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  Monday, 4 February, 2002, 10:30 GMT
Looking the world's best in the eye
As they begin the second leg of their winter tour, BBC cricket reporter Pat Murphy assesses England's improvement since their arrival in India in November.

It is a measure of England's progress on both legs of the India tour that they can be slightly disappointed with the bare statistics of the results.

Their improvement after going one down straight away in the first Test at Chandighar was dramatic, while their stirring fight-back in the one-day series from being 3-1 down was very heartening.

They should have won the first one-dayer at Calcutta, and they were only hammered in one match, at Kanpur, where Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag were irresistible.

India's batting under pressure in the last two games was hopelessly na´ve and spineless.


England dug deep, refused to feel outclassed and concentrated on India's soft underbelly
But they were reacting to Hussain's inspirational captaincy, magnificent fielding and a refusal among all the England players to accept imminent defeat.

Sometimes individual brilliance has to yield to a cohesive, unselfish unit and that was the story of the one-day series.

India had the outstanding players: England had the better team.

To appreciate the relevance of England's achievement in recovering to draw the one-day series, consider the recent performances in India of the two best sides in the world - South Africa and Australia.

The world champions came back last year to win 3-2 while South Africa lost by the same margin a year earlier.

Multi-dimensional

Playing one-day internationals in this vast country, with so much intensive travelling and attendant hassles on unfamiliar wickets is challenging and draining.

England dug deep, refused to feel outclassed when the ball was disappearing out of the ground and concentrated on India's soft underbelly.

Andrew Flintoff
Flintoff is developing as a top-class all-rounder
Andrew Flintoff's development into a match-winning all-rounder, with the bottle to persevere in the crunch moments, was a tribute to the support of Hussain and coach Duncan Fletcher.

They recognised his potential a couple of years ago and stuck with him during the fallow periods of inconsistency and weight problems.

The same will apply over the next year for the likes of Ben Hollioake, James Foster, Owais Shah and Paul Collingwood.

The England management believe these are multi-dimensional cricketers and certainly their fielding abilities mark them out as capable of shining on the big stage.

The batting against spin is a concern, however. Too often, wickets are thrown away from a desire to get after the spinners.

That will be misplaced in next year's World Cup against quality performers like Shane Warne, Muttiah Muralitheran and Harbajhan Singh.

There are encouraging signs that the tail-enders are beginning to understand their responsibilities, with Darren Gough's mature partnership with Flintoff absolutely crucial in Bombay, adding 37 runs that turned the game.

Strength from results

So, after one encouraging one-day series, England start another next week in New Zealand, against opponents who are similar in approach, energy and reliance on the team ethic rather than world-class performers.

The Kiwis have shown their durability and capability in Australia where they qualified for the triangular series finals at the expense of their hosts.

Matthew Dawson
Dawson impressed during his first Test series
As for the Test series, England will draw strength from the way they refused to cave in against India.

After capitulating to India's spinners in the first Test, their batsmen learned very quickly how to negate them.

Mark Ramprakash looked very mature, although he still gets out too often when well set.

Mark Butcher got better and better against spin - not formerly a forte of his -while Hussain counter-attacked bravely.

The lower order, led by Craig White and Foster, resisted stoutly and the totals racked up in the last two Tests were achieved without England's best batsman, Graham Thorpe.

Young off-spinner Richard Dawson showed promise; Matthew Hoggard continued to run in with purpose and Ashley Giles' return after injury was successful and timely.

If it hadn't rained in Bangalore, England might have easily squared the series against opposition that appeared divided and over-reliant on the great Tendulkar.

Great expectation

I expect Hoggard and the rejuvenated Andy Caddick to be a handy combination on New Zealand wickets.

Thorpe will prove he has recovered psychologically by scoring a lot of runs and Foster will continue to show his mettle, surmounting the occasional blemishes that affect every 21-year-old in top cricket.

Nasser Hussain has words with Sachin Tendulkar
Hussain dealt well with pressure on and off the pitch
It could be a big tour for Flintoff, now that he shows clear signs of maturity, aware that the ball can be stroked rather than bludgeoned to the boundary. His fast bowling will also be an invaluable bonus.

Above all, Hussain can look back with great pride on his return to the land of his birth.

He didn't seem to miss a trick on the field, batted bravely and was outstanding off the field in meeting all the diplomatic niceties in a country that tests you out with its pace of life and suffocating demands on your time.

At times Hussain may have found it all too much, and he did look tired at the end, but he held it all together brilliantly.

Always one step ahead on the field, there was no doubt as to who was in charge of England - the basic requirement for any international captain.

Hussain will be badly missed when he tires of the England treadmill.

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See also:

21 Jan 02 | England
15 Jan 02 | England
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