Cow Corner

Excellent England or insipid India?

As six wickets fell for 59 runs in the afternoon session at Eden Gardens, and the eulogies to Indian batting were being carefully crafted by the cricket writers, the debate rumbled on Eurosport-Yahoo!'s live text commentary: was this great play from England or desperate fare from India?

As fans of a team, it is hard not to look at your results through the prism of your allegiance, rather than objectively. Win handsomely, and it is because you have eleven heroes in your team. Lose, and it was your boys who blew it. It is human nature to believe that whatever the result, it is largely in your control.

But in this series, with such peaks and troughs in the performances of both sides, it is hard to pinpoint whether where brilliance begins and mediocrity meddles.

Credit, though, usually goes to the side dictating the cricket. In that afternoon spell England had four bowlers capable of taking wickets. Graeme Swann, who opened the floodgates through the gate between Virender Sehwag's bat and pad, married spin with guile. James Anderson bowled as quickly as he has for some time, with mastery over the old ball — Finn's exploitation of the same, along with the vagaries of the bounce, made him a danger. Despite not being at his best, Monty Panesar created his own chances.

The Indian press, who are increasingly dismayed by the direction the series is heading, will see it from a different angle. They will look at the rash shot from Sehwag, Gambhir's lack of form and composure — a second needless run out in the match, captain Dhoni's timid edge. They may not question Sachin Tendulkar's place in the side aloud, but they will surely think it. They will see collapse.

In truth, India's most serious collapse of the series was not today's — it was the mental one that they have suffered somewhere on the road between Ahmedabad and Mumbai.

At that point it was all England's old scars which had been reopened and weeping: the toils against spin, the 28 fruitless years of tours to India, the seven Test defeats in 2012, their new captain and hasty reassembling of their once top-rated side.

A team with more self-belief would have shut England out — equally, a team with less would not have come back with the vengeance the tourists have mustered.

It is not simply that England have been good, or India poor for two Tests; both are true.

Ravi Ashwin's elegant unbeaten 83 proves India's top-order underperformed on a tricky but not unplayable pitch. England's drops in this innings alone — Matt Prior, Ian Bell and Swann were the latest culprits today — point to a team that are not yet at least hitting the heights of 2011. India surrendered their momentum on day one here with a senseless run out for the first wicket; England have unquestionably been helped along on the road to redemption. And how different might this whole contest look if Alastair Cook had been held in the slips with just 17 runs to his name, rather than 190?

But therein lies the clue for much of what has happened. Cook's relentless, run-churning efforts have unnerved India. He has scored with the even-tempoed efficiency of Indian batsmen of yore in their own back yard. He has inspired fear, and hands tend to go a little harder at the ball when you worry about the consequences of a drop.

England's excellence, individually in Mumbai through Cook, Kevin Pietersen, Swann and Panesar, then more collectively in Kolkata, has made India look worse and more deeply-flawed than in truth they are.

What this series has shown with the clarity and precision of the snickometer is how cricket at this level is won and lost in the mind. Few in the world game appear to have a mind less cluttered than Cook, and he has led from the front. England have been rediscovering themselves in this series, and that, in the context of a series in India, is excellence to be celebrated, regardless of the calibre of their opponents.

Not sure that will spare India a gruesome post-mortem, though.