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England's policy of consistent selection has produced success in the past but the present situation must be identified and dealt with
George Dobell in Ahmedabad
November 16, 2012
News : England look fragile - Pujara
Report : England slump after Pujara double ton
Features : Pujara's happy vibes
Features : The emergence of a significant global talent
Matches: India v England at Ahmedabad
Series/Tournaments: England tour of India
Perhaps every silver lining has a cloud. Perhaps, after a time, every strength becomes a weakness and every virtue a vice: determination becomes stubbornness; loyalty becomes inflexibility; consistency becomes a fear of change.
There were times on the second day in Ahmedabad when it seemed that way. There were times when it seemed that England's policy of consistency of selection - a key feature in the upturn in their fortunes in recent years - had resulted in them persisting with players who were past their sell by date and with tactics that were flawed.
Let us be clear: India batted very well. By winning first use of the pitch that will surely deteriorate, they have batted when the conditions were at their best and taken full advantage. England could have bowled to their optimum against these batsmen and still conceded 500. It is not always a disgrace to be second best.
But England did not bowl to their optimum. They did not bowl anywhere near their optimum. Indeed, a couple of the seamers - Tim Bresnan and Stuart Broad - bowled as poorly as any England seamer has for many months. Yes, more poorly then at The Oval. There, England lacked bite: here they lacked direction with Bresnan and Broad consistently drifting not just too straight, but down the leg side. And at no stage did Samit Patel look like a Test-class spin bowler. Sometimes he looked much worse.
It is true that England at least slowed the run-rate as India's innings progressed. But that was more the result of a spread field and a painfully slow pitch than a concerted improvement in the bowling. Only James Anderson and Graeme Swann had the control that should be a pre-requisite of a Test bowler.
England also missed their fifth chance in the field. Like the other four, it was not easy. But it was the sort of chance they used to take more often than not and the sort of chance they rarely take now. Alastair Cook said, in the run-up to the tour, that he had never heard of anyone being selected with a view to them being a good fielder. But perhaps they should be, for if England had held Cheteshwar Pujara here, on 8, or Hashim Amla at Lord's and The Oval and Alviro Petersen at Leeds, they might still be No.1 in the world.
|England have been consistently disappointing all year. They continue to drop catches, they continue to lack penetration and they continue to insist they are good players of spin|
There is a case for concluding that the balance of the England side is wrong. In hindsight, it seems that England should have made room, somehow, for Monty Panesar though, to be fair, it is hard to recall too many people arguing for Panesar's inclusion before the Test started. He is not perfect, clearly, but he offers control and, on such pitches, as good an attacking option as they possess.
Panesar might have eased the burden on Swann, too. Bowling 51 overs in the first innings of the first Test can have done little to ease his on-going issues with his elbow. Remember what Shane Warne's workload in India in 1998 did to his shoulder? England are asking an awful lot of Swann at present.
It may not have been such a tactical error as an error of execution. Some of England's bowling was simply poor. Steven Finn would have played ahead of Bresnan had he been fit and, had Bresnan bowled as he has done in the past, his selection might have been vindicated. But it is a while since he has bowled with the pace that he once did. And for all the talk of faulty speed guns or the lack of importance of pace, it is quite clear that all three of England's seamers have lost pace in the last year and, as a result, lost some of their effectiveness. England may be in denial on the issue, but the facts are thumping them over the head with increased venom.
Bresnan, for example, has played seven Tests since returning to the side after surgery on his elbow. In that time, his 16 wickets have cost 51.12 apiece. And, since June his five wickets have cost an eye-watering 92.40 each. And he has averaged only 18.50 with the bat. Compare that to his figures before his operation: his wickets cost only 23.60 a piece and his batting average was 45.42. He is clearly not the same player.
Broad is more interesting. Only Swann of any bowler in the world has taken more Test wickets than Broad this year. His average in 2012 - 30.20 - is fine and his strike-rate - 60.09 - is fine. There were times, in Sri Lanka and the UAE, when he bowled as well as he ever has. But in his last five Tests, his wickets have cost 48.07 and he had lacked control or pace. He is, like Bresnan, living largely on credit. At some stage very soon they need to deliver.
There is a clear lack of logic in England's persistent use of a nightwatchmen, too. There may be occasions, such as a batsman falling ill, when it is an appropriate to ask a bowler to do a batsman's job. But generally it is an absurd tactic - it is surely a batman's job to see off the bowlers - that merely betrays fear and gifts momentum to the opposition. In this game, it will also leave Swann, a more than respectable batsman, wasted at No.11.
Yet there is a reluctance from the England management to accept any of this. They are persisting with the same faces, the same tactics and the same balance even though it has been shown not to work. It is true that these same players performed superbly in the Ashes and wonderfully against India at home. But that was then and this is now. England need to adapt and to move on.
For it is not as if they have endured one disappointing game. They have been consistently disappointing all year. They continue to drop catches, they continue to lack penetration and they continue to insist, in the face of all evidence, that they are good players of spin. It is time to shut up and show us.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: George Dobell
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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