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England's slide from No. 1 has gathered pace and they have serious questions ahead of the second Test
George Dobell in Ahmedabad
November 19, 2012
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Report : Ojha, Pujara secure crushing India win
Players/Officials: Ian Bell | Stuart Broad | Alastair Cook | Samit Patel | Kevin Pietersen | Matt Prior
Matches: India v England at Ahmedabad
Series/Tournaments: England tour of India
"Happiness is but a mere episode in the general drama of pain."
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 ESPNcricinfoFeeds: George Dobell
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