England were at the receiving end of another trial by spin on the subcontinent as their aspirations of claiming a prized series victory in India were dealt a powerful blow after a loss in the first test at Ahmedabad.
England’s selection policy will fall under heavy scrutiny for picking three seamers on a graveyard for the pacemen which was so placid that questions were immediately asked by lunch on day one why Panesar was not also included. During India’s first innings run-fest the three seamers collected just one wicket between them. What ensued was both embarrassing and disastrous for England whose trials and tribulations against spin continued. On a placid wicket, turning but with few demons they were rolled over for 191 with left arm spinner Pragyan Ojha taking 5-45.
Fortunately England partially redeemed themselves in the second innings. They were indebted to captain Alaister Cook whose 176 was constructed over a nine hour stay, it seemed at one stage he looked set to eclipse Michael Atherton’s 10-hour marathon at the Wanderers in 1995. Yet on a wearing fifth-day pitch it was not to be. Matthew Prior continued to exhibit why he is regarded one of the most talented wicket-keeper batsmen in the world with 91 but England could only set a meagre 77 for victory.
Nevertheless, serious questions surround this English set up. The fall from grace as number one team in the world has been incongruous and sudden. Their failures against spin are all too frequent and the pace bowlers toil on the subcontinent with a lack of variety. Meanwhile the Indians, in the form of Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli appear succinctly ready to replace the old vanguard of their middle order whilst Yadav, Ashwin and Ojha are upholding the bowling department. They are a strong, well balanced outfit for all conditions.
The second test begins in Mumbai on Friday morning where England claimed victory in 2006. Whilst there is early assistance for the seamers here, the red-clay wicket will break up later on and we can expect similar tactics from India, hence Monty Panesar is expected to be recalled. England clearly have a mountain to climb, with Finn still unfit and Broad facing an injury scare in the last 24 hours before the morning session. If England are to take anything from this series they must continue their previous form at the Wankhede Stadium or fall further from the pinnacle of test cricket. Meanwhile, in the cricketing world, Michael Clarke hit a historic fourth test double hundred in a calendar year, (an unprecedented achievement) and the cricket faithful can enjoy New Zealand touring Sri Lanka and Bangladesh v West Indies, in the Christmas period, all cricket does come at once.
Author: David Grant