India v England, 1st Test, Ahmedabad, 5th day November 19, 2012

A world of pain

England's slide from No. 1 has gathered pace and they have serious questions ahead of the second Test

"Happiness is but a mere episode in the general drama of pain."
Thomas Hardy

Certainly it seemed that way for England as they left Ahmedabad. While Alastair Cook and Matt Prior provided the brief interlude of joy, the rest of this Test simply revived painful memories of the 3-0 loss they suffered against Pakistan in the UAE at the start of the year. In the end, in this game, the damage inflicted by the huge first-innings deficit was too deep to repair.

India deserved this victory. While winning the toss was a substantial advantage, India were on the wrong end of more than their share of umpiring errors and, more importantly, looked the better-functioning team. While the majority of the XI contributed to India's success, England were reliant on three plucky individuals. They require far wider contributions if they are to challenge in this series.

It seems a long time since England were rated the best Test team in the world, too. That period, that happy episode amid the pain, now looks to have been a false dawn. England can have no pretence of supremacy while they are so poor in almost half the Test-playing world. And, having lost five of the six Tests they have played in Asian conditions this year, there can be no hogwash about enduring 'one bad game'. A pattern has not so much emerged as been tattooed on England's forehead.

In some ways, this was a worse performance than those in the UAE. At least against Pakistan, England bowled and fielded well. Here the bowlers lacked control - James Anderson and Graeme Swann excepted - the batsmen lacked the requisite skill, be it mental or physical, and the fielding was below the high standards this team sets itself.

In the longer term, it will take a more open-minded approach to pitches and bowling actions in the county game to resolve England's issues against spin and Asian pitches. It will take an acceptance that those who moan about turning pitches and mystery spinners in county cricket are holding the English game back. The homogenisation of conditions and coaching and the officious work-permit criteria that render it ever more difficult to bring foreign players into England will, in the end, only foster mediocrity.

In the shorter term, England face some difficult decisions. This series in not over. The last time England won here, in 1984-85, they came from one down after the first Test. Stranger things have happened than England winning from behind, though not all that many.

There is hope. Not only have Cook and Prior shown that it is possible to prosper in such conditions, but other batsmen may take grim comfort in reflecting that there was a self-inflicted element to many of their dismissals. Unlike the series in the UAE, where several of them had little clue how to play Saeed Ajmal, here they buckled under the pressure of good, controlled but absolutely not unplayable bowling. Had they premeditated less and played straight more, they would have prospered. They can do better.

A lack of confidence was one of the issues with the bat. The scars of the UAE were clear in the way that Ian Bell and Kevin Pietersen over-compensated for their nervousness by gambling with aggressive, premeditated shots. Both players are better than that.

"It is almost impossible for England to select a well-balanced team going into Mumbai from the squad they have at their disposal"

It is almost impossible for England to select a well-balanced team going into Mumbai from the squad they have at their disposal. If they go with an attack of two seamers and two spinners, they could have a tail of Swann, Anderson, Steven Finn and Monty Panesar at No. 11. Bearing in mind their batsmen's struggles in Ahmedabad, that is not ideal.

Samit Patel was unfortunate with the bat - he received a dubious decision in both innings - so, while his bowling was undistinguished, judgement should be reserved. He is no second spinner, though. Not only does he lack bite, he lacks the control required at this level.

Tim Bresnan will surely struggle to keep his place. Bresnan is a worthy cricketer but, since his elbow operation a year ago and through no fault of his own, he has lacked the nip he once possessed. Whatever India fear, it is not an 80 mph seamer. He may have played his last Test.

Stuart Broad will also come under pressure. Broad is, clearly, an immensely talented cricketer and there have been times, with bat and ball, when he has looked capable of greatness. But, since an excellent few months leading up to the South Africa series, he has lacked pace with the ball and form with the bat. He is the team's vice-captain and, aged 26, still has a bright future, but he is currently living on memories. He will surely come again but for now Finn, with his pace and hostility, is impossible to ignore.

England rose to No. 1 largely on the back of hostile bowling and late swing; you do not gain either of those by bowling at fast-medium. The lack of pace in England's attack is a recurring theme of recent times and it would help if the bowlers, or the England bowling coach, David Saker, could rediscover their nip. Even Anderson, for so long a beacon in this side, is looking worryingly ineffective at present.

Broad could retain his place even if, as expected, England bring in Panesar, Finn and Jonny Bairstow for Bell, who has returned to England on paternity leave. The pitch at Mumbai is expected to offer more bounce - India were not overwhelmed by the lack of pace and bounce in Ahmedabad - so it may yet be that England consider a five man attack including three seamers and Monty Panesar as second spinner. For all the outcry against Panesar's exclusion here, there is little evidence from the warm-up games, his record against India or India's record in general that Panesar would have made a tangible difference. He would, however, offer control.

Eoin Morgan, by virtue of being a left-hander, may be considered, too, though Bairstow's excellence in his last Test, against South Africa, should not be forgotten. Neither man has looked at their best against spin.

It is no disgrace to lose and, in these conditions, England may have simply come up against a side that was too good for them. The nagging doubt persists, though, that they failed to do themselves justice. They have made life enormously difficult for themselves in the rest of the series.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Ramchand on November 20, 2012, 18:01 GMT

    @Front-Foot_lunge, so much of a change in the tone of your comments, including the socialist remark you put here, from the heights of saying , Indian bowlers are like country cricket /club level bowlers. Tough luck huh, 90mph bowlers being considerate to bowl at 75mph? Cook and Prior batting on a mine field, where 521 was scored by the opposing team. So much to your versatility huh?

  • VaRUN on November 20, 2012, 16:52 GMT

    @ Front-Foot-Lunge - A Minefield? What a joke my friend. Did you see how India knocked off 80 runs? They could have gotten 250 runs in 2 sessions easily. Also are you suggesting India wins the toss every time? India has batted second many times and won many games. I guess living in denial is a good thing.

  • Dummy4 on November 20, 2012, 16:35 GMT

    @Scott Stevo: A 2-0 is a whitewash mate, what the scorebook says is what matters, not the iffs and buts.If Aus deserved to have won the 1st test, they would have. Simple. If you are to bring up ifs and buts, I can argue that the ONE series win you had in India was when the 5th day of Bangalore test was washed out with India in a winning position. Else it would have been 2-2. Also, the 2008 series in Australia was won by Australia because they won the Sydney test, which the whole cricketing world knows how they won. Else it would have been 1-1 or even 2-1 to India. Get a life and accept you are as bad in India as England are.

  • michael on November 20, 2012, 16:26 GMT

    With Finn now unavailable, Meaker must jump ahead of the pack. We need genuine pace, even Onions could get the nod ahead of Anderson, at least he makes the batsman play. Having a long tail is neither here or there, the top 7 need to produce and most importantly we need 20 wickets.

  • yogendhar on November 20, 2012, 15:49 GMT

    Whatever the pre-series build up was i certainly thought england would be very competitive but this is not the england team of the recent past. May be andrew strauss who is under spoken yet effective is being missed on this tough tour. Hope england pick up their performance.

  • Ramchand on November 20, 2012, 15:09 GMT

    @ScottStevo, Yeah like Australia saved face back in 2004, when rain came to their rescue at Chennai when all India had to score was a paltry 229runs , which would have had the series 2-1 in favor of India, instead of Aus. Thre was this big talk from Aussie players of making it 3-0 and got shot down for 93! The truth is the VVS have been a thorn in the flesh for Aus most of the time but for his last tour in 2011! Australia cant face "Spin-music" until rain helps them...shove off!

  • Dummy4 on November 20, 2012, 14:53 GMT

    i think england would will win match if they slightly change there batting order and team prior will come up the order he played spin well and add panesar instead of samit patel ,,

  • Manjunath on November 20, 2012, 14:44 GMT

    @ Valavan: "Yesterday there was an article of the Dhoni having a go at umpires in cricinfo, later they removed probably because of BCCI involvement" -Really dude?? Stop blaming BCCI for everything. They would be least concerned on what is published here when they have their own issues to deal with. "Dhoni creating WWF environemnt".. Dude clearly you need to stop watching cricket for some time.!! Cheers.

  • Justin on November 20, 2012, 13:43 GMT

    England still have the players to be competitive with anyone, but they are one decent paceman short, but Finn might be the man. I have said it a million times, Broad is the worst new ball bowler in test cricket. His career should've ended after the 4th test of the last ashes in england. He was cannon fodder...then the clouds came over and he had a good spell, but I can tell you now, in those conditions trott would've been dangerous. Then his one good series...that's right, 50 odd tests....against India at home, the English weather gods once again gave him conditions my grandma would be effective in. Why did england win the last ashes? Broad got injured and tremlett came in. England need to axe him and move on. He isn't even a good bat...his one century came in a series that the Pakistan team was found to be cheating in. You never pick a mediocre bowler for his lower order runs. Englands batsmen might pull their socks up if they move away from this tail end obsession.

  • stuart on November 20, 2012, 13:30 GMT

    pick Monty.Drop Broad as he seems to have lost it for the current time.Bring in Bairstow and Remind KP that he is not that good that he can get away with playing like an idiot every day.Advise him that if he wants to be world class then he has to do it everywhere.

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