India v England, 3rd Test, Kolkata

England's mood is quite a turn up

There has been a quiet confidence around the England team in the build-up to the Kolkata Test and a sense that history is within their grasp

George Dobell

December 4, 2012

Comments: 28 | Text size: A | A

Monty Panesar finished the Mumbai Test with 11 wickets, India v England, 2nd Test, Mumbai, 4th day, November 26, 2012
Monty Panesar, pictured, and Graeme Swann took 19 Indian wickets in Mumbai in one of England's greatest spin-bowling double acts © BCCI
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It says much for how quickly things can change that England go into the third Test in Kolkata not so much fearing a turning surface, but regarding it as something of an opportunity.

It would be stretching a point to claim that England's problems against spin bowling are resolved. After all, only three England batsmen have passed 50 so far in the series and a case could be made to suggest that the excellence of Kevin Pietersen and Alastair Cook has masked the struggles of some of their colleagues. Certainly more will be required of Jonathan Trott, Ian Bell and co. if England are to win the series.

But the victory in Mumbai not only showed that England's batsmen were learning, it also showed that England had weapons of their own in such conditions. In Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann they have spinners who utilise a turning pitch every bit as well as their India counterparts. India, for all their reputation as masters of such conditions, looked mightily uncomfortable against them in Mumbai.

The Mumbai result will not alter India's tactics to any great extent and nor should it. Not only would it be unwise to read too much into one result, but they have few options for a Plan B anyway. Their batsmen play better on pitches of low bounce and England's batsmen have, historically, struggled against spin in such conditions.

"We should still stick to turning tracks, because that's what our strength is," India's captain MS Dhoni said at the pre-match media conference. "That's what home advantage means.

"If you come to India, why do you want to play on wickets that are flat for the first three or four days? Sometimes even five days is not enough to get a result. We lost the last game, but still we want to play on wickets that suit the sub-continent. It is what the sub-continental challenge is all about.

"We are a side that relies a lot on the openers, but we don't really want to put the extra pressure on them. It doesn't matter if we lose a few games, or if we win the series, the crucial thing is that a cricketer who has played five or six years can say 'I went to the sub-continent, and the wickets were turning and bouncing and I scored runs or I failed'."

It is, in many ways, an admirable policy. The last thing Test cricket needs as it fights for its place in the world is a series full of bore-draws.

The fact is, however, that by trying to land a knockout blow on England, India have left themselves open to a counter punch. By insisting that the pitches will assist the spinners, India may just have given England an opportunity to steal a highly unusual series win. Instead of drawing England into a war of attrition in conditions for which they are ill-suited, India have provided both teams with a route to victory.

As England captain, Alastair Cook, put it: "The Mumbai Test proved that a turning wicket gives both sides a chance. It gave us a great chance of winning as it was a result wicket. If you go in on real flat ones it can be very hard to get a result. I'm not quite sure how this wicket will play. I don't think it will have the bounce Mumbai had - it hasn't got that red clay - but all the reports say that, after especially after day three, it will turn, so that brings both our excellent spinners into the game."

It may also prove to have been a risk to stage this game on another used wicket. This pitch was used for a four-day game that finished on November 20 and nobody can confidently predict how it will play by the time it is seven or eight days old. There is very little precedent for such a tactic in Test history. If India find themselves bowling at England in the fourth innings as the pitch crumbles, it will look wise. But if they are bowled out by the England spinners in the fourth innings it will look reckless.

India have allowed England the oxygen of belief. Coming into this tour, the scars inflicted upon the England batsmen by Pakistan in the UAE were still clearly visible. Now, however, with a morale-boosting victory behind them, all the pressure is on India. It is the Indian players who are fighting for their international futures.

Whoever wins the toss will surely bat. The relative cool brings the possibility that the ball will assist the seamers in the first hour, although the effect of a 9am start should not be over-exaggerated considering that India only has one timezone and Kolkata, on the east coast, sees the sun rise earlier than most.

With England likely to bring in Steven Finn for the jaded Stuart Broad, the tourists go into this game with their first-choice attack for the first time in the series. For India, who are likely to revert to an attack comprising two seamers and two spinners, the loss of Umesh Yadav, the most incisive seamer on either side in Ahmedabad, looks more costly all the time.

Cook expressed support for Broad - "I'm very glad he's English and I'm glad he's in this squad. He's a fantastic player and he's put in fantastic performances this year and over his career" - and for Jonathan Trott - "He's not having the year he would probably like to have, but you can't write off people with quality like that" - but acknowledged that England required more contributions throughout the side if they were to win.

India, meanwhile, have questions to answer about several senior players - not least Yuvraj Singh, who averages only 34.38 in Test cricket and has not scored a century since 2007, and Sachin Tendulkar, who has not reached 30 in his last 10 Test innings. If they lose their proud home record, searching questions might need to be asked about the direction in which Indian cricket is travelling.

No-one disputes that India have, over the last few years, marketed the game - or certain aspects of the game - with unprecedented success. Perhaps, however, somewhere along the way, the style has obscured the lack of substance. It required a decade of humiliation before England acted to reverse their decline. Perhaps, in the long term, a series defeat would be a wake-up call Indian cricket requires.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by dabhand on (December 7, 2012, 20:54 GMT)

@maddy20 - don't think the english fans will be too upset so far.

Posted by A_Vacant_Slip on (December 7, 2012, 20:25 GMT)

@dilipkailas on (December 05 2012, 10:35 AM GMT) you were eagerly awaiting to watch India bowler on this pitch. Now that you have watched India bowler bowl 163 overs and England have reached 509/6 tell us - how are your eagerness level now...?

Posted by JG2704 on (December 6, 2012, 20:45 GMT)

@ maddy20 on (December 05 2012, 03:00 AM GMT) No we're not but remember we were supposed to lose this 4-0 according to many

Posted by Salobalay on (December 6, 2012, 12:59 GMT)

@Maddy20 It's not about 1 single win. It is about England showing character. even in the first match England fought remarkably after following on. They won the second test and are in good solid position in the third and that too on turning pitches that Indian skipper so much wanted!

Posted by crindex on (December 5, 2012, 19:06 GMT)

I am disappointed with Ashwin. Ojha gave his best in the 2 test matches played so far. We cannot say that about R Ashwin. Ashwin looks like he is bankrupt of ideas when he does not get wickets. He does not have the resilience and doggedness required from spin bowlers. Ojha and even Bhajji got some purchase on the Mumbai wicket - but not Ashwin. He is a real let down for India.

Posted by hnlns on (December 5, 2012, 15:03 GMT)

Indian teams have been and continue to be very good at bringing back to form and making heros out of players/teams who are struggling until then, so this trend continues. Here England are throwing a challenge to MS Dhoni to get another designer track and see what happens. MS Dhoni got to realistically judge (before he asks for square turners) his top order batsmen as to how well they can handle Swann, Monty and co and our own spinners who can't deliver on the same turf.

Posted by dilipkailas on (December 5, 2012, 10:35 GMT)

Waiting eagerly to watch how Indian spinners bowls on this pitch

Posted by fr600 on (December 5, 2012, 7:42 GMT)

Given how India performed over the last 1 year and how England performed, England should be confident. England has nothing to worry about... easy win!!

Posted by maddy20 on (December 5, 2012, 3:00 GMT)

One win and the English fans are over the moon. Ye' all can be pretty darn sure that things will be back to normal after the Kolkata test!

Posted by landl47 on (December 5, 2012, 1:57 GMT)

Personally, as an England fan, I love to see cricket played on turning wickets. Every ball is exciting, the batsmen have to work hard, the bowlers have to use skill and cunning instead of brute force and, not least, the over rate is good. Swann and Panesar are more than capable performers on turning wickets and if England's batsmen can't score enough runs then England deserve to lose. I HOPE the wicket isn't slow and low with neither bounce nor turn. Give us a result wicket and let the chips fall where they may.

Posted by jimbond on (December 5, 2012, 1:25 GMT)

England have good reason for their confidence, but sometimes it pays to look a bit deeper. Indian batsmen came mentally unstuck, and it was not their lack of ability to play spin or the greatness of English bowling (In the past some of these Indian batsmen have played Warne, Murali and Pakistani spinners much better). Yes, Indian spin bowling has declined since the days of Kumble, but on their day they could cause enough problems. A KP innings does not happen in every test, and one of these days, Sehwag is going to bat for two or three hours. And Tendulkar may yet play one good innings. Still India's series to lose.

Posted by SantoshGhirnikar on (December 5, 2012, 1:02 GMT)

I am a diehard India supporter, but the decisions made by Dhoni and the selectors is leaving me cold. As Dobell says, perhaps a series loss is required for a wake-up call that is long overdue. The team needs a revamp and some players need to be shown the door. In order of priority: SRT, Bhajji, Zak and Ashwin. I think Ashwin has lost his mojo and perhaps we should think of Mishra or Chawla. Both are as good batters as Ashwin and far superior fielders. Dhoni should be stripped of his captaincy. He has started believing the hype of being "uber cool" and has become like an obstinate child.

Posted by Raju_Iyer on (December 4, 2012, 23:54 GMT)

So George Dobell is predicting subtly that India will loose this series? Well, we shall see, we shall see...

Posted by Biggest_Cricket_Fan on (December 4, 2012, 22:21 GMT)

Nice article, specially the last line. Some times it is the worst tasting medicine may cure a patient. It is absolutely required that India gets some lessons out of this tour. They spoiled big opportunity to let the fringe players like A. Rahane, Manoj Tiwari etc (unfortunately we can not even include Rohit Sharma here, as we all have seen how he spoils opportunities given to him) make their debut and break free on the international scenes. Rohit is good for T20 and maximum one-day or even better suited for absuing spectators (as he did in Australia: Search for "Rohit Sharma & Praveen Kumar abusing indian fans" on you tube). I also hope Sachin takes some clues at least now from Ponting and give away his place to someone who is willing to make the mark. Does anyone really think the selectors would have guts to drop Sachin?

Posted by indirockz on (December 4, 2012, 21:05 GMT)

@Front-Foot-Lunge... England has not proved anything as suggested by you. How can you rate "BEST" based on a solitary outing? If from hereon, England wins the series then you can claim so. That duo has no where near the class of Ajmal and Hafeez. I think they are the best duo in the world cricket right now. P.S. I have a strong feeling that Monty is going to be manhandled in Kolkatta

Posted by PPD123 on (December 4, 2012, 21:05 GMT)

I think people are unnecessarily criticizing Dhoni. He is asking for turning wkts as that is their strength. The records say so. India's record at home is one of the best (if not THE best). Now to the loss in Mumbai. I mean we need to get over it. This has happened before and will happen in the future. India beat SAF in Durban, Aus in Perth and Eng in Headingley. Now these are your o called dream pitches for pace men. Similarly if Eng win a match in Mumbai, it should be ok. Com'on, guys, lets appreciate the KP inngs. It was a master class. he did what he did and took the game away. thats what the man is capable for. Cook is a very good player of spin with an extremely mature head. But outside of these 2 (add Prior maybe) the rest of the line up is still very suspect. More over, I agree with Dhoni, that India's best chance to win the "Series" would be through spinning tracks. Remember - one swallow doesnt make a summer

Posted by R_U_4_REAL_NICK on (December 4, 2012, 20:23 GMT)

It's a very strange, somewhat unfamiliar feeling this winning malarkey for England, isn't it!? The next game is crucial...

Posted by Tlotoxl on (December 4, 2012, 19:16 GMT)

`"We should still stick to turning tracks, because that's what our strength is," India's captain MS Dhoni said` there is one sentence is the reason why India will never be a world beating team

Posted by jackthelad on (December 4, 2012, 18:59 GMT)

Excuse me? 'The last thing Test Cricket needs as it fights for its place in the world ...' ? Test cricket IS cricket, full stop, and the huge heartfelt sighs of relief at the ending of so many pointless short-order circuses and return of some genuinely competitive Test series was quite enough to convince even the most stalwart of slogfanciers of this (the sentiment, by the by, is a daft one that has been regurgitated regularly for at least a hundred years). The 20-over game has its place - people who don't care for cricket will watch it, and it allows a working person the chance to see a completed game in the space of a day; one-day cricket has enough scope to allow at least some of cricket's strengths to have a brief showcase; but there is no substitute for real cricket, and anyone who loves and appreciates all facets of the game knows this.

Posted by Aussiesfalling on (December 4, 2012, 18:40 GMT)

England batters would fear a slow/low turner if India had a spinner as good as Ajmal, but they don't. England to go 2-1 ahead.

Posted by cjscanada on (December 4, 2012, 18:20 GMT)

I do not read much into Panesar's one off and India's display in Mumbai. Expect India to do well in Kolkata. Having said that it is not necessary that I expect them to be overall favorite, this may well turn out to be a draw. I reckon swann to be the danger man. The English have showed more spine and India has gone rather soft mainly to the riches they have been showered. The IPL has done more bad than good. With so much of endorsement going on it is eating on to their preparations. BCCI of course is interested in making the game more popular and earning loads to care about the results. I admire Cook's resistance and well KP, we in India love him, for his uninhibited style of play.

Posted by Cpt.Meanster on (December 4, 2012, 18:10 GMT)

Not taking anything away from England, but having observed cricket at Kolkata for well over 15 years, I can tell that England WILL struggle. The pitch will be a slow turner like Ahmedabad. That goes to show India's awesome record at the Eden Gardens over the years. The toss will once again be crucial but England were bowled out cheaply in Ahmedabad. If they can bat sensibly again and score 400 at least, India will find it difficult to win. A draw looks the likely result here or an Indian win. Can't see England winning it.

Posted by Trickstar on (December 4, 2012, 17:57 GMT)

@Front-Foot-Lunge Agree with most of what you've put but I reckon the Pakistan duo of Ajmal and Rehman are equally as dangerous as our spin twins. We certainly do need more runs off the other guys, KP & Cook and to a certain degree Prior can't be expected to get them every game, It will be a massive test for Trott & Bell, Trott especially needs to find his form again, he could do with a innings like the one in SL. I'd be almost tempted to play Morgan, I know he wasn't up to much in the UAE but he was so out of form then and his technique was all over the place. I'd back him to get some runs against this attack on a slow pitch. Don't know what to do about Patel, if we go in with 2 pace and 2 spin, will we need the part time option, or will he be handy to have around in case it's a flat pitch and India get a load of runs. I do think he's better than Bairstow with the bat in these conditions, so it's not as if he's a bits and pieces cricketer. Finn is a must flat pitch or not.

Posted by Cpt.Meanster on (December 4, 2012, 17:56 GMT)

I am not going to talk about cricket here. But, I will talk about the geography of India and the ridiculous 'single' time zone the country has. India is HUGE. It's one of the word's top 5 countries in terms of area size and among the top 2 in terms of population. For a country with such humongous numbers, I have always felt it was STUPIDITY to have just one time zone. In Kolkata, the sun rises way too early than the rest of the country and it sets earlier as well. India should have at least 2 time zones. Kolkata should be an hour ahead compared to most other Indian cities. I cannot imagine how Indians have lived with one time zone. Some common sense is needed here. I hope in my life time I get to see 2 time zones in India. Already there is talk about that in the central government.

Posted by perl57 on (December 4, 2012, 16:54 GMT)

I would want the same spinners again from Eng. Because this shows whether mumbai was an aberration or an expected result. If India cannot fight swann and Monty here then forget about facing ajmal and others. Indian lost the game within two sessions of 2nd test. Much can not be done about KP but something can be done of Swann and Monty. If you score a 500 batting first then getting England out twice would be very difficult proportion as our eediot mukherjee has thrown a flat track and feels it is a sporting pitch.

Posted by Nampally on (December 4, 2012, 16:47 GMT)

England have turned the tables after India won convincingly in the first Test. So they go into the Kolkatta test with a morale boost. There are reports of Yuvraj being injured- hit on the hand. If he is, it is best to substitute him with Jadeja - briming with confidence after his triple century! That will be huge morale boost for India if the Indian Selectors use their wisdom! As things stand both the teams had 3 or 4 heroes who carrid them to their respective wins. Can the rest of the team players show up & for which team. This will determine the result. Tendulkar & Kohli were just as bad as Trott & Bell. Each of these guys is capable of & I am sure dying for a big innings! I am sure Panesar & Swann will not have an easy passage this time knowing Indian batsmen seething to get back & show they can play spin. Sehwag & Pujara will still be the main Indian batsmen as will Cook & KP for England. Can ZAK & Ishant match Finn & Anderson? So there are battles & War to be won. Good luck Guys.

Posted by Eat_Sleep_Play_Cricket on (December 4, 2012, 16:44 GMT)

I have a very strong feeling its all downhill for english from here on. They did surprise everyone by winning the 2nd test and Anderson himself said - It was an upset. I just love the way English Fans go into a shell and think England is set to rule cricketing world. Please, take a look at your side inside out and then comment. Except Cook and KP no one can bat and Barring Swan (to some extent) No one can bowl. Yeah we did have Monty bowling like a dream in the 2nd test but every dream ends with a night mare. Good luck POMS, you need this more than ever. Let the ENGLISH DOWN HILL slide begin! - Cheers!

Posted by Front-Foot-Lunge on (December 4, 2012, 16:04 GMT)

England have proved they have the best spin duo in the world but they should never underestimate this Indian team. One indecisive session with the bat has always been enough in the past to cost them dear. Runs from Trott and Bairstow are required this match, England fans will hope Cook's incredible run continues.

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