India v England, 1st Test, Ahmedabad, 3rd day

England caught in spin cycle

The familiar failings and self-inflicted wounds suggest England's batsmen remained scarred by recent experiences in Asia

George Dobell in Ahmedabad

November 17, 2012

Comments: 34 | Text size: A | A

Ian Bell was dismissed by Saeed Ajmal for the fourth time in the series, Pakistan v England, 3rd Test, Dubai, 1st day, February 3, 2012
File photo: Ian Bell's problems against spin in Asia continued (ESPNcricinfo will not be carrying live/action pictures from the India v England series due to restrictions placed on agency photographers covering the matches) © AFP

Chris Broad, during his brief spell in the media, once remarked that he had "run out of expletives" to describe a passage of play. While it was not, perhaps, quite what Broad meant - you suspect he was searching for the word "superlatives" - it would have proved rather apt to describe England's first-innings batting display in Ahmedabad. They were, quite simply, wretched.

Indeed, the first half of the third day of this Test was wearingly familiar. England groped around against spin like blind men reaching for a bench that wasn't there. All the talk of improvement, all the talk of game plans, all the confident predictions were exposed as bluster. England looked no better than they had in the UAE. In fact their total - 191 - was almost identical to the average score they made in that series against Pakistan: 190.66. It seemed nothing had changed.

Ian Bell's dismissal will gain the most attention and there is no getting away from the fact that he played a horrid shot. Kevin Pietersen, too, batted as if he were on ice and could have been out on numerous occasions before he played around one. Both looked as if they were carrying baggage from previous campaigns; mental scars that have left them nervous and uncertain.

Bell has been skipping down the wicket to spinners from the start for some time. He did it to his first ball in the warm-up match against Haryana, too, and only just survived as the ball dropped behind mid-on. It is, if the ball is there for him, an appropriate tactic. But he is not selecting the shot on merit; he is selecting it on chance. It is a remarkable error for such an accomplished player and speaks of panic and desperation.

But perhaps it would be wise to suspend judgement. While England must not delude themselves into thinking they are simply unfortunate, there are several mitigating factors. For a start, the toss has been a huge factor in this game and batting first an advantage.

It is also worth noting that the umpires endured an unfortunate third day. England benefited more than they suffered, but the arbitrary nature of some of the decisions proved that even the best - and Aleem Dar may just be the best umpire the game has ever had - can make mistakes and increased the element of chance involved in this match. Interestingly, while the BCCI continue to resist the use of DRS, they have installed Hawk Eye on their own website, as a tool for following the game. It may be a sign of a move towards acceptance.

Most of all, though, England batted far better second time around. To some extent, their second innings served to rob them of any excuses for the first. They could no longer claim that the pitch was unplayable or the bowling full of mystery or magic. They had just batted haplessly.

But the second-innings performance - unfinished though it is - should have provided them with some confidence. Nick Compton looks admirably solid; Alastair Cook has little to prove. Their job has only just begun but they have shown themselves and their team-mates that with patience, application and calm, it is possible to prosper in these circumstances. Talk of Leeds 1981 or Kolkata 2001 is mightily premature, however.

"There will be calls for Bell to be dropped and, on his form in Asian conditions, it is hard to defend him. He now averages just 18 in his five-and-a-half Tests in India"

England learned a few things that could be useful, too. They learned that Zaheer Khan can, despite a slightly larger girth, still reverse swing the ball prodigious distances in both directions. They learned that Umesh Yadav is quicker than any of their bowlers involved in this game. And they learned that even the spinners are more effective if they are used in shorter spells. The Indian spinners, Pragyan Ohja in particular, gained appreciably sharper turn than Graeme Swann. Weariness is, no doubt, a factor.

England also learned, or perhaps that should be were reminded, that Duncan Fletcher is a cunning man. Almost every little trick he has planned - and they are all legitimate - has worked a treat: the lack of spin granted to England in the warm-ups; the docile warm-up pitches; the lush outfield in Ahmedabad when this match started and dozens of other details. He has been plotting this revenge for months.

But perhaps England could also take some comfort. Much was made about Ashwin's variations ahead of this series but, so far, he has delivered them poorly. Not only are they relatively easy to pick, but his legbreak, in particular, is delivered with little control. His offbreak is still a decent weapon, but it really is not anything England have not seen before.

Ojha looks a fine bowler. He has good control, unusually good variation of pace and he turns the ball appreciably. But he is a conventional left-arm spinner. Just the sort of thing that England have faced many times before. He is to be respected, certainly, but not feared. There is no Saeed Ajmal in this series.

The one thing that England must not do is dismiss their first innings as 'just a bad day.' If they reflect honestly, they will accept that all but two - Samit Patel and Tim Bresnan - of the wickets to fall on day three had a self-inflicted element. While that will be the cause of great frustration in the England camp, it might also be termed as encouraging: they really can do better than this.

There will be calls for Bell to be dropped and, on his form in Asian conditions, it is hard to defend him. He now averages just 18 in his five-and-a-half Tests in India and departs on Monday to attend the birth of his first child. He may find it hard to win his place back. It is hard to deny, however, that when England go to New Zealand or when they play Australia, Bell will remain as likely a match-winner as just about anyone in the team. His problems against spin might be viewed as a microcosm of the problems of English cricket in Asia. The England selectors will search in vain for a better all-round batsman in county cricket than Bell.

Would this Test have been any different if England had won the toss? Maybe. But they would still have needed to bowl and bat far better than they have done. They lost the toss in Adelaide in 2010 but, because they took half chances and bowled well, they turned it to their advantage. To this point, they have been comprehensively outplayed by India and they would be best served not looking for excuses but solutions.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by challagalla on (November 18, 2012, 11:43 GMT)

Laughable that the fastest bowler on both sides is Yadav and he got 2 crucial second wickets. Are the English bowlers bowling within themselves , unwilling to bend their back, or is it simply the heat and conditions that have got to them? Zaheer should be dropped and maybe Ishan brought in his place. Ashwin and Ojha bowled well and should continue. Good show by Cook and Prior. A knock of sheer application and will, demonstrating yet again , cricket if often played between the ears.

Posted by rashlover on (November 18, 2012, 11:16 GMT)

There is no Saeed Ajmal in this series. best line of the article.

Posted by gsingh7 on (November 18, 2012, 10:57 GMT)

india should produce rank turners in next tests this dead wicket cud cost india a victory , still we dominated for large parts

Posted by sweetspot on (November 18, 2012, 6:37 GMT)

If playing against spin is a weakness, it can be overcome with practice and exposure to quality spin, but in these conditions, nothing seems to have prepared the England middle order. Why are they playing with such hard hands? It must be anxiety, which means it is mental. Is it so overwhelmingly important for them to prove something that they just cannot see what Cook is doing so well? The pitch has eased out, no doubt, but India's bowling has stepped up. Umesh Yadav hardly bowls anything below 140kph either. There isn't a single Indian bowler whom England can just tap around and score easy runs off. It is still early though, and they need to figure out small ways to gain some advantage. Isn't that the coach's job to tell them what to do?

Posted by   on (November 18, 2012, 4:57 GMT)

I am very much interested and happy to see comments that appreciates good cricket and comments that speaks about the technicalities. Rather than fighting with each other.

Posted by   on (November 18, 2012, 2:13 GMT)

This English team is certainly better than the English teams which toured India in 1972-73, 19976-77 and 1984-85 and who encountered similar spinner friendly wickets. The 1972-73 team which was a second grade enlglish team lost a close series while the 1976-77 tourists won by a handsome margin of 3-1. The 1984-85 tourists won 2-1. During 19727-3 and 1976-77 the Indian team had in its ranks the famous quartet of spinners, Bedi, Prassanna, Chandrashekhar and Venkataraghavan who were well countered by the likes of Tony Grieg. This England team is ertainly a very good one but they have to prove their mental and technical skills in India to be counted otherwise they will also be rated on par with our Indian team , known for its vulnerability in English, Australian and South African conditions.. Perhaps England should play a bit of unconventional cricket like putting Matt Prior up the order.Stuart Broad couldalso be tried as Indian spinners have a weakness against Left handers

Posted by jackiethepen on (November 17, 2012, 23:20 GMT)

I was interested in your interview with Dravid who made some salient points about patience etc. However you fed him with the example of Ian Bell, why not the example of Sachin who also lofted a drive to a fielder just before tea? Or would that be admitting that even the Little Master can make an error of judgement?

Posted by jango_moh on (November 17, 2012, 23:10 GMT)

@phoenixsteve ... "If Khan couldn't reverse it yesterday why should he do it with any potency on day 4?"... Infact, Khan and yadav to an extent got Reverse Swing yestd... what match were u watching??? even the biased Dobell said so in this article... atleast read the article even if ur not watching the cricket!! LOL

Posted by Moppa on (November 17, 2012, 22:37 GMT)

@phoenixsteve, a quick comment on reverse swing. I think it has a little bit to do with the track, and the outfield too - reverse swing is more likely when you have an abrasive surface that takes the lacquer off the ball, which then allows the fielding team to load one side up with moisture to make it heavy. You need a heavy and a light side to make a ball reverse, which is difficult on a nice lush outfield/pitch when the lacquer largely prevents the ball from taking on moisture. Having said all that, I mostly agree with you in that the difference between conditions on days 3 and 4 is hardly likely to make a ball suddenly reverse lots if it wasn't yesterday...

Posted by Nutcutlet on (November 17, 2012, 22:23 GMT)

@sensible indian-fan: India's spin twins are superb & IMO Ojha has the potential to be truly great (see my appreciation of him elsewhere on this site). Spinners get as many, possibly more, of their wickets from flight rather than spin - and PO has that in spades. England's openers made steady headway in the last session through head-down application, but wait for some of England's less self-denying bats on Day 4: the moment the heads go up, the wickets will drop. All in all, it's great watching. BW

Posted by yorkshirematt on (November 17, 2012, 22:12 GMT)

Judging by the picture of Bell this isn't the first time he's got out playing such a dreadful shot

Posted by Lmaotsetung on (November 17, 2012, 22:11 GMT)

How in the world a guy like Cook, an opener used to playing seam bowling for the majority of the time he has spent at the crease in his entire life play so beautifully in this match while guys like KP (who supposedly is the best english sub continent batsman) and Bell (who supposedly a decent player of spin cause he uses his feet well) look like amateurs out there? It's all a mental thing.

Posted by McGorium on (November 17, 2012, 21:37 GMT)

The comment on Ashwin's supposed lack of variations is rather strange. He just tried a leggie this time; it's not something he uses often, and he doesn't (rightly) use his carrom ball much in tests.. Ashwin got classical offspinners' dismissals: bowled through the gate, caught at slip while driving, and a bat-pad. At any rate, just because you know Ojha or Ashwin aren't mystery spinners doesn't make them any easier to play. Shane Warne was a conventional leggie who lacked a googly. Kumble rarely turned his leggie. Glenn McGrath hardly swung the ball (he was certainly no Wasim Akram in the skill department)... Yet, despite their relative lack of mystery, they've destroyed England consistently. Now, this is not to suggest that Ojha or Ashwin are anywhere near the class of the Aussie greats, but merely to point out that variation isn't a necessary or sufficient condition for success. Knowing what the bowler does helps, but doesn't mean playing them is trivial.

Posted by 2.14istherunrate on (November 17, 2012, 21:17 GMT)

When all is said and done the question has to be asked:'Should a Test Match be played on a pitch so recently relaid?' I think not. It has never really looked like a test wicket.

Posted by   on (November 17, 2012, 20:55 GMT)

Just recently Dobell included this English team among his top 5 test teams of All time....surely huge disrespect to the Pakistan team of the 80s under Imran khan and miandad. This English team is worse than Bangladesh on Asian pitches and that is an undisputed fact

Posted by BG4cricket on (November 17, 2012, 20:12 GMT)

"Alerm Dar may just be the best umpire the game has ever had ..." !!!!! Surely you could not be serious

Posted by mak102480 on (November 17, 2012, 19:17 GMT)

Stop making excuses about the toss making a huge difference. England are 111/0 now on the SAME pitch. Eng played horribly in the first innings - and if they had played the same way, the score would have been the same even on Day 1.

Posted by InsideHedge on (November 17, 2012, 19:15 GMT)

I feel Dhoni erred in asking England to follow on, I'm not saying this with hindsight either. If England set India 100 to win, it will be a very nerve wracking affair. India would have been better served by batting a 2nd time, scoring about 170-ish off say 60 overs allowing a declaration early on the 4th day. Such a strategy would have left England batting in the most difficult conditions to save the follow-on. As it stands, I'm not convinced England will be doing a lot of batting on the 5th and final day.

I hope I'm wrong!

Posted by Rahulbose on (November 17, 2012, 17:57 GMT)

Haha Dobby, what happened to the "ready to play spin" Eng team you boasted about? Maybe you should have mentioned your tall pre-game boasts before taking a dump on your team. Also, Duncan Fletcher has nothing to do with selection of the tour games or pitches in India. Not sure where you pulled that crap piece of reporting from. I am bit surprised at how easily they folded in the first innings. Hoping to see better performance from here on from Eng.

Posted by jackiethepen on (November 17, 2012, 17:18 GMT)

Dobell is right that Bell has been using this shot for some time with good results. But what happened in the warm up game should have warned him that the ball is too low in India for such a shot - certainly as early as the first ball. But Bell was being coached to play over the top in the nets in Sri Lanka. It was the management response to the UAE debacle. It has earned Bell some kudos since but it is a very risky shot on these low wickets. It was good to read this account without any of the abuse on the rest of the site. Bell played the shot because he has been coached for it, not because he is scared of playing spin - you can't make it up!! As for comments from India about Bell, we need to remember that he was the main reason for their 4-0 demise when they last played him.

Posted by usernames on (November 17, 2012, 17:15 GMT)

@Hobbart - You think Monty, et al. are going to take Indian wickets in India? Ha!

Posted by Cpt.Meanster on (November 17, 2012, 17:15 GMT)

@hhillbumper: Your comment is more along the lines of frustration rather than logic. Your batsmen DO NOT know how to play spin. Why don't you accept that and move on ? Average or not, both Ashwin and Ojha bowled superbly. The pitch is still a good one for batting. It's very simple, the English batsmen look average against spin and they will continue to be for the rest of the series. Cook and KP could be the only run getters for England this series. India will keep preparing pitches like these for all the tests. England need to REALIZE that they cannot play the 'English' way. Try to give some credit where it's due. The Indian bowling was exceptional.

Posted by gsingh7 on (November 17, 2012, 17:09 GMT)

u lost my request when u said their is no ajmal as if indian spinners are lesser a threat, infact as a pair they r best in world with 81 wickets in 5 and half tests

Posted by phoenixsteve on (November 17, 2012, 16:59 GMT)

@hobbart... I fail to see the significance of it being the 4th day which would enable Khan to get reverse swing? Reverse swing has NOTHING to do with the state of the track? If Khan couldn't reverse it yesterday why should he do it with any potency on day 4? As an Englishman I sincerely hope that India are depending on Khan to do the damage - it'll mean that they have got the spin monket off their back! COME ON ENGLAND!!!

Posted by sensible-indian-fan on (November 17, 2012, 16:54 GMT)

@hhillbumper - The Indian spinners not that good? I don't want to sound smug but here's something to consider. When the second innings was going on, I was wondering why the hell was the pitch not turning. There was no sharp turn and it just DIDN'T make any sense. Indian pitches spin more when the days go by, not less. I saw Cook and Compton slowly get the runs (in an admiral way for sure) but something wasn't right in the second innings. That's when I heard Sunil Gavaskar's comment. He was praising the English batsmen but he also mentioned about the impact of rollers. Medium to heavy rollers turn the pitch a bit slow, meaning there is slow spin and NOT the fast spin which got KP, Compton in the first innings. Yes, Indian spinners didn't bowl well the second time and the English batted well but the pitch assisted only slow turn (in the after tea session) which allowed batsmen to have more time. So let's wait and watch to see who stands where (no arrogance intended).

Posted by   on (November 17, 2012, 16:46 GMT)

its a total team's collapse and failure. they played as if they are playing spin for the first time and boycott rightly said so. I cant see my fav team playing such poor cricket. having said that England is known for bouncing back strongly and if A Cook's innings is an example for what is going to be the series ahead. go go go England. KP Trott, Bell, Compton & Finn......

Posted by phoenixsteve on (November 17, 2012, 16:45 GMT)

Oh dear what a terrible batting attempt first tome 'round. They should be thoroughy ashamed of the performance. I guess the momentum was lost along with the toss & then having to spend 2 days in the baking sun resulted in the very worst start & then it got worse! All is not lost though & perversely the only (slight) chance that England have to win has emerged thanks to the follow on? Perhaps it was one of Baldricks 'cunning plans' to look so bad & then bat well to make India suffer day5? (i think not!) Anyhow if they can lay ghosts of Innings past to rest & score another 300 tomorrow we could be in for a thriller. If nothing else a solid showing at the crease will keep India in the field for 2 days & the start of the on-the-job training will give England confidence for future tests. The toss seems so vital in India but so does the selection of specialists. For the 2nd test I hope we see Finn back & also Monty in. Bell might be away and maybe Morgan gets a bash? COME ON ENGLAND!!!

Posted by 2.14istherunrate on (November 17, 2012, 16:26 GMT)

While the figures involved are bigger,it is possible at this point to recall Brisbane 2010. While there is life there is hope, and cook had done all this before,as has Trott. However they will have to play the spinners like they are okay with it.

Posted by Hobbart on (November 17, 2012, 16:26 GMT) While it sure was a fightback, the true greatness of it will be tested tomorrow by a freshened Ojha and Ashwin. Of what I know of Indian conditions, as an Indian, is that the fourth day will possibly see some Zaheer reverse swing England should come out geared up !

Posted by pvwadekar on (November 17, 2012, 16:21 GMT)

There are 2 bells in English cricket. One is Ian "ding dong" "Bell and other is George do"Bell". One cannot recognize,play or understand spin bowling, the another cannot recognize, understand or write about spin bowling even if u were looking at it under the most powerful microscope. Remember Abdur Rehman .. a few months ago the series in middle east ? 19 wickets in 3 matches ? Does it refresh your memory .. perhaps this phrase from your brilliant article might "But he is a conventional left-arm spinner. Just the sort of thing that England have faced many times before" .. just like Ojha .. don't u agree. And don't worry about Ashwin or his lack of variations .. perhaps tomorrow he will take 5 wickets .. and then u can write that at least" he is no Saeed Ajmal ".. and the team can breath easily and go to the next text confidently knowing that they can play conventional left arm spin bowling and off spin without variations. Dobell is such a team player..

Posted by Hobbart on (November 17, 2012, 16:19 GMT)

@hhillbumper :You are spot on w.r.t the indian bowlers being made to look far better than they actually are, by the not-so-determined batting effort. What you probably overlooked is the fact that this Indian batting line-up is also being made to look more solid than it actually is, due to the absence of a second spinner to assist Swann. If Andy does that, and England win some toss, they can more than just compete !

Posted by on (November 17, 2012, 16:04 GMT)

Kudos England for the great fightback today :)

Posted by Hobbart on (November 17, 2012, 15:56 GMT)

Dropping Bell would be a mistake for sure, for the obvious reason that England need their most experienced batters to be around in these testing conditions, and I don't see a capable replacement !

Posted by hhillbumper on (November 17, 2012, 15:51 GMT)

Bell played an atrocious shot. The batsmen need to put their minds to it.Relax and lay the ball. These Indian spinners are not that good and frankly they are being made to look better by inadequate batting. A few changes would imporve the team and Broad looks vastly out of form so him for Finn and possibly bring back Monty for Bresnan. Game on after that

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