Out of the frying pan into the (Ring of) Fire… England reckoning looms in India
23:14 GMT, 21 November 2012
It is unlikely that England will summon up the spirit of Johnny Cash to motivate them in the second Test, as they did when they won here six years ago, but they are certainly in need of something as they approach a game they dare not lose.
Ring of Fire was the theme tune for Andrew Flintoff's greatest captaincy hour and the heat will certainly be on England's under-performing stars if the alarming slump that began with the one-day whitewash in India this time last year continues on Friday at the impressive Wankhede Stadium.
This is not quite make or break for the players who took England to the top of the cricketing world but it is not far off. Lose the second Test, and with it any chance of winning this series, and some tough questions will have to be asked.
Ring of fire: England captain Cook could use the same inspiration as Freddie Flintoff – Johnny Cash
Andy Flower, understandably, wants to wait until the end of the series before judgments are made. But he might soon have to confront the harsh reality that England are not as good as we all thought they were in the heady days when the Ashes were won both home and away and India were thrashed last year.
Okay, it is in Asian conditions that England have most struggled but they were also convincingly beaten by South Africa at home and Flower needs to see evidence here to show that this team have not already peaked and are in decline.
It was intriguing that Hugh Morris, the man in charge of the England team, sat in on Flower's press conference here on Tuesday and hung on every word but there is no question that there is any pressure on the team director for his job.
Morris, and ECB chairman Giles Clarke, rightly want Flower to be at the helm of England for a good while yet but they know that a man who had to bear the brunt of the Kevin Pietersen affair could only be wearied and hastened towards the exit door by the continual failure of his team.
Drink it in: Flintoff leads the celebrations after England beat India in Mumbai
A GOOD TOSS TO WIN
Amid rumours that the Indian Cricket Board have asked for a spinning track to assist their slow bowlers, the likeliest scenario is that the pitch will have something in it for everyone.
The seamers should enjoy more bounce and carry on the first day than at Ahmedabad.
But the pitch will turn, probably more than during the first Test. If Alastair Cook wins the toss, he should have no hesitation in batting first.
Flower handled his inquisitors in his
usual impressive, articulate manner, as Morris's words of encouragement
to him afterwards confirmed, but elsewhere within the England team there
are signs of a siege mentality taking hold.
First we had Stuart Broad questioning the rights of the likes of Sir Ian Botham to give his opinion on England and then came one of those bland press conferences that Broad apparently hates featuring Jonathan Trott.
Most of an uneventful 14 minutes is not worth repeating here but there were a couple of comments that betrayed a prickly mood within the camp.
Trott interpreted one reporter's smile as he asked a question as evidence of him enjoying England's misfortune (the truth is that he was just trying to be cheery) while there were mutterings about old players 'thinking the game was better in their day.'
When something goes wrong it is always the media's fault.
In a spin: Ojha took nine wickets in the first Test
Thankfully, the media will not be going
into battle for England here but Eoin Morgan might be. The thinking is
that a left-hander is needed in the middle order to combat Pragyan Ojha
and that could hand the Irishman another chance to prove that he can
succeed in Test cricket in these conditions.
Jonny Bairstow was unlucky not to start
this series after his 95 in the last Test of the summer but he looked
all at sea against spin in the Indian one-day series last year so he may
apparently miss out again even though he scored a century in a warm-up
game ahead of the first Test.
England could go with both Morgan and Bairstow but that would be harsh on Samit Patel who, in my opinion, deserves at least one more chance to prove that he is an accomplished player of spin even though there would be less need for his slow left-arm if Monty Panesar is in the team.
Panesar will surely play here at the ground where he spectacularly dropped and then caught MS Dhoni six years ago even though there should be more in the Mumbai pitch for the English seamers than in Ahmedabad.
A word of caution, though. Monty averages 55 per wicket in India and on previous visits has gone at more than three runs an over, figures that he will have to improve if he is to have the same impact here as Ojha did in Ahmedabad.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the first Test is that India had the quickest bowler in Umesh Yadev and the best practitioner of reverse swing in Zaheer Khan. It was indeed worrying that, as well as outbatting and outspinning England, they had the better seam attack too. Broad and Jimmy Anderson are in just as big a need of a big game here as Pietersen and Trott are.
In many ways the famous line of the man from the Independent who, on covering his first Ashes tour more than 25 years ago, said that England had only three problems – they couldn't bat, bowl nor field, could have applied to the first Test where five chances went begging too.
The biggest problem now is clearly first innings runs. If Alastair Cook wins the toss and England finally get a big total on the board tomorrow then everything else might just click into place. Things can only get better.
VIDEO: And it burns, burns, burns…