India v England, 2nd ODI, Indore November 17, 2008

Lack of punch leaves England lagging

England were better today, although that isn't saying much after their 158-run pounding in Rajkot
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Kevin Pietersen is England's best one-day batsman and needs to go back to No. 3 © Getty Images
 
England were better today, although that isn't saying much after their 158-run pounding in Rajkot. By some crude calculations they made a match out of it in Indore for approximately 20 overs - the time when Stuart Broad nipped out three early wickets and the five-over Powerplay between Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff. But that leaves fourth-fifths of the game where they were made to look second-rate again. Make no mistake, this was another thrashing.

Two matches into a seven-game series and it is difficult to see how England can stop the Indian juggernaut. The 4-0 series against South Africa always needed some context and in the cold light of day England are still an average one-day side away from home. They lack two vital qualities which India have in spades; power-hitting at the top of the order and match-winning (or match-controlling) spin. That's not to say the side doesn't have potential, but both those missing qualities will have to be rectified if they want to make an impact at the 2011 World Cup which will be staged across Asia.

The fifth-wicket stand between Pietersen and Flintoff, worth 74 in 12 overs, was fun while it lasted, but only served to emphasise the problems. When they came together England were 109 for 3 in the 26th over, chasing a target that was almost a run-a-ball before the innings started. The chase was so far behind the rate, that even a third Powerplay that resulted in 59 runs only brought it down to eight-and-a-half an over. With an asking rate of that level there is no room to manoeuvre, because any new batsman is robbed of the right to play himself in. When Yuvraj Singh continued his one-man match-winning display with two wickets in four balls it was game over.

England's top three is constantly under the microscope - and there is no easy solution - but Ian Bell, Matt Prior and Owais Shah don't pack enough punch to get the innings off to a flyer. Prior and Shah added 96 today, but it was never a stand that threatened India. Compare this to the progress of India who, despite being 29 for 3 after Broad's new-ball spell, repaired the innings at such a rate that the innings was soon running away from England. It doesn't help England's cause that each of their chosen top three, for differing reasons, are still not entirely confident of their roles in the side. Compare that to the confidence that Yuvraj has displayed - he had no form whatsoever coming into this series, but plenty of happy memories of belting English bowlers to all corners of the world.

Virender Sehwag failed on this occasion, but there are plenty of batsmen to carry the charge forward in this team. On this occasion it was achieved by clever batting and sharp running, but all the top order can hit boundaries and clear the infield. Bell is too much of a stylist to look entirely comfortable taking the aerial route, while Shah's best innings have been at No. 6 - including his century against India in 2007 - and he was becoming one of the team's best death-hitters before he was promoted. That leaves Prior, who needs to be told that his role is to attack and hang the consequences. The risk of getting out early comes with the territory of Prior's role. Or at least it should.

 
 
It requires a change of mindset from England - and probably a change of order. They need to realise that it's vital to set the pace early in an innings because playing catch-up against the spinners later on is a tough ask
 

It requires a change of mindset from England - and probably a change of order. They need to realise that it's vital to set the pace early in an innings because playing catch-up against the spinners later on - even with the delayed Powerplay - is a tough ask. Pietersen is the team's best batsman and it's time he went back to the No. 3 spot he briefly occupied earlier this year. He says he is comfortable in his current home, but there seems little sense in a team's major force only having half an innings to face.

Even a brief glance at some of the world's leading one-day batsmen of current and recent fame brings up a list of No. 3s, or those who batted in the top three - Ricky Ponting, Brian Lara, Sanath Jayasuriya, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Matthew Hayden…it's possible to go on. And it isn't as though Pietersen hasn't had success at No.3. He made a brilliant, unbeaten 110 against New Zealand in June.

The England management will no doubt argue that there's no point chopping and changing, and their players need to learn their roles. But one-day cricket is also about flexibility and adapting to conditions. There would be no disgrace if Pietersen and Peter Moores admitted that these two defeats have prompted a rethink. In fact, it would be quite refreshing.

England's thinking is also muddled further down the order. Having Ravi Bopara lurking at No. 8 is a waste, especially when it's clear Pietersen doesn't consider him a bowling option. In the long term, Bopara can be the No. 4 who splits Pietersen and Flintoff, but if the selectors don't think he's ready for that role yet, it means there shouldn't be room for him and Samit Patel in the same side.

England appear to be resigned to chasing huge totals, and therefore need all the batting they can muster. However, strengthening the bowling might make the batsmen's life easier. Graeme Swann must be wondering what he has to do to get back into this line-up. He was one of the key components in the series win in Sri Lanka last year, but is now on the sidelines while Patel is shown up as the part-time bowler he is, despite Pietersen's view that "he's doing a good job." England have suffered from an obsession with bits-and-pieces players for too long. India is the place for specialists. Patel is a batsman, so he can be the safeguard at No. 7 and let Swann show that his Sri Lanka success was no fluke.

Andrew McGlashan is a staff writer at Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • switchgrind68 on November 18, 2008, 11:55 GMT

    One of the major problems England are facing is that there aren't many players in their side who've scored lots of 100's. Even somebody like Ian Bell who has been around for a long time has only one century to his credit. I feel they should get Alistair Cook opening as he's a class player and should do well in India. Ian Bell should be in the middle order. Pietersen is fine at no.4, Freddie looks good at 5. England just lack that firepower, thou they are not short of talent.

  • CSKfan on November 18, 2008, 8:10 GMT

    Bring Monty Panesar.Period. You need to have specialist spinner in subcontinent wickets. All the talk about his sluggish fielding and poor batting is unnecessary. Specialists could be weak in some areas but his contribution in spin could be immense. Considering the fact that subcontinent is the venue for next world cup there is all the more reason to play Monty.Make an SOS call. Have him here on the next flight.

  • crazytaurean on November 18, 2008, 6:41 GMT

    Looking back I feel that however hard England may have tried, essentially the difference between the teams has been Yuvraj Singh on both occasions. It would be interesting to see what happens the day Yuvraj gets out early and the top order hasnt contributed much. I dont think that would be the case unless England are lucky and with the inevitable inclusion of Tendulkar in the line up in the coming matches England will have nightmares both on and off the field. Having said that I feel KP needs to check his aggressive options now. Luke Wright...Swann...nothing against Samit Patel but whats the use of having a Ravi Bopara coming to bat when the match is virtually lost. Having seen Bopara, he looks an ideal No.4 like Shah. I feel Pietersen should bat at No.3. High time. Open with Bell and Prior / Wright for an explosive start if batting first. Give poor Bopara a chance at 5 or 4 or else try out Swann. England need more spin options in India. England miss Giles.

  • riteshjsr on November 18, 2008, 4:27 GMT

    India has been playing some very good cricket over the past one year or so. They won the CB series in Australia and then beat Sri Lanka at home. England too have looked a completely different unit since the time Pietersen has taken over the leadership. They drubbed South Africa 4-0 not too long ago. However, they've got the selection wrong for Indian conditions. I agree with Nampally when he says England are missing Vaughan and Strauss. Anyway, to best use the resources that are avialable to Pitersen and Moores, England's batting line up should look like this: 1.Cook 2.Bell 3.Pietersen 4.Collingwood 5.Flintoff 6.Bopara 7.Shah 8.Prior 9.Swann 10.Harmison 11.Anderson

  • NumberXI on November 18, 2008, 2:53 GMT

    England have been bettered in the initial two matches of the seven-match ODI series, but that is no guarantee that India will win them all. However, as the author rightly points out, England's selection shows some muddled thinking, especially the position of Bopara in the batting order. I also agree that England should stick with the common cricketing wisdom of having the best batsman at #3 and that is clearly KP. The second match would have been a close run thing if it had not been for Yuvraj Singh's one decisive over, which settled the match. England have done a few things right, not least of which was the timing of their third powerplay, though given how the asking rate was mounting, it didn't make enough of a dent in the RR.

  • fununlimited on November 18, 2008, 2:47 GMT

    There is nothing wrong with the English team. They just need to be more positive with their batting at the top. Also, as Andrew points out, Owais Shah has been successful at the death, so why not replace him with Bopara at number 3.

  • rohanbala on November 18, 2008, 2:03 GMT

    The English Team has always looked good "pretenders" and never lived up to expectations. They play with tigerish resolve in brief spells with only one or two players coming good at different times, but overall their record is very poor. The one bright lining in their record, has been the win in the Ashes series in England, but apart from that the team has done nothing whatsoever to warrant a place in the top of competitive teams. The ECB should think hard to work towards knitting a winning combination. As for this team, there is no much doubt that India will come up victorious 6-1 or 5-2. No one who had seen the result of their first tour match, would have thought that this team would fare so badly.

  • Lazys0d1990 on November 17, 2008, 23:56 GMT

    I think England are showing a bit of form but unfortunatly they're not going on with good starts and India (playing brilliantly) aren't giving them a chance to improve.

  • peeeeet on November 17, 2008, 23:14 GMT

    I think the same type of thing happened in the Test team when they toured Australia. Pietersen was coming in at number 5 and getting stuck with the tail, and England were getting sluggish starts. Now that was a Test match, but the same principle applies in ODIs and is probably even more important. Pietersen is their best player, and as captaing he needs to set the example. I don't know if Bell is a good choice for opener. Maybe try Bopara or Patel up there. And I think Flintoff needs to stay at 6 cos hes at his best when he can just attack. But yes, in India you need a spinner who is not part time, which makes me think why not try Monty instead of Anderson or Harmison. Not being an Englishman, I don't know how good Swann is, but Monty has been very succesful in Tests so maybe he should get more of a go here.

  • Bhakkar786 on November 17, 2008, 23:02 GMT

    i strongly agree with the previously posted 2 comments based on the agreement that england definetly need to sort out their team, most...infact all of the players are playing poorly even peiterson for crying out loud. I am very concerned for England and the future that lies ahead of them.. especially when their ODI team standard was looking better than ever when they beat RSA 4-0. However, it seems that england arent focussing properly at the task at hand and must act to their previous slighly embaressing defeats to India especially if they don't want a whitewash. Overall the england team is bad!

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