Spooked England were beaten in their minds in Ahmedabad
13:47 GMT, 20 November 2012
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At the end of India’s entirely predictable first-Test win at Ahmedabad, Mahendra Singh Dhoni spoke of the importance of creating in the minds of England’s batsmen a ‘false sense of panic’.
It was a well-judged remark, for it perfectly captured the state of mind that cost England the game when they slipped to 191 in their first innings. And it was wise, while just staying the right side of condescending, which is the best place for any victorious captain to be.
England’s sense of panic on Friday evening and Saturday morning actually felt very real, and it was reflected in their off-field decision making: Jimmy Anderson may have a sterling record as nightwatchman, but he should not have been thrown to the wolves with 20 minutes still left on the clock.
Desperate measure: Anderson (left) was sent in as a nightwatchman
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Then, next day, Kevin Pietersen could
have been out to four of the first five balls he faced, all from
Pragyan Ojha – his latest left-arm tormentor. And by dancing down to his
first delivery as if he was Michael Vaughan on the waltz, Ian Bell
betrayed the mental equivalent of two left feet.
England, frankly, were spooked – and
they lost the Test because of it. Yet from 97 for 7, they knuckled down,
scoring 500 runs for their remaining 13 wickets, which was not a
million miles away from India’s first-innings 521 for 8.
The batting of Alastair Cook and Matt
Prior demonstrated what was possible on a pitch that did more in
English minds than it did in reality. Ravi Ashwin, don’t forget, bowled
43 overs in the second innings for a single wicket, which was donated to
him by Graeme Swann’s feckless reverse-swipe 10 minutes before lunch.
And yet it’s not entirely clear how
many of the others take note of these things. After all, before the
collapse, England had spent eight-and-a-half hours watching Cheteshwar
Pujara oscillate pleasantly between second and third gear. The template
for batting at the Sardar Patel Stadium had been staring England in the
There was much talk of lessons
learned earlier in the year when Pietersen’s genius and Swann’s
off-breaks won a Test in Colombo after four straight defeats in the UAE
and at Galle.
But events at Ahmedabad suggest that
people absorb lessons at their own pace. While Cook and Prior scored 356
runs between them, everyone else contributed 203.
Holding the fort: Cook – seen here against South Africa – lacked support
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Nick Compton deserves some praise for
putting on 123 with his captain in the second innings, a mini-triumph
of doggedness that did not deserve to be the precursor of a collapse of 5
for 76. And Samit Patel was twice sawn off by lbw decisions, though he
was lucky to escape in the first innings against Ashwin on four.
The truth, though, is that it’s hard
to be certain that the second-innings grit will have much bearing on the
second Test at Mumbai, especially if Cook falls early.
Just as concerning for England was
the manner in which their seamers were comprehensively outbowled by
India’s. Dhoni kept an admirably straight face when, after the game, he
counselled England to play to their strengths, which translated pretty
obviously as: ‘Please, please, please keep picking them.’
But while England’s trio of seamers –
Anderson, Stuart Broad and Tim Bresnan – had combined match figures of
72-10-255-1, the Indian duo of Zaheer Khan and Umesh Yadav teamed up for
an analysis of 72.3-16-166-7.
In other words, two Indians did the
work of three Englishmen, but they did it more accurately and more
incisively. And they did so by bowling a full length: five of their
seven wickets were leg-before. And if a couple of the decisions were
faulty, then the ability to summon up yorkers at will was not.
Out of sorts: England's seamers struggled badly in Ahmedabad
England’s seamers gave us an English length with a hint of reverse-swing. No wonder Dhoni craves more of the same.
Cook and Andy Flower must now wonder
how much to oblige him. England’s pre-series plans revolved around
hitting India with the pace and hostility of Steven Finn, who must – by
logical conclusion – play at Mumbai.
Yet the one-spinner policy at
Ahmedabad (sorry Samit) was an undeniable blunder, which brings Monty
Panesar into the equation. Finn and Panesar in the same team would
entail two kinds of boldness: a team containing three No 11s (Anderson
has to make the cut); and the dropping of Broad, the vice-captain.
To have any chance of getting back in
the series England must do more than work out how to bowl at Cheteshwar
Pujara. They must think on their feet. Not dance on them
THAT WAS THE WEEK THAT WAS
A country could get a complex
What is it about Virender Sehwag and Bangladesh Nearly three years ago, he upset the locals by declaring on the eve of a Test match in Chittagong that Bangladesh were ‘an ordinary side’ who had no chance of beating India because they ‘can’t take 20 wickets’.
Then, on Thursday evening, after he had treated England’s bowlers as if they were, well, Bangladesh, he said: ‘We have to work hard to take 20 English wickets. They are not Bangladesh.’ Two days later, Bangladesh slipped to 167 all out on the final day of their Test against West Indies in Dhaka, having been set a tantalising 245. Sehwag was unavailable for comment.
Sticking the boot in: Sehwag was once again dismissive of Bangladesh
The other side of the coin
Stuart Broad made a serious point on Twitter last night: ‘Media complain about 'mundane' press conferences. Its cause we HAVE to give them, cause if we didn't there would be a storm. #FACT #boring’.
But there’s a serious retort. If the players didn’t give interviews, they would operate in even more of a bubble than they already do. Without the interest people show in cricket – spectators and media – it would be nothing more than a bunch of men or women in futile pursuit of runs and wickets. It’s up to the players to give illuminating answers as much as it is up to the press to ask searching questions.
Pull the other one, MS!
A winning captain generally gets to say what he wants, but was MS Dhoni being entirely ingenuous when he suggested that the pitches for this series should turn from the first ball His logic was that no one complains when pitches seam from the start, but most would agree that a first-morning pitch should help the seamers, before calming down on days two and three, then helping the spinners later on.
Besides, what happens on the first morning of a Test in, say, England or New Zealand, is that any seam movement tends to be exaggerated by swing – which is a product of overhead conditions, not the pitch. When Dhoni says the ball should turn from the word go so that the impact of the toss is taken out of the equation, what he really means is that England should have even less of a cat’s chance in hell than they had in Ahmedabad.