Flower admits selection errors
Andy Flower has admitted that England made a mistake in not selecting Monty Panesar for the first Test of the series against India at Ahmedabad. England lost the Test by nine wickets after conceding a first innings deficit of 330 with Flower, the England team director, also conceding that he misread the pitch.
But Flower declined to confirm that England would alter the balance of their attack for the second Test, which begins in Mumbai on Friday. While he conceded that England's seamers had been out-performed by their Indian counterparts in Ahmedabad, he said the England team management will inspect the pitch before any selection decision is made. As things stand, Flower expects Mumbai to offer more assistance to the seamers and would only confirm that England would bring in a batsman to replace Ian Bell, who is absent on paternity leave.
"With hindsight yes, it was a mistake not to play Panesar in Ahmedabad," Flower said. "I didn't expect that pitch to turn as early as it did. In fact, once we saw it turning early in the game I thought it might deteriorate more and I was surprised on day four and five how well it played. I certainly misjudged that pitch.
"There might be a little more bounce in Mumbai which will help our seamers. Of course we have to bring in a batsman, but on any other changes I'd like to see the pitch first. Then I'll try to make a better judgment than the last one. If it looks as though it will turn a lot, we will contemplate two spinners.
"I don't think our seamers bowled as well as they could have and the skill with reverse swing and finding the right length to hit the pads is a particular skill. I think India did that better than we did. Their seamers out-bowled our seamers, but I also think we gave them a couple of soft dismissals."
England's attempts to square the series in Mumbai have been dealt a severe blow with the news that Steven Finn will not be fit to play in the second Test. Indeed, Finn undergoes a scan on Tuesday that will define whether he had any further part to play on the tour. Stuart Meaker, who was called into the squad when Finn was injured in the first warm-up game, will remain with them rather than joining the England Performance Programme squad.
"Finn unfortunately hurt that same area of his thigh and he's having a scan," Flower said. "We don't think there's any structural damage, we need to check. If there is not he will go and join our performance programme. He'll rehab with them and they've got a three-day game starting on the 27th which is the last day of this Test. Hopefully we can get him in that and test him out and if he comes through well he'll be available for the third Test."
Flower conceded there was an air of predictability about England's troubles in India but, despite the side now having lost five out of six Tests in Asian conditions this year, said "he would like to think" there was nothing fundamentally wrong with the team or the team set-up. Instead he felt that the batsmen, in particular, were guilty of simple errors. He did not condemn India's decision to deny them quality spin bowling in the warm-up matches, though he did jokingly suggest that England would be unlikely to respond by providing only spin bowlers for India in their warm-up games on their next tour of England.
"We have to overturn what seems predictable the moment," he said. "There are some very basic things that we haven't done well enough and I hope I'm not making personal excuses here. I don't think it's anything to do with the environment, or team dynamics, or the way we train. I think that we have failed in a number of first innings and if you do that in the subcontinent you pay the price. That's the area where we have failed and I don't think we should over-complicate it. I hope there is no real reason why it should keep happening in the first innings.
"If we'd batted in the first innings like we batted in the second it might have been a different story. Those three wickets hurt us at the end of day two, obviously, and the ball turned quite sharply and quite quickly in that first innings. And there were a few soft dismissals which cost us."
Flower was keen to defend Kevin Pietersen, who, in his first Test since his recall, scored 19 runs in two innings and was twice dismissed by the left-arm spin of Pragyan Ojha, but Flower stressed the excellence of his long-term record.
"Look, Kevin's a very fine cricketer and he has 21 Test centuries," Flower said. "This will not go down as one of his memorable Tests, of course, but he's got three more Tests to contribute to winning games for England.
"In this last Test the left-arm spinner got him out twice and he obviously struggled against him. But, only a few Tests ago against Sri Lanka, he scored a magnificent 150 and they had a reasonable left-arm spinner playing in subcontinent conditions. The method he used there was a very successful one. I'm not just talking about his very attacking method but his defensive one too. He's a very experienced cricketer and I trust he'll bring that experience to bear in the next Test match."
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo