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Having plumbed new depth with a record-low T20 total, England had their supporters running for the hills
September 23, 2012
Harbhajan Singh has been on the outside for a while. So long in fact that he found himself back in Division Two county cricket playing for Essex. His career was not over, but with R Ashwin taking the main job, and players like Pragyan Ojha as backups, it looked like the end for India's fighter.
Harbhajan played five first class games and five List A matches at Essex with varying success. It's doubtful that in all ten of those games he'd ever seen as many bad shots played against spin as England's debacle at the Presmadasa.
The pitch was ok for spinners. OK. Not anything more. I've seen many pitches in Britain that spin far more than this. For England, it was nothing like what they got sliced and diced on in the UAE. And far from the one they fell over on in Galle. But England could barely handle the bat when the spinners came on.
They devolved from sensible cricketers to the crazy families you see on the apocalypse preparation shows. Shooting at imaginary invaders and stocking up for the inevitable mushroom cloud or global financial crisis. It wasn't even one of the obvious players that ended their world. Piyush Chawla is the player Indian fans abuse when they're tired of abusing Rohit Sharma.
To most of us, these looked like standard non-lethal spinners, to England they were the black plague, and they ran madly towards the hills with canned food and shot guns.
It was as bad a batting performance as England have mustered, on a fairly benign surface against a new bowling attack without their oldest and most reliable bowler and their best T20 weapon.
This is the same Indian bowling attack that has the Indian media in a permanent state of panic. Some wanting four bowlers, some five, some eleven. Tonight they dismissed England with three as easily as you like, a few nights back they couldn't get close to Afghanistan.
You need a research grant and a team of technicians to look into who played the worst shot. Alex Hales didn't even wait for the spinners. Eoin Morgan's cut shot was to a different ball on a different pitch. Craig Kieswetter's flick-waft should be burned before any child gets a chance to see it. Jonny Bairstow's slog against the wrong'un defied science. Jos Buttler backed away so far he was at the SSC when he missed his ball. Graeme Swann went for a wander. And Tim Bresnan brought back memories of England's horror winter with a top-edged sweep.
All this while Kevin Pietersen was stuck in a studio with a grin stapled to his face while Dermot Reeve threw a ball at him.
It's impossible to believe England played this badly, and yet we've seen it all before. In their minds, England seemed to be playing on a ghost pitch from their past and not the quicker-than-everyone-thought pitches that are actually being prepared.
There are no dead rubbers for a while now and far bigger killers than Harbhajan and Chawla lurk around the corner. Unless England learn to swim against the spin, their fans are the ones who should be heading to the store to buy all the canned food they can carry.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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Stats highlights from the fourth ODI between India and West Indies in Dharamsala