England in India 2005-06 March 14, 2006

England have gone soft, says Gooch

Graham Gooch



'Kumble seems to have finally got the one thing [leg-break] which has missed him all his career' © AFP

India are counting their riches. They made a bold statement in Mohali by going in with five bowlers even though, essentially, only two in Munaf Patel and Anil Kumble had the woods on the England batsmen.

Patel's emergence points to an India where talents are sprouting in far-away fields. They are hungry and competitive, skilled and mature beyond their years. They have control and confidence and are more than just one-trick ponies. Suddenly, there is a scramble for places in the bowling department.

It would encourage the team management to do a ditto with their batting. Wasim Jaffer has made a statement of intent in the first two Tests and in laying off the likes of VVS Laxman and Sourav Ganguly, the message is loud and clear for the rest. A Sachin Tendulkar is still out of reach but a Virender Sehwag has caught the hint palpably. Informed ones must tell me if they have ever seen Sehwag apply himself in such a manner as he did on the last day in Mohali. He got one of his rare good scores in the second innings and what is more it could perhaps be his slowest fifty in Test cricket. All that talk of leave-him-alone and 'he knows only one way to bat' has been tossed out of the window. The sense of self-preservation can make the best of us do strange things.

And finally to a man who played his first Test against me in Manchester in 1990. Anil Kumble was an unorthodox sight to us which was bemusing since India also had a regular conventional spinner in Narendra Hirwani. When I brought the side to India in 1993, he had started to feature a lot in our strategic discussions in the team meetings. From those days, it would appear he has not stopped evolving.

England froze in Mohali because they realised they no longer can treat him as an incoming medium pacer. He was giving the ball a loop and his leg-breaks were turning. He seems to have finally got the one thing which has missed him all his career. In its absence, he relied on developing his googlies, variations in pace, and even clever use of crease. Now if the leg break has come to stay, Kumble could be good for 600 wickets and more!

England went away from Mohali wondering if they could ever raise a 400-plus total in this series. That's the only thing which brings their pacers into the equation. Or it's a free slide. Batting, as they say, is now elementary for England. The ghosts of Marcus Trescothick and Michael Vaughan are very much around. Nagpur now is so far away.

For a side determined to engage India in attritional warfare, England's collapse in Mohali was startling. It would bring to question their ability to stay focused in the subcontinent for more than a week. They appeared too soft, too fragile in conditions which were anything but hot and dusty. Besides, the pitch was on the batters' side and one-third of the overs were not played.

England, distressingly, do not have much option in dressing up their batting line-up. But fiddle they must in Mumbai, for neither Ian Blackwell nor Liam Plunkett have appeared an option at number eight - the spot where Anil Kumble has made such a critical difference with bat in both Nagpur and Mohali. It would mean that for the first time since the Ashes, their five-bowler theory would go for a toss.

Four seamers and a spinner has pretty much been England's ploy in the recent past but now it would not work. They need batting reinforcements but beyond Owais Shah, there is not much choice. They might feel it would leave their bowling a little under-cooked in Mumbai but that is not true for Blackwell and Plunkett were hardly seen at the bowling crease in the two Tests.

Still, England are now retreating into their shell and it magnifies the crime of the batters. Andrew Strauss, after all these weeks in Pakistan and India, has still not worked out his methods for the subcontinent. Kevin Pietersen, for all his talent, appears almost desperate to attack and spinners love such characters. He wants to dictate terms even before he has got his eyes in.

Ian Bell has an issue with concentrating for long hours which, ironically, till now has been seen his strength. The Paul Collingwood we saw in Mohali was different to the one who seemed to have sparked off an England revival in Nagpur. As for Alastair Cook, well, the kid can be spared a harsh word so early in his career.