India v England, 2nd Test, Mumbai November 22, 2012

England's difficult balancing act

The absence of a high-quality allrounder from England's squad has limited their attack options

It was not Monty Panesar that England missed in Ahmedabad. It was not Steven Finn, either. Not entirely, anyway.

It was actually Ian Botham. Or Andrew Flintoff. Or Tony Grieg. It was the absence of a high-quality allrounder who could balance the side.

As England prepare for the second Test in Mumbai, it is worth looking at the record books. India have only lost at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai six times, twice to England, the most recent defeat coming in 2006.

Talk of that 2006 Test usually evokes memories of Shaun Udal. The offspinner claimed 4 for 14 - including the wicket of Sachin Tendulkar - in the fourth innings to bowl England to a victory that levelled the series. Flintoff, however, made two half-centuries and claimed four wickets and had England not possessed his all-round strength they may well not have risked selecting Udal, the second spinner.

England's only other victory at the Wankhede came in 1980. On that occasion, Botham took 13 wickets and scored a century in one of the most accomplished all-round performances in history. Again, Botham's all-round skill allowed England to field a five-man attack containing two spinners. It was the same story in 1976-77 - England won that five-Test series 3-1, when they were captained and balanced by Grieg's offspin in a five-man attack.

Even in 1984-85, when they came from behind to win 2-1, they tried to find that same balance. On that occasion, Chris Cowdrey was less effective as an allrounder and England were obliged to rely on a four-man attack split between two seamers and two spinners, with Cowdrey and Mike Gatting filling in as support bowlers.

The similarity is that on each occasion England have won, with the exception of 1984-85, they have possessed a Test-quality allrounder capable of balancing the side and allowing them to play five bowlers.

That is not an option as they go into the second Test of this series. Perhaps, one day, Ben Stokes might develop into that quality allrounder or perhaps, one day, it will be accepted that Rikki Clarke has matured into the cricketer his talent suggested he might become when he was prematurely selected almost a decade ago. For now, though, England have to decide to go into the game with either a five-man attack and risk exposing a long tail, or a four-man attack lacking either a second spinner or a third seamer. The pretence that Samit Patel should be considered a true allrounder was undermined by Andy Flower, the England coach, describing the bowling in Ahmedabad as a "four-and-a-half" man attack.

Neither option is ideal. With the batsmen so unconvincing in the first Test, England are loathe to weaken it further and risk a tail that starts with Graeme Swann at No. 7 or No. 8. But, at the same time, they struggled for penetration and variety in the first Test and have admitted it was an error to omit Panesar from the side. He looks certain to play in Mumbai on a recently used track that will, inevitably, aid spinners.

Selection is complicated further by illness to Stuart Broad. His place was far from secure anyway, but the idea of risking a recently sick man with a sore heel in a two-man attack may force a further rethink. Stuart Meaker, by far the most impressive and quickest of England's seamers in practice, could be on the brink of a Test debut.

He could find less sympathetic places to make it. While Meaker, relatively short for a modern fast bowler, is not one to generate steepling bounce, he may enjoy the humidity and the sea fret that sometimes aids swing bowling at the ground. He may surprise a few with his pace and his skill, too.

His selection might be regarded as a step into the future. While the current team have achieved unheralded success for England, this has been an awful year for them. Indeed, if they lose in Mumbai they will have equalled the most losses an England team has ever experienced in a Test year: eight.

Flower has to learn from history. He has to avoid the error made by one of his predecessors, Duncan Fletcher, and be prepared to renew the team. Fletcher, and England, suffered when he persisted with a team that was clearly past its best for the Ashes tour of 2006-07 on the basis that they had performed so well in 2005. But milk that was good last week may be sour today. Meaker and Finn may just represent the future of England fast bowling. Broad and Tim Bresnan, if they cannot recover the pace they once had, may represent the past.

Alastair Cook, the England captain, rejected any notion that the England team had become a little too cosy. "I disagree wholeheartedly with that," he said. "That's not true." But while Cook accepted England had underperformed in Ahmedabad, he also reiterated his belief in his players.

"Clearly last week was tough for confidence when you get beaten in such a heavy manner," he said. "First-innings runs are vital. I spoke about it when we lost the game and we have been speaking about it ever since.

"We have to hold our hands up: in these conditions we haven't played well enough to get the results. There's no one else who we can blame.

"I am confident. The guys have done it in the past. A couple of guys have done it in subcontinental conditions, a couple haven't done it in subcontinental conditions but we know if we're going to win this game we're going to have to score runs."

It is an obvious point but true. If England's batsmen continue to struggle, technically or temperamentally, against spin, it will make no difference what bowling attack they field.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Tom on November 23, 2012, 11:11 GMT

    While an all-rounder might have given England a better chance of winning the first Test, in reality a win never looked like being on the cards in the first place. England lost because of the comprehensive failure of the middle order in both innings. If Trott, KP, Bell or Patel had managed a fifty or hundred in the first innings it might have averted the follow-on, and in the second innings might have secured a draw. England probably do need a second spinner, and an all-rounder would free them up to do that, but if the batsmen can't put up runs it's only going to reduce the magnitude of loss, rather than making any serious difference to the result.

  • Khawaja on November 23, 2012, 7:17 GMT

    we have consistently seen recently broad not performing at the best...although fast bowling in india is difficult u can make them bowl in four over spells...however anderson too goes off and on...and they should have been given a rest and meaker and finn and onions given a chance...spinners and fast bowlers cannot really be alrounders...that is usally rare...six batsmen are enough and if england cant depend on them they should be india it is either three spinners or 3-2...broad and swann can bat a bit and that should be enough...but what is wrong playing a bowler who is not fit or not bolwing at his best for whatever away tours players should be interchanged so that they can rest and recuperate which is usually easier at home...

  • Ashok on November 22, 2012, 22:30 GMT

    More than an all rounder, Engand need batsmen who can play against spinners. Only 2 England batsmen showed that ability - Cook & Prior. KP,Trott & Bell failed. In bowling only Swann was of a Test calibrer. Indian Seamers ZAK & Yadev bowled much better than 3 England seamers. England's strength is pace bowling but it was conspicuous by its absence. So both bowling & batting failed. Had the Umpiring been little better, India would have dismissed England for around 200 - about the same total as in first innings. India raised their batting level quite a bit from their England tour performance despite the failure of Sachin, Kohli & Dhoni. These 3 guys will be trying hard to atone for their failures at Mumbai, Sachin's home ground. England's best bet is to substitute Panesar & Morgan for Bresnan & Bell. Meaker in place of half fit Broad may also be a good choice. I think this test may be high scoring match ending up in a draw because it is a batting friendly ground. Good luck to both teams.

  • Simon on November 22, 2012, 21:30 GMT

    interesting article, and sensible comments so far too. I agree that Prior should count as a genuine all-rounder (especially if Dhoni does), but as @SJC1000 points out, even if he bats at 6, we still need a 7. Personally I rate Patel as a batsman (deserves to be above Morgan in the Test pecking-order right now), and he's a good "half" a bowler at least. It's tempting to look forward to Stokes and Woakes (I especially like the look of Woakes), but the truth is there aren't a lot of world-class all-rounders around right now, and generally there aren't more than two or three playing in the world at any one time. We won't always be fortunate enough to have one of them. @Raghav Malani is right: we didn't lose the first Test for lack of an all-rounder, even if the presence of one might have guaranteed we'd have picked Monty.

  • michael on November 22, 2012, 20:30 GMT

    Rikki Clarke would certainly solve our slip catching problem, but he's neither a consistent enough batsman or a penetrating bowler. Woakes looks the most immediate option with Stokes the more long term option. Unless you have world beaters in your seam attack its very difficult to win test matches with 4 bowlers. It's certainly a dilemma for England right now but the batting needs to fire before we look at balance.

  • Tahir on November 22, 2012, 20:30 GMT

    Looking at the score card of last mumbai test it is clear that Panesar played that test and english pacers claimed 13 of 20 indian wickets fell while Panesar got only one wicket in that match. Fellow off spinner Udal took 5 wickets. So, either they can retain patel and draft in meaker as Swann is more than Udal any given day. If Broad is unfit then an additoinal batsmen can be drafted.

  • Tahir on November 22, 2012, 20:19 GMT

    Panesar has taken just eleven wickets in 5 tests while he bowled in all 10 innings. Patel is still the best partner for Swann and Swann is also sure to be effective through the series. Patel has openly challenged India may be to buy support within english team management which he drastically needs. Also, patel was given out dubiously and can come good with the bat as he did during warmups. If England give Meaker a chance and rest both patel and panesar then things could be interesting as Indian batsmen have not seen much of Meaker. English lower order is very capable to bat so more pace for India.

  • ian on November 22, 2012, 19:41 GMT

    @SJC1000: There is no doubt that Rikki Clarke is a better cricketer now than when he briefly represented England nine years ago. He is more accomplished now through knowing himself better than he did then (this matter of a cricketer knowing who he is; what he does particularly well & playing accordingly is a constant theme of mine). Aged 31, he could & should have come to the selectors' notice in the last couple of years especially. But he hasn't & it's quite likely that he may not play for England again. And there is a club of talented players who were tipped out of the boat before their time: James Foster, Chris Read (ref: M Vaughan: Time to Declare for CR. MV behaving with the humanity of Henry VIII) who obviously fell short of -- what shall we say? -- "compatibility" with the England set up of the day. It was nothing to do with their talent, just personal dislikes that sent them packing.OTOH, there are those who get chance after chance. Make up your own list; you're probably right!

  • Dummy4 on November 22, 2012, 17:11 GMT

    With due respect to you Mr. Dobell, England lost the 1st test not because they lacked an all rounder, but because they batted very badly in 1st innings. The pitch there was a proper "draw" wicket, and to get out that cheaply in 1st innings was game over for them. You may be right that they need the luxury of a genuine all rounder, but then this luxury even India could look for (even after having a genuine all rounder in Dhoni). It always is such a help if you have the likes of a Flintoff or a Kallis, but then most teams are not fortunate enough to possess them. Better to try working for strategies with what you have in hand, and currently they need to get there batting sorted out.

  • michael on November 22, 2012, 17:02 GMT

    Time to move on. Enough is enough, Bairstow, Meaker, Finn, Woakes and Kerrigan should all either be blooded or become regulars in the side over the coming 9 months or so. By all means recall past players if their FC form warrants it but at the moment we just aren't good enough. No matter what Cook says players are becoming to cosy and living off past glories. They need a kick up the backside, and getting dropped is the perfect way to do that.

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