Why India are clinging to faith in England's ineptitude against spin
11:12 GMT, 6 November 2012
When England arrived in Australia two years ago, travelling journalists who had grown used to being mocked even as they passed through customs noticed a change of mood.
‘You guys are going to win,’ grumbled my taxi driver in Brisbane. I didn’t believe him, but the comment was symbolic. Australia without its swagger was like bubble without the squeak.
To be in India this last week has not quite been to sense the same defeatism. Yet there is an anxiety here that has matched England’s own concerns about selection.
Our hero: Sachin Tendulkar's century for Mumbai in the Ranji Trophy settled a few Indian nerves
India remain favourites to win the four-Test series starting in nine days’ time in Ahmedabad, but mainly because of enduring faith in English ineptitude against spin, rather than the kind of confidence that was once inspired by the greatest batting line-up on the planet and has produced only four series defeats at home out of 40.
Just to repeat, in case you choose to read this piece selectively: I expect India to win (2-1, to make a fool of myself in advance). But it has required centuries for Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar in the opening round of Ranji Trophy matches to settle nerves – theirs and everyone else’s – while question marks remain about the form of Gautam Gambhir and the fitness of Zaheer Khan.
Then there’s the alleged civil war between Sehwag and MS Dhoni, the captain, which the local TV channels can be relied upon to rev up on the flimsiest pretexts in the weeks ahead.
We are hardly in the realms of a crisis here. But such has been the expectation that England are due another subcontinental misadventure that the desire to avenge the 4-0 whitewash of 2011 has acquired an introspective air.
Rift Indian heavyweights MS Dhoni (left) and Virender Sehwag (right) are said to be at loggerheads
When will Sachin quit Is Viru past it What about Gauti Is Zak too old Why have we gone back to Harbhajan
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The answer to that last question also explains why England faced no frontline spin (sorry, Yuvraj) in their first two warm-up matches, and will be tested only by leggie Amit Mishra in the four-day game against Haryana starting on Thursday here in Ahmedabad.
It’s not so much that BCCI conceived a cunning plan to deprive England of the chance to apply a sticking plaster to their old achilles heel – more that India’s stock of quality spinners is not what it once was. This is not to denigrate Ravi Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha, who could yet win them the series. But the cupboard is disconcertingly bare.
Although there is never a good time to play India in India, the truth is that this is one of the better times. England, though, need absolutely everything to slot into place – and the early signs have been mixed.
England have problems too: Steven Finn (second left) is vital to the attack but is struggling with a thigh strain
Crucial to their hopes of unsettling India’s batsmen on docile tracks is the fitness of Steven Finn, who may play his first Test out here with only four overs under his belt thanks to a thigh strain. Next in the queue is Stuart Broad, who will have been limited to 10 by a bruised heel.
Through no obvious fault of their own, England’s eminently sensible plan of playing three warm-up games before the Tests is in danger of losing its value.
But they have learned things too. For one thing, it seems Nick Compton has guts. It’s true that the Mumbai A bowling on Monday afternoon wasn’t up to much, but his entire tour was in the balance after scores of 0 and 1, and he responded with a show of bloody-mindedness that will have resonated with Andy Flower.
Got guts: Nick Compton overcame a poor start to his tour to hit an unbeaten half-century against Mumbai A
For another, Samit Patel looks ready –
and so too do either Jonny Bairstow or Eoin Morgan when Ian Bell flies
home around the time of the second Test in Mumbai. And Kevin Pietersen
Gloriously, he is yet to put his foot in it.
Still, an Indian elephant lurks. England have not faced either Ashwin or Ojha, and neither have they batted on a pitch that is more than three days old. If India are asking themselves questions, England are equally unsure of a few answers.
Both sides are stumbling towards the starting line – which is why India, in their home conditions, should remain ahead. Just don’t expect another 4-0.
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THAT WAS THE WEEK THAT WAS
Bresnan almost puts his foot in it – and over it
There was a small intake of breath as Tim Bresnan addressed the media on the first evening of England’s warm-up game against India A last week. Earlier in the day, Bresnan had been made to wait for six minutes for the third umpire to confirm that he hadn’t overstepped when removing Ajinkya Rahane, and quipped that he hadn’t bowled a no-ball ‘without meaning to’ for about eight years.
To confess to a deliberate no-ball is an interesting career move in the post-Lord’s-2010 era, but – as the room filled with titters – Bresnan quickly clarified his position. ‘Sometimes you need an extra ball to set the batsmen up,’ he pointed out. Returning to the dressing-room, Bresnan wondered whether he had just dropped a clanger. Still, next time he oversteps, we’ll have a decent chance of knowing why.
Careful, Tim: England bowler Bresnan (right) flirted with controversy in India last week
More from Lawrence Booth…
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The Top Spin: England voyage into the unknown on a wing and a prayer
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The Top Spin: KP's England future is more dependent on his attitude than he may realise
The Top Spin: Strauss's future uncertain after mid-table mediocrity takes hold at precisely the wrong moment
The Top Spin: Don't judge Pietersen – leave that up to Flower and Strauss
The Top Spin: Pietersen chasing omnium of desires… love, 10,000 Test runs and to be rich
The Top Spin at the Test: Headingley – the ground where Weird Things Happen (And Mainly To England)
VIEW FULL ARCHIVE
India A's flighty openers
The India A openers faced a tricky decision on the final day of the match. Both Abhinav Mukund and Murali Vijay had already booked afternoon flights to Cuttack, 90 minutes in the air from Mumbai, for Ranji Trophy matches starting the next day. Batting again against England was, frankly, an inconvenience. What to do
The two men took different routes. While Vijay cancelled his flight in the hope of impressing the selectors with a big score, Mukund stuck resolutely to Plan A – a stratagem that was not inconvenienced when he was caught at mid-on in the third over from a leading edge off Jimmy Anderson.
What happened, asked India A coach Lalchand Rajput ‘I was too early on the shot,’ protested Mukund. ‘Early on the shot – or late for the flight’ came the withering reply. As for Vijay, his demise in the first over after tea meant he was back on the phone to his airline to retrieve his booking. Both men are understood to have caught their flights, but they need barely have bothered. Bad weather limited Tamil Nadu’s game against Orissa to 33.1 overs.
Hair today, gone tomorrow
Forget Steven Finn’s anxiety over how much of a part he’ll play in this Test series. The big question he’s asking himself right now is: why did I shave my legs Finn lost some hair on his right thigh after undergoing treatment for the strain he collected on the first day of the tour, but instead of ignoring the bare patch on a part of the body rarely seen in public, England’s beanpole decided to even things up by depilating both legs – in their entirety. Just don’t be heard suggesting he looks the less manly for it.
The name's P… KP
Reintegration comes in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes it isn’t merely a case of scoring runs or confirming that everything really is back to normal by getting out to a left-arm spinner. So hats off to Kevin Pietersen for pulling a few strings and organising a team outing to a Mumbai premiere of Skyfall, the new James Bond flick.
Movie star: Kevin Pietersen's 'reintegration' with the England team continues apace thanks to a cinema trip
Here we go again…
If England thought the retirement of Rahul Dravid has created a potential weakness in India’s line-up at No 3, they may have to think again. Cheteshwar Pujara looked a model of concentration as he made 87 for Mumbai A at the DY Patil Stadium on Sunday. But perhaps this should come as no surprise. In the space of a month four years ago, Pujara compiled scores of 386, 309 and 302 not out. Is a new wall being erected