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The absence of a high-quality allrounder from England's squad has limited their attack options
George Dobell in Mumbai
November 22, 2012
News : Broad in Mumbai Test scare
Preview : Mumbai memory offers England hope
Features : Broad can't go on being 'promising'
News : Flower admits selection errors
Players/Officials: Sir Ian Botham | Stuart Broad | Andrew Flintoff | Tony Greig | Stuart Meaker | Monty Panesar
Matches: India v England at Mumbai
Series/Tournaments: England tour of India
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 ESPNcricinfoFeeds: George Dobell
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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