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George Dobell in Ahmedabad
November 9, 2012
Haryana 172 for 4 (Dewan 77*, Singh 55) trail England XI 521 (Pietersen 110, Cook 97, Compton 74, Bell 62, Patel 67) by 349 runs
If England had any illusions about the enormity of their task in India, they would have largely been dispelled on the second day against Haryana.
Having lost their last five wickets for 14 runs in the morning session, England's bowlers then spent the rest of the day toiling under a hot sun, claiming just four wickets in 61 overs. Matt Prior was forced off the pitch suffering from a stomach upset and, perhaps more worryingly, the Haryana offspinner, Jayant Yadav, delivered a less than glowing review of England's performance against spin bowling.
While England's total of 521 underlines the ease with which the batsmen flourished for the main, it is worth noting that against 40.1 overs of spin they lost eight wickets for 177. Yadav, an unremarkable bowler playing only his fifth first-class game, finished with 4 for 110, the best figures of his career to date.
It may be wrong to read too much into that. In the latter stages of the innings, with the total over 500 and the lack of intensity in the match situation producing lethargic cricket, England played some carefree strokes. But, given England's recent history against spin bowling, and bearing in mind that this surface is offering precious little help to bowlers of any type, those statistics will be just a little unsettling.
England's top-order looked comfortable against Yadav. Several batsmen, notably Ian Bell, Nick Compton, Prior and Kevin Pietersen, quickly took advantage of the lack of spin to come down the pitch to drive him over the top. But, far from being impressed by such confidence, Yadav interpreted it as a sign of insecurity.
"They looked very uncomfortable against spin," Yadav said. "That's why they resorted to playing that way. If you are comfortable you play from the crease. You would use your feet once or twice. But from the outset they had a mindset to attack the spinners, because they were unsure how to play them. The wicket was not offering much to the spinners. It was very slow and didn't turn much at all. There were uncomfortable."
Whether that is fair or not, it is certainl that England's tail - without Graeme Swann and Stuart Broad - folded quickly. After Bell fell early, attempting to run one to third man but edging to slip, Samit Patel and Prior added 69 in 12 overs. Both looked in fine form, with Patel registering his third score over 50 in succession on the tour. He could hardly have done more to nail down the No. 6 position for the first Test.
But when Prior, perhaps already feeling unwell, skipped down the pitch and missed one, it precipitated a sharp decline. Tim Bresnan and Patel, unwilling to grind out runs with the total already over 500, both slogged down the throat of long-on, before Stuart Meaker's drive was sharply taken by Amit Mishra in his follow through and Graham Onions was bowled playing back to one that skidded on. So, it was five quick wickets, but a far cry from the hopeless displays that characterised the trip to the UAE earlier in the year.
England's bowlers were also made to work hard. While Nitin Saini, unsettled by a good bouncer, soon steered Bresnan to point, Rahul Dewan and Sunny Singh added 97 for the second wicket. At one stage Singh, a man with a first-class triple century to his name, took Bresnan for three successive boundaries and also skipped down the pitch to drive Patel for successive fours, while Dewan, cutting particularly well, hit Onions for two boundaries in a row and looked a well organised, patient batsman. He enjoyed only one moment of fortune when Prior, clearly unwell by this stage, dropped a tough chance down the leg side off Meaker's second delivery.
Poor Prior was obliged to make two emergency dashes for the bathroom, but England's initial request to use a substitute wicketkeeper from outside their playing XI was declined by the umpires and match referee. While the convention in English domestic cricket permits a substitution on the grounds that the ECB believes that county cricket could be lessened as a spectacle by the use of a make-shift wicket-keeper, the Laws of the game (Law 2:3 specifically) actually forbid it. Ultimately, however, the BCCI, in an admirably magnanimous gesture, were contacted and made a special dispensation towards England. Jonny Bairstow took the gloves and Prior retired to a dark room.
England did eventually break through - Jonathan Trott clinging on to the first of two sharp catches in the slips - but Bresnan later rated the wicket the best for batting he had ever experienced.
"That wicket out there is possibly the best I've ever bowled on," he said. "It's unbelievable. It's easy-paced, has nice bounce and just comes on to the bat lovely. You get the feeling you're in an 'indoor school' scenario. It's not doing much off the straight, not seaming, not really bouncing much - and it's not spinning at all. So it's difficult."
All three of England's seamers worked up a decent pace - Meaker in particular - but the line was just a little too wayward to build any pressure. Monty Panesar, in stock bowler mode, gave away little and, on a warm afternoon against determined but limited batsmen, the game drifted in somnambulant fashion. Indeed, it will tell you much about the day that the most entertaining moment came when play was briefly suspended while two monkeys ran across the pitch and enjoyed a romantic liaison at third man. You don't see too much of that sort of thing at Lord's.
There was better news off the pitch for England, though. Steven Finn has improved more than expected and was able to bowl off his full run-up in the nets and, while Stuart Broad continued to rest and Graeme Swann remains in the UK, both are expected to be available for the first Test.
"Finn is off his full run now," Bresnan said. "That's a very good sign. With six days to go, there's no reason why he shouldn't be fully fit. If he can bowl at 90mph plus consistently, and get that bounce and lift, he's going to add to any team. He would probably get in any side in the world at the minute."
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