The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Series is Team India’s but England salvage pride
- Vaughan says he wouldn’t have enforced follow-on either
Team India celebrate with the trophy at the Oval, after winning the Test series on Monday. (AP)

London: Preparations for Christmas have begun across England, but the gifts haven’t been sent out. Being generous visitors, the Indians had offered one well in advance and Michael Vaughan’s men grabbed it with both hands.

The bubbly, though, was still uncorked by Rahul Dravid and Co.

Ironically, for the first three days of the final npower Test (at the Brit Oval), India’s hands had been on England’s jugular. Till Dravid’s inexplicable no-follow-on act that is.

So, instead of hurtling to another morale-crushing defeat, England walked away with a thoroughly honourable draw, on Monday.

Thanks to the seven-wicket win at Trent Bridge, the Indians took the three-match series 1-0 — the first such success here in 21 years. It ended England’s unbeaten six-year run at home.

However, it’s the present which gets magnified and one can’t help but speak about the fourth morning.

“That, indeed, is the only thing to talk about... I still can’t believe we didn’t have confidence in our 319-run lead,” diplomat and author Shashi Tharoor who, with a bit of luck could’ve been heading the UN, told The Telegraph.

Tharoor summed up the feelings of a vast majority of Indians from London to Ludhiana.

Dravid, though, strongly defended his decision. “My bowlers were tired and I needed to look after them... I know them best and can read their body language... People sitting in their living rooms may have been disappointed but, as captain, I’ve got to take decisions and stand by them... Have to back my judgement.”

He added: “We gave ourselves the best chance of making it 2-0... It’s not often that we win overseas and I’m very proud of the entire squad... At critical moments, we played better cricket... This is going to rank very high among my achievements... It’s a very special moment...”

Somewhat surprisingly, given that he’s seen as a captain with a difference, Vaughan said he would’ve done the same. “They were 1-0 up and wanted to make sure they won the series... Of course, it’s disappointing to lose, but credit to Dravid and his team. We need to learn from mistakes.”

Actually, the series should’ve ended 2-1 in India’s favour. England deserved to win the first Test, at Lord’s, but the elements saved India. At the Oval, the Indians didn’t land the killer-punch, content to finish with a 1-0 scoreline.

A 2-0 result would’ve carried India to joint second (with England) in the ICC’s Test rankings. One isn’t diluting the series win — a major achievement, after all — but there’s no point pontificating on “positive cricket” if the approach essentially is anything but that.

For the record, requiring a never-before achieved 500 to square the series, England finished on 369 for six. Kevin Pietersen hit his second hundred of the series and there were contributions from everybody else as well — including Matt Prior, who anchored one end in fading light.

Anil Kumble, who scored his maiden Test hundred in his 151st innings, got the MoM award. Zaheer Khan, with a record 18 wickets, was India’s Man-of-the-Series. For England, the award went to James Anderson (14 wickets) and not Pietersen.

Throughout the series, the Indians produced a team effort — that Kumble emerged as the lone centurion underlines it perfectly.

Zaheer’s coming good is no surprise, but his partner-in-swing Rudra Pratap Singh was an absolute revelation. Among the batters, Dinesh Karthik excelled and Sourav Ganguly proved age is no factor.

What counts is class and he showed that in plenty. There were crucial innings from Sachin Tendulkar and Mahendra Singh Dhoni as well.

As the Indians did an emotional lap of honour, egged on by a huge contingent of fans, two memories left a sour taste — the jelly beans at Trent Bridge and poor umpiring from Lord’s to the Oval.

The seven-match ODI series begins next week.

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