Moeen Ali outdoing Ravi Ashwin with the ball is among five surprises from England's series win over India
The series between the two heavyweights more than lived up to its billing in a roller-coaster ride that saw the pendulum swing from one team to the other with almost each passing session.
With a magnificent English summer now coming to a close, we look at the biggest surprises from the series – both good and bad.
SAM CURRAN’S EMERGENCE AS A GENUINE ALL-ROUNDER
When Sam Curran was named in the England squad for the series, not many were convinced by the youngster’s inclusion given his pedestrian display in his Test debut against Pakistan.
Four Tests later, those doubts have been completely erased with Curran emerging as a long-term all-rounder prospect for England. He changed the complexion of the first Test with a superb 63 with the bat in the first innings while also chipping in with a five-wicket match haul. That was not the only excellent rearguard action performed by the 20-year-old with similar performances following at Lord’s and Southampton.
His left-arm pace provides England with genuine variety in their bowling attack and his handy lower-order batting was a perennial thorn in the flesh for the visitors.
ISHANT SHARMA’S TRANSFORMATION INTO A STRIKE BOWLER
While India have plenty of reasons to be optimistic about their pace attack despite their defeat, no bowler’s performance was as heartening as that of Ishant Sharma. For so long the lanky pacer has held the tag of an ‘unlucky’ bowler who could bowl outstandingly all day without picking up a wicket.
That factor has seen the 30-year-old relegated to the role of the third seamer who can hold one end down with some tight bowling while the strike bowlers profit from the pressure created at the other end.
However, the England tour has seen the emergence of a new Ishant who is more than capable of leading the pace attack. The Delhi-born fast bowler ended as the second highest wicket-taker in the series behind James Anderson with 18 scalps to his name at an average of less than 25 and a strike-rate of just over 50.
JOS BUTTLER’S TEST RESURGENCE CONTINUES
If someone had said that Jos Buttler would end up as England’s highest run-scorer before the start of the series, in all probability they would have been laughed off.
The 28-year-old was recalled to the Test squad for the series against Pakistan on the back of a stupendous IPL campaign with Rajasthan Royals. While two half-centuries ensued in the two Tests against Pakistan, doubts still remained over the long-term suitability of Buttler in the Test squad.
With his 349 runs in the five Tests against India, Buttler has shown that his Pakistan display was no flash in the pan and a maiden Test ton at Nottingham was just reward for his tenacious and counter-attacking approach while batting at number six in the England batting order.
RAVI ASHWIN IS OUTBOWLED BY MOEEN ALI
Ravichandran Ashwin’s prolific wicket-taking form in Indian subcontinent conditions had been key to the team’s rise to the top of the Test standings. However, question marks over the off-spinner’s overseas Test credentials have remained and his latest performance will do little to make such doubts go away.
Ashwin actually started the series on fire by running rings around Alastair Cook at Edgbaston. A seven-wicket haul in the first Test indicated that Ashwin might be about to set the record straight for good but what followed was a lean patch which hurt India greatly.
He went wicketless at Lord’s under seaming conditions before picking up an injury and just the one wicket in the third Test. He was surprisingly persisted with in the fourth Test despite his injury troubles and was embarrassingly outbowled by Moeen Ali. No disrespect to Moeen, who is a fine spinner, but picking up just three wickets on a pitch where his England counterpart decimated India with a nine-wicket haul shows that Ashwin is not the force India need him to be in overseas tours.
ROOKIES HUNG OUT TO DRY
While Curran’s emergence was a big win for youth in the series, the vilification of Kuldeep Yadav and Ollie Pope should serve as a cautionary tale for youngsters. Pope was called up to the England squad after a breakout season with Surrey but scores of 28, 10 and 16 saw the 20-year-old dropped after just two Tests. Made to bat at an unfamiliar position of number four in the batting order, the youngster looked solid with his technique but showed the vulnerabilities of youth with some of his dismissals.
On the other hand, Kuldeep was instated in the India playing XI at Lord’s as the side’s second spinner but a wicketless display on a pitch tailor-made for pacers saw the youngster promptly dropped and sent back to India.
In both instances, two rookies were made the scapegoats of the respective team’s larger failings in general and the harsh treatment meted out to them shows how cruel international cricket can be towards youngsters.