India v England, 1st Test, Ahmedabad, 1st day November 15, 2012

Toss only part of England's struggles

England were always up against it having lost the toss but their lack of patience with the ball and slackness in the field contributed more to their position at the end of day one

Joseph Conrad might not have been thinking of bowling first on a flat wicket in Ahmedabad when he wrote "The horror! The horror!" but it would have aptly summed up England's thinking for large parts of the first day of this match.

It was not just that they lost the toss. It was not just that they bowled and fielded below the standards they set themselves. And it was not just that they were confronted with a low, slow pitch that negated many of the qualities of their seamers and suited the hosts perfectly.

No, it was the sense that, all the while they were conceding runs - and for much of the day they conceded them at a rate of above four an over - the pitch was deteriorating. All while Virender Sehwag and Cheteshwar Pujara were accumulating runs with relative ease for Test cricket the pitch was becoming more and more suitable for India's spinners. England knew they were in deep trouble within an hour.

But they never assumed it would be easy. They never assumed India would offer them a wicket with pace and bounce. They would be insane to do anything of the sort.

The concern for England is that they failed to do themselves justice. They missed four chances: a stumping, two catches and a misjudgement in the field. The seamers offered too much width to Sehwag, in particular, and there remain grave doubts about Samit Patel's ability to perform the role of second spinner. He did recover after a poor start - as friendly a full toss as Sehwag can have received in his career - but he lacks the bite to take many wickets and the control to create pressure.

Tim Bresnan, impotent in the face of Sehwag's assault, lacked the pace or the control to stem the flow of runs and requires a major performance in the rest of this game to retain his Test place. A team cannot afford for their third seamer to concede 5.60 an over in these conditions.

England lacked patience in the first session, in particular. Within minutes of the start of the game, it became clear that the ball would barely bounce above chest height - Bresnan's first ball reached the wicketkeeper, Matt Prior, on the second bounce - and there would be little lateral movement. The lush outfield and square also negated England's hopes of scuffing one side of the ball in a bid to encourage reverse swing. Indeed, while they gained reverse swing after about 10 overs against Haryana, it took about 60 overs here.

Some will claim England should have selected Monty Panesar. While India play him rather well, it is highly likely he would have offered his captain more control.

But instead of settling for nagging accuracy and economy, they tried to make things happen. Stuart Broad used the crease and attempted to fire the ball in full; Anderson attempted to swing the ball across the left-hander; and Bresnan attempted, somewhat optimistically, a few short deliveries. The result, each time, was boundaries. Anderson, at least, pulled things back very well later in the day and did not concede a single run against Virat Kohli in 17 deliveries to him.

The one bright spot of the day for England was Graeme Swann's excellence. In truth, Swann rarely bowls any differently; it's just he sometimes bowls on surfaces that help him and very often he does not. But, after a tricky few months where he seemed to have lost a bit of his flight and perhaps even a little confidence as a result of some excellent South Africa batting, some flat wickets and his elbow injury, he looked back to his best here. Even before the ball began to turn - and it is turning more by the hour - his arm ball, a weapon of beauty, demanded respect. Once he was finding turn as well, he was threatening.

With the wicket of Sehwag, Swann overhauled Jim Laker's tally of 193 victims and became the most successful offspinner for England in Test cricket. But the real pleasure was to come later: to beat Virat Kohli - who he had already had dropped - through the gate with a classic off-break must have been pleasing, but to defeat Sachin Tendulkar in the flight and have him caught at deep midwicket was special. As Swann said: "Let's face it, he's the greatest player still playing the game. It's always nice to get him out, and get him out early."

The success of Swann will have provoked bitter-sweet emotions from within the England camp, though. While it was pleasing for them to at least find a foothold in a match that was running away from them, it came in the knowledge that India's spinners will have final use of the pitch. Bearing in mind England's struggles against spin of late and the likely pathogenesis of the pitch, it is hard to be wildly optimistic for them.

Given Swann's success and Bresnan and Patel's struggle, some will claim that England should have selected Monty Panesar instead. It is a reasonable point, too. While India play him particularly well - Panesar's Test wickets against them have cost 53.57 apiece - it is highly likely that he would have offered his captain more control. Whether he would have caught Tendulkar in the deep, as Patel did, or can score the runs that Bresnan or Patel might is debatable. England may well have to reflect on the balance of their side if all pitches are to be like this.

England also might have to reflect long and hard on how to bowl at Pujara on any wicket. He might be something of a throwback in modern cricket - he has never made a T20 half-century - but he looks an outstanding player. He remains largely unproven on seaming tracks or against pace and bounce, but he looks to have the technique to succeed.

India took a risk with this pitch. Had they bowled first, they, too, could have faced an awkward first day. But their risk has come off and besides, it is unlikely they would have conceded as many as 323 in a day. England will have to bat exceedingly well to save this game. Already, it is hard to see how they win it.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

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