagpur mirrored years of frustration.

He was just one of the perennial fringe players who stepped up when required.

Matthew Hoggard
Hoggard stepped up when given more responsibility
Matthew Hoggard overcame a reputation for only performing in favourable conditions by leading England's bowlers with 13 wickets.

Perhaps Hoggard's dominance of India's top order was behind captain Rahul Dravid's decision to put England in to bat after winning the toss in Mumbai.

After Flintoff won the first two flips of the coin, it meant England had been put in the box seat in all three games. At last, they took advantage.

Hoggard put his success down to "the extra pressure and responsibility that you're one of the leading bowlers and the onus is on you".

He added: "Andrew has managed us very well - as a bowler he's got sympathy for us."

Many observers, Fletcher included, wondered aloud how Flintoff would manage with the triple burden of batting, bowling and leadership.

Apart from a brief spell at Lancashire in 2004, it was the first time he had led a side since 1997, when he skippered England Under-19.

His charismatic style inspired team-mates as it did during the Ashes but Flintoff also proved there is a cricket brain behind his bluff public face.

He led from the front, bowled, batted and kept the team spirit going
Fletcher on Flintoff
His field-placing showed a thought process that rarely took a break and he marshalled his bowlers perfectly.

Few predicted the ploy of bowling Shaun Udal after lunch on day five in Mumbai but it immediately brought the wicket of Sachin Tendulkar.

Behind the scenes, Fletcher's work formulating plans saw technical flaws exposed in several leading batsmen.

Cracking a rare grin, Fletcher said of his new skipper: "He did an outstanding job.

"Could you come in at a more difficult time?

"We lost the captain who would have stood in, Trescothick, and he led from the front, bowled, batted and kept the team spirit going."

England will have some selection headaches to deal with going into home Test series this summer against Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

Some of those could be solved during the seven-match one-day series they must face in India before returning home.

And with a brutal 12 months coming up, including the ICC Champions Trophy, the Ashes in Australia and the World Cup, it is likely they will need more than 11 players to contribute.

Vaughan could decide to quit one-day cricket and concentrate on Tests, opening the door for Cook to take his place and Flintoff to continue as skipper.

And Anderson provides the back-up England plainly lacked when one of their first-choice pace quartet - Jones - was injured during the last Ashes series.

Fletcher had reason to smile as the final pieces were put in place in England's bid for the biggest prize of all - an Ashes victory in Australia.




WATCH AND LISTEN
Interview: England captain Andrew Flintoff


Interview: England spinner Shaun Udal



SEE ALSO
England beat India to tie series
22 Mar 06 |  England
England in India 2006
25 Feb 06 |  Future tour dates


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